Misogyny and the Art of Motorcycle Riding

Back in the early 70’s, I told an acquaintance I wanted to buy a motorcycle because I couldn’t afford a car. Their response was: “Girls aren’t supposed to ride motorcycles.” That was the absolute wrong thing to say, because here’s a picture of me a couple of years later on my trusty Honda CB400F, en route to a campsite in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges.

Rest assured that was not dangerously flowing water, but just a big puddle left over from seasonal rain. Also, excuse the blurriness, the photo was taken with an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera.

Over the next six years, I managed to clock up tens of thousands of kilometres on motorcycles, and had a few close calls that still send shivers up and down my spine just thinking about. Fortunately, my single (minor) concussion came from ploughing into a hole obscured by bulldust on a 600 km stretch of unsealed road between Broome and Port Headland in outback Western Australia. There were no mobile phones back then, and even if there were, there’d be no coverage. My partner was riding way ahead. He didn’t see me fall.

After I woke up, I had to bend the front of my bike back into shape, then ride it to the nearest roadhouse where I spoke to the flying doctor who advised I rest for a few days before continuing on.

What do you notice that’s different about the above two photos?

Picture One: Jeans and ski jacket. Clearly female.

Picture Two: Full length, padded leathers.

The leathers were great. They saved me from gravel rash when I fell. They also hid my gender because, when riding on country roads by myself, I did so because I wanted to be alone. Why? Well, my gender sometimes attracted unwanted attention. If I refused to “cooperate” I’d be left feeling unsafe.

Yes. More unsafe than being on a two wheeled vehicle with only a crash helmet, jeans, ski jacket and a pair of army-disposal flying boots between me and the road!

A friend once told me of how she was approached by another motorcyclist who planted himself in front of her, complimented her Moto Guzzi 750 and asked for a date. “Sorry, I already have a boyfriend,” she said. After she took off, he proceeded to follow her, right up close, taking every turn she took, matching her speed, even when she deliberately slowed down to let him pass. Luckily it was in the city, so she managed to lose him.

I myself had a similar experience from a car driver at a petrol bowser, though fortunately I wasn’t followed. Instead, I was spat at, for not responding to a wolf whistle.

“Snobby bitch,” he said. For a long moment, I almost believed I’d deserved it. Hence the leathers.

My grandmother was born in 1898, and when she talked about a woman she disliked, she’d finish her complaint with a sexist insult. I don’t believe she specifically hated women, but when she grew up, sexism went mostly unchallenged.

“It’s a man’s world,” she used to say. On some days she’d sound like a feminist. On others she’d sound as if she hated feminism, and on others as if she’d given up.

My experiences as a motorcyclist — and also of hearing misogynistic comments from women who themselves suffered prejudice — have all contributed to the ways in which I represent misogyny in fiction. In the 19th century world of THE ETERNAL MACHINE, misogyny turns up a handful of times, but only from the mouths of narrow-minded servants (not all of my servant characters are narrow minded, BTW), and also from a heat-of-the-moment insult uttered by my novel’s antagonist, Sir Ambrus, a wealthy, narcissistic sociopath (not all my wealthy characters are narcissistic sociopaths, either). Later, after a brief and rare moment of honest self-reflection, he concedes that an original judgement was wrong, and the woman in question was:

“…simply a woman who understood how her uniqueness brought censure. Much like himself, he mused. An undeserving outcast, unfairly judged.”

No doubt that piece of dialogue comes from life. But more importantly I wrote it in solidarity with every non-conforming woman who has been criticized, slut-shamed and punished for standing against oppression. I see it as my own personal choice, ie, the choice of a woman who has both faced and observed misogyny in its many forms. It was part of my past. Part of all women’s pasts, regardless of their race, class, culture and sexual orientations. Sadly, it is part of our present and futures too. If I were to pretend it didn’t happen, I’d be as good as gaslighting myself, rewriting my own history, dismissing all the slurs I was taught to ignore in my younger days to avoid arguments, but now speak up about and call out.

Furthermore, I did enjoy Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I read it in a tent, back in the day, on one of my biker trips.

PS. Here’s my mum…


For the Love of Anachronisms

Back in the computer age, people had time to read books.

Steampunk is a genre of subversion, not only due to the actions of its characters but also for the ways its writers play with reality, creating imagined histories and technologies of science and fantasy. Inspiration can be drawn from both science fictional histories and contemporary histories. For example, in Morlock Night K.W. Jeter draws on aspects of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. In The Difference Engine William Gibson and Bruce Sterling create an alternate history where Charles Babbage’s original invention of the same name is mass produced to kickstart the age of computers.

At first sight, the anachronisms of steampunk appear to be little more than the curious gimmicks of an aesthetic that is widely believed to be over and done with. Back in 2008 when I decided to write my first novel in the genre, people would say, “Steampunk? What’s that?” Five years later when I tried to sell it, a revival had not only spiked but also petered out. The common response became, “Steampunk? Not again!” Having said that, new titles continue to be published, such as James P Blaylock’s The Steampunk Adventures of Langdon St. Ives, Gail Carriger’s Defy and Defend, and Phil Foglio & Kaja Foglio’s Agatha H and the Siege of Mechanicsburg (Girl Genius #4).

Furthermore, you can find a decent list of new works at Rising Shadow.

Perhaps another revival will happen again soon. After all, that’s how fashions roll.

But why steampunk? And why is the nineteenth century the perfect era to set it in? Is it simply a nostalgic return to the past? Or is it more than that?

Back in 2013 when I completed my PhD, I argued that steampunk was a historical narrative set in the past “seen through a speculative fictional lens that has been both irreverently tampered with and ingeniously enhanced with the benefit of hindsight.”

Similarly, Bowser and Croxall assert,

“Like most science fiction, it [steampunk] takes us out of our present moment; but instead of giving us a recognisably futuristic setting, complete with futuristic technology, steampunk provides us with anachronism: a past that is borrowing from the future or a future borrowing from the past.” (“Introduction: Industrial Evolution”. NeoVictorian Studies 3:1 2010).

In this way, the kinds of technologies that many people take for granted become defamiliarised, or in other words, the familiar is made strange and at the same time illuminated. Eric Rabkin states:

“If we know the world to which a reader escapes, then we know the world from which he comes” (The Fantastic in Literature, 1976 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977): p. 73.

The anachronisms of steampunk can also be seen as a form of subversion because they are an intentional and playful revision of accepted history. Early examples include the sentient robots of K.W. Jeter’s, Infernal Devices and the 19th Century nuclear device in Ronald W Clarke’s Queen Victoria’s Bomb. Books such as these work particularly well in a nineteenth century setting because the Victorians were similar to us in many ways. They saw the establishment of the empirical sciences, the industrial revolution, the first wave of feminism, the rise of imperialism and colonialism, all of which are still relevant in today’s society. Steffen Hantke argues:

“What makes the Victorian past so fascinating is its unique historical ability to reflect the present moment.” (Difference Engines and Other Infernal Devices: History According to Steampunk. Extrapolation 40:3 (1999): pp. 244-254)

For us, the nineteenth century represents a turning point – a time where things could have happened differently in ways we can only imagine with the benefit of hindsight. Peter Nicholls writes,

“Victorian London has come to stand for one of those turning points in history where things can go one way or the other, a turning point peculiarly relevant to sf itself. It was a city of industry, science and technology where the modern world was being born, and a claustrophobic city of nightmare where the cost of this growth was registered in filth and squalor. Dickens – the great original Steampunk writer who, though he did not write sf himself, stands at the head of several sf traditions – knew all this.” (John Clute & Peter Nicholls, The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction, 1993 (London: Orbit, 1999): p. 1161).

I loved reading Dickens even before reaching my teens. By the time I sat down to write THE ETERNAL MACHINE, I’d read most of his novels at least once.

Two or three years ago, a little before I decided to get THE ETERNAL MACHINE professionally edited, I wanted to do something different with the genre. One of my early drafts was set in an unnamed fantasy world, but the worldbuilding was lacking, so I decided to flesh it out by moving it to an alternate reality in Sydney, Australia. I decided it needed a recognisable landmark, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge immediately sprang to mind. Yep, I know the bridge wasn’t built until the early 20th Century, but Steampunk is a genre of anachronisms, and in my novel, magic and science are equally valid disciplines. This made a very corrupted version of the bridge not only recognisable but also possible.

Next I needed a magic system that was not entirely smoke and mirrors. I already had the bare bones, but I wanted something inextricably linked to character and based on as much history as imagination. Therefore I put on my subversive writer’s hat. Or perhaps took a wild risk, because instead of basing my magic on science fictional history or folk magic or myth, I chose to playfully base it on a real life obscure metaphysical theory — The Monadology — devised in 1690 (published 1714) by the philosopher, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. This theory has more recently been argued by Eric Steinhart to be a description of virtual reality.

What I ended up with was an anachronism within an anachronism, or in other words, a 17th Century theory that describes a 20th Century concept set in a 19th Century alternate reality. I’m not going to try and explain it all here — and I’ll blog about it later — but the challenge was to cherry pick enough of the theory to eliminate the need for more than a few sentences of explanation, which I drip fed where the plot demanded.

Using this idea quickly became fun and most probably irreverent. If Leibniz or any professional philosophers would ever read it, I suspect they’d either be annoyed or amused 😉

The truth is: I discovered the Monadology twenty years ago, and have enjoyed reading about it ever since. Even papers that discredit its logic. After all, arguments for and against an idea are fodder for the muse, especially if that idea is controversial.

THE ETERNAL MACHINE ebook and paperback go live 14th January, 2022 worldwide including Amazon US   Amazon AU   Amazon UK   Barnes & Noble  Kobo US  Kobo Au and  Kobo UK

Image by Kiselev Andrey Valerevich edited by Carol Ryles

Proofreading and Layouts

My second to last proofread has arrived, and after combing through it, I was delighted to find my proofreader found only a single typo I hadn’t already found myself. I’ve still got a month until release date and I’m not going to sit back and believe there aren’t any errors left because I’m sure typo gremlins live inside my keyboard. If I slack off now, they might start self-replicating 😉 Fortunately I have one more proofread yet to arrive from a friend who also edits for a living. It’s taking a while but it will be worth it. Only then will I believe my job is done, and can then dedicate more time to writing novel number two.

Just for fun, here are some of the things I’ve had to fix:

The usual spelling errors and missed words. Not that many, fortunately, but they’re gone now.

A few missed quotation marks

Three malapropisms:

Appraised instead of apprised
Wretched instead of retched
Torturous instead of tortuous

Argh! Why doesn’t my brain see these when I write them? I asked a couple of other writers around my age and they confirmed this is something that gets worse as people get older. Not happy about that. At least I know now, and will triple check next time.

While I was proofreading I also tweaked a handful of sentences that still felt a bit clunky. To be honest, I could probably keep doing that for the next 10 years, but now it’s time to stop.

Lastly, I’ve been checking and double checking my layouts. Six months ago, I purchased Vellum, and it was expensive and only works on a Mac (which fortunately I have). It was easy to learn and certainly a worthwhile investment. Ebooks and Print layouts look way more professional than I could have done myself, and these are made within seconds with just a single keystroke.

Here are some examples of how my novel is going to look:

The beauty of doing the formatting myself with Vellum is that if I need to do any changes I can just get in there and do it and everything still looks great. It also does Nook, Kobo, Google and Generic.


Six weeks until my novel is released and despite hours and hours spent proofreading I’m still finding typos. Not many, fortunately; just the rare missed word such as ‘to’ or ‘the’, a couple of ridiculous misspellings, a misplaced comma and quotation mark, and most annoyingly, a couple of pesky malapropisms…

I have no idea why I wrote “wretched” instead of “retched” Or “appraised” instead of “apprised”? My brain knows the difference, but my keyboard and/or typing fingers do not seem to care.

Just as unforgivable, I found two instances of “it’s” being used in the possessive sense. How even? Surely it’s easier to leave out that apostrophe than it is to put it in.

Not that I’m proofreading on my own. My manuscript is having a final check by a couple of friends who have been through the whole process with their own work. Meanwhile, I’m double and triple checking, over and over, and still not satisfied.

Of course, MS Word’s spellchecker helps, but it’s not perfect. I type on a Mac, and follow up with the spell checker in Pages which seems to be a little more thorough. Both are good for spelling errors, but Pages seems to be better at picking up malapropisms. Even so, not everything gets caught.

Missed words are harder to see: eg, “how do” instead of “how to do”. And all because the human brain – and apparently computer brains – are great at filling in gaps. Or maybe I’ve been staring at the screen for too long, and when the grammar checker flags an absent word, I miss that as well.

This is why I get up and go for a brief walk around the garden every 15 mins. It wakes me up, forces me to refocus.

Another way to catch missing words is to read and listen at the same time. My version of MS word is the cheapest you can get, so it doesn’t read aloud, but I’ve found a couple of apps online which serve the purpose. I’m currently using Speakline which is pretty basic, but has a number of speeds and voices, is free and works on Macs and PCs.

Finally, as for clunky sentences, listening to Speakline helps with those as well, but fortunately, all but a couple were fixed by my line editor and copyeditor. Money well spent. Having professional advice not only helped polish my manuscript, but also felt like taking a masterclass with my own work as the focus.

But editing is expensive and with good reason: it takes a lot of concentration, many hours of work and training. Sadly, by the time I reached the final proofreading stage, my budget was blown.

So this is where I am now. Proofing and reproofing, pulling out typos with the same grudging dedication as pulling out weeds.

I have six weeks left and I plan to catch them all.

When the Words Won’t Flow

Don’t you just love these New Holland Honeyeaters? They are very common where I live. They especially like all the native plants I’m growing in my front and back yard. No lawn. Just trees, shrubs and ground cover. Two years ago it was bare sand. Now there are all kinds of creatures: birds, native bees with blue/green stripes and even little green frogs that sound like motorbike engines winding up. And almost as loud.

Anyhow, when I’m writing a first draft and can’t figure out where I want the narrative to go, I’ll step away from my computer screen and walk outside to check my garden. Sometimes an idea comes to me even before I reach the door, but I go for a walk anyway, just to see what’s new. This month, it’s grevilleas.

Grevillea Moonlight
Grevillea Dorothy Gordon

Two Months Until the Release of The Eternal Machine.

My first Advanced Reader Copy has arrived from Amazon, and finally this self-publishing gig is starting to feel real. For a few seconds I just stared at the envelope, afraid to open it in case I’d messed up the formatting or not centred the cover properly when I uploaded the PDF. I then bit the bullet and took a peek.

Phew! It looked exactly how I wanted. The cover worried me at first, because on computer monitors it looks quite dark. In real life, however, it not only shines but also shows the mood I was aiming for. And beauty too, in a clockwork dragonfly and the face of the automaton. I’m hoping she looks like she’s plotting something that human minds would not want to know. The dragonfly is also a symbol of hope. Is hope possible in all that darkness? Some of my characters believe there can be, if they fight for it.

A few hours after my book arrived, the following review came in from Aussie steampunk author Richard Harland who had kindly read the mostly corrected epub version for me.

Victoriana comes to Sydney in an alternative 19th Century, bringing dark Dickensian factories and even darker souls. Mages too, practising heart magic and skin magic, along with shapeshifters, demons and automata. Mix in a mad scientist, a touch of romance and a plot to keep you guessing—wild! What’s not to love?

Highly recommended.


Here’s a screen shot of Chapter One. I’ll be posting some entire chapters closer to the launch date, when the final proofreading is has been completed.

The Eternal Machine ebook is currently available for pre order worldwide including Amazon.com, Amazon UK Amazon Australia Barnes and Noble and soon at Kobo. Trade Paperback: 14th January, 2022.

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher: Part 4

My Own Worst Enemy:

Four years ago — and ten years after I started this novel — I finally had it to what I believed to be a publishable standard. Next came the job of writing the dreaded elevator pitch and synopsis. I must admit I did a terrible job of both. Although the elevator pitch had successfully reduced my plot to a single sentence, it was boring. As for my synopsis…

I knew I had to focus on the main narrative thread, but I just couldn’t get my head around doing that. As a result, my attempts were either too much or too little. In the end, I went for the middle road and unfortunately the result turned out to be as boring as my elevator pitch. Looking back, I imagine very few editors or agents got past the first paragraph.

My title didn’t do anything towards selling itself either…

Having said that, it suited my novel perfectly, but it was long and may well have put people off my submission without having to read further than the subject line of my email:


I still like that title. But unfortunately it was yet another one of those darlings that had to go.

Regardless, this time around I managed to get an expression of interest from a small press publisher, but after a two year wait, I realised this wasn’t going to happen, so I took it back. Life is tough in the publishing industry.

I tried a few more agents and received another piece of feedback: “It’s not quite ready.” And although I was marketing it as steampunk, the fact that one of my characters was a shapeshifter led the agent to categorise it as urban fantasy and they weren’t interested in representing that.

Time to take control, I decided. If I was to get this thing published, I needed to do it myself.

My first job was to get editor Pete Kempshall to do a structural edit. This ended up being money well spent because it not only fixed a lot of rookie errors but also taught me how to organise my ideas into a coherent plan. It was like having a master class with my novel as the focus. Once that was done, I sent it back for a line edit, and finally the novel was starting to look polished. Almost.

This was where Amanda J Spedding came in. As far as I could tell, I had fixed all the internal inconsistencies, eliminated clunky prose and repetitions, fixed grammatical errors; but in the process of doing so had probably created a few more. Not only that, I ended up rewriting two chapters completely, and knew they’d need yet another professional eye.

So that was it! Three edits, by two professionals. At last I felt confident enough to upload it to Amazon.

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher – Part 3

Difficult Decisions…

After much reading and rereading of my multi-rejected novel, I realised it was time to work out exactly what I wanted to do. Give up? Or punish myself further?

Before deciding, I combed through it for the umpteenth time, and gave it my most critical eye yet. There was one particular chapter in the first quarter that, in my mind, was the best I’d ever written. Everything about it seemed to shine: pace, character, world building, description; only to deliver a surprising twist at the end.

I loved this chapter so much, but it was at odds with the remainder of the novel. In other words, it was exceedingly pretty and a lot of fun, but failed to do anything to progress the plot. Was this a “darling”? I asked myself. Should I murder it in the way that has often been advised to aspiring novelists like myself?

This chapter has to go, I decided. It obviously didn’t fit. Nevertheless, the thought of losing it made me not only sad, but increasingly apprehensive. Why discard something I loved? What could I do to make it work? Desperate, I reached for my box of editing patches – looking for any number of ploys to make the remainder of the novel match up.

I got to work, popping in a symbol here, adding a few allusions there. I made my character remember parts of that fabulous scene in dialogue, in flashback…

All quite useless really. After several thousand wasted words, and yet another string of rejections, it was time to face the truth, regardless of how difficult or unpalatable.

That darling had to go!

Fortunately truths aren’t always as black and white as they seem. In the end, I kept that chapter; then deleted the remainder of the novel instead.

So now, I had around 5,000 words of what used to be a 110,000 word manuscript. A good many months later, when the new draft took shape far better than expected, that darling chapter functioned in all the ways it was supposed to.

Looking back, I have nothing to regret.

Part 1: Without Thinking

Part 2: Learning Curve

Part 4: My Own worst Enemy

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher – Part 2

Learning Curve

One of the first things I learned when I decided to write a novel was: “You can’t polish a turd”. Many a time I’d written a story that appeared so unworkable the best course of action was to save it under ‘trash’. This strategy seemed the kindest thing to do.

I have since learned that sometimes turds can be polished; and if you don’t believe me, Mythbusters have already proved it.

Having said that, there really is no point in trying to fix a lacklustre novel by putting all your efforts into buffing it up. To keep it from falling apart, you’ve got to re-mould the underlying structure first.

Flash back to nine years ago, four years after that initial chapter I wrote for my PhD. I found myself faced with one of the greatest strokes of luck a writer could wish for: an agent from London had somehow seen my opening chapters on the internet. The following day, I received a request for the full manuscript.

As much as I wanted to believe this would be my big break, I should have explained, “I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.” But I was way too inexperienced, and although my novel held more than a little promise, my attempts at making it saleable had turned it into an unwieldy, unfocussed dog’s breakfast.

Fortunately, the agent was amazingly generous. He read my novel, then sent me a fabulous critique and an offer to resend. I followed his advice as well as I could, but at the same time made a serious rookie error. Instead of taking the idea of restructuring my novel seriously, I ignored too many interior flaws and added a new layer of polish to the outside instead. In doing so, I effectively set myself up for the first in a long string of rejections.

Although I already knew I had a lot to learn, I now understood there was more to this editing business than I’d imagined. Daunted, I took a break.

To be continued…

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher Part 1: Without Thinking…

Part 3: Difficult Decisions

Confessions of an Accidental Self-Publisher – Part 1:

Without Thinking…

When I started my first and hitherto only finished novel nearly fourteen years ago, I had dreams of it being picked up by a major publisher. Sometimes I imagined an agent would discover me. But the more I wrote, the more I’d see myself as a victim of self-delusion. All too regularly I’d wonder if the best course of action would be to give up.

Not that the prospect of being the worst writer in the world would stop me. I’ve always enjoyed penning stories, even as ten year old when someone – probably my mother – gifted me with a diary. I’d take it up every day after school, and if there was nothing interesting to record, I’d make stuff up.

I decided to get serious about writing back in 2000 when I had one of my very early stories published in Eidolon 29/30 edited by Jeremey G Byrne; and it came with a fabulous cover by Shaun Tan.

Image from Eidolon.net

Back then I wasn’t much of a plotter, at least when faced with a blank page. Usually I’d begin with an idea, then think about a character, conflict, belief, misbelief. I’d drop them into the barest sketch of a setting, add a pinch of world building and let the plot unfold on its own. At some stage, I’d start getting a feel for the big picture and hope that my characters would figure out what to do next. A little later I’d discover an end.

I’m not sure what kind of writer than makes me. Chaotic evil perhaps?

Anyhow, this is how a very early (since deleted) draft of Chapter One of The Eternal Machine materialised; and it was a reasonable chapter because it went towards my successful application to Clarion West 2008. It was also the beginning of the creative component for my PhD that focussed on writing steampunk from the perspective of a fantasy writer.

This was before Steampunk made its big comeback in the late 2000s. I remember talking to people about it and most would say, “Steampunk? What’s that?” Fast forward to four years later when it was time to think about selling my novel and the usual reply would be, “Steampunk? Not again?”

Of course that wasn’t the only reason why I couldn’t make a sale. As an academic piece written alongside an exegesis, it worked pretty well. In fact, it earned me lots of encouraging praise from my examiners.

There was, however, another comment I should have paid more attention to much earlier than I did. One that suggested I send it out for a professional edit. Instead, I spent a few more months tinkering here and there, running it through my writers’ group, then re-polishing it as well as I could.

Back then, there was this interesting place called Authonomy run by Harper Collins. It was a huge online community where writers could post chapters from their novel and then post critiques about each other’s work. If you were lucky enough to rise to the top of the critiquing ladder, you’d get your novel looked at by a Harper Collins editor. The problem was: that ladder was dauntingly long. If it were real it would have probably reached all the way to the moon via Alpha Centauri.

“You’ve got to be in it to win it,” I told myself. Then promptly posted a handful of chapters and started critiquing chapters for others. A week later, when the first of the required trillion steps seemed an inch or two closer, an email appeared in my inbox from a literary agent in London . He’d read my chapters on Authonomy and asked if I’d be happy to submit a full manuscript.

“Would I be happy?” I thought. “How about elated?”

I must point out, I was very, very green back then. A handful of my stories had appeared in small press magazines, but none had received feedback as promising as this.

After I calmed down, I told myself the sensible thing to do was to not believe a word of it. Just to be sure, I googled that agent to check him out. Much to my surprise, he was real.

To be continued…

Confessions of an Accidental Self Publisher – Part 2: Learning Curve…