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Review

The first review came in for The Grief Hole and it’s pretty damn good! Jim McLeod at Gingernuts of Horror absolutely nails it. I have lots of favourite bits in the review, but I think the best line is

“However, as the story unfolds and secrets are divulged your respect and admiration for Theresa grows exponentially, with all the wonderful character traits converging into one of the most believable protagonists in recent years. ”

 

This is the bit that brought tears to my eyes. Theresa is very real to me, so it’s wonderful to know she’s real to the readers as well.

 

 

 

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I love Haralambi Markov’s fiction. His voice is strong and unusual and his ideas! His ideas are incredible. Weird, outrageous, courageous. Yet he makes them work. Here’s how he refreshes his well:

 

“The idea of creativity as a physical well with concrete limitations, one that needs nourishment in reciprocity to consumption, appeals to me. In writing about my mental state I often refer to myself as a metaphorical body of water caught in one permutation or another. Writing, then, is the alchemy involved to transmute truth and concept into a narrative with the waters of this well as medium.

Metaphors aside I do find my own creativity to be a limited resource. For every project I try to be as honest in my storytelling as possible and weave in something fundamentally universal and true about the human condition as I perceive it. Often, there’s an element of confession embedded. Small. No more than a kernel of personal truth. It’s a way for me to stay connected to my words even when I write about something as impossible as hauntings that last centuries and monstrous raspberry bushes.

It’s also a way to make writing difficult and slow, since I’m basically cutting open wounds to feed the words and I need time to heal – as pretentious as this may sound. After each finished draft, I’m exhausted and the ways I make it possible for myself to return to writing is to not write. Some writers are prolific and can transition from manuscript to manuscript with ease. I am not one of these people. I need time and distance.

In this breathing period, I focus on my relationships and friendships, catch up on my reading, watch movies and binge watch shows. I collect anecdotes, experiences that can be as small as noticing how my neighbor tends to the flowers in the communal park; snippets of talks with friends either in person or via messenger; saturated-with-emotion and well-acted narratives; heightened dramatic moments in competition shows.

This is the raw material I collect. In the beginning, it’s a heavy sludge – nothing like water, but over time, it purifies distills and I find myself standing by the well. Sparkling waters await me and the urge to write returns.”

 

You can read “The Language of Knives” at tor.com

 

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Craig Cormick is multi-talented, multi-faceted and often multi-coloured in his dress. Flamboyant, vocal, supportive, clever. That’s him.

 

If you want to see him in person, this month, Craig and I will be reading at An Evening of Awesome

 

Meanwhile, here he is, talking about his Well.

“The well of – well – Inspiration!

So I was asked to do a blog post on refreshing the well of inspiration. But to address that I think I should address the problematic relationship that I have with inspiration.

And, like many authors, I thought I’d better check was other writers have to say, and see if their experiences were similar or not.

Charles Bukowski said, “Drink from the well of yourself and begin again.”

Or Ned Vizzini wrote, “Dreams are only dreams until you wake up and make them real.”

And Tchaikovsky said, “Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.”

All nice enough, but none of them really captured how inspiration and me get on. So on a whim of Inspiration I have decided to personify her, to give you more of a feel for her.

Let’s call her Simone. Or starburst-girl.

  • Or whatever you want.

But that doesn’t tell you what she’s really like, does it.

To paraphrase Dickens, she is the best of people and she is the worst of people.

She is the type of person you’d love to invite home, but you know your mother would not altogether approve.

She is also a wild child at heart, and isn’t averse to trying new and crazy things.

And she comes when you least expect it.

You can call on her and labour hard to make her come, but she rarely will. But then, just want to lie down and have a rest, she comes screaming and singing with bells and whistles on.

I would much rather she visit on days when I was home alone, able to concentrate on writing. But no, she’d rather show up just before my wife walks in the door, or when we have a family thing planned.

  • She’s inconvenient.

Some nights she creeps right into my bed when my wife is sleeping and I wonder how to answer her call without waking my wife. She – caring spouse that she is – actually bought me a pen with a light in the end so I could engage with Simone without waking her.

You might see some people talking about Simone and asking how deep her well is, or worrying whether she will come back after she’s visited you – like one really good visit from her means she isn’t coming back for a long, long time. But that’s not how she rolls.

Sometimes she comes so often she leaves you with a drawer-full of issues and ideas to work over for weeks.

Other times she might just tip-toe around the house, just out of your reach, taunting you with her closeness.

  • Tease!

Strangely enough she seems to love doing it to me on airplanes. I have many of my best stories – including this one – from airplane journeys.

So inappropriate places and inappropriate times are her favourite.

But when she visits she can be so wonderful. But infuriating as well.

I remember one time when I was in hospital for a minor operation and the anaesthetist was trying to get the mask on my face to knock me out, and she was suddenly there on my lap with a brilliant idea. So I was trying to take notes with a borrowed pen and pad, while he was trying to get the mask on and I was saying, ‘Just a minute. Just one more minute.’

  • True story.

On the plus side, when she does show up in one of her better moods, it is like she turbo-charges your mind and your senses. It’s like a wild ride and you just sit there and hold on tight.

But don’t count on making a booking in your diary. That’s also not how she rolls.

Sometimes I might wake up in the middle of the night, expecting her to be there and I might go down the kitchen and sit at the table with a cup of tea waiting for her. But she never shows up.

  • The bitch!

There are places she clearly likes more than others. Up in the mountains. Down by the beach. Sitting in concerts or lectures. But again, more often than not, when you aren’t expecting her. (You’ll find a lot of disappointed authors on mountain tops pretending they are climbers.)

After several decades and dozens of book and stories I’d like to think I’ve come pretty close to figuring her routine out, and being able to anticipate her and even knowing when and where I can refresh my well of ideas.

  • So I’d like to think.”

 

 

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Adam Browne is ‘gnarly’ ‘brilliant’ and ‘unique’, according to his reviews, and I wouldn’t argue with any of that. His brain works in amazing, fascinating ways which amuse, shock, surprise and delight me. Here he is, talking in his own particular way, about how he refreshes his well.

 

“On Spaceships

Recently, on Facebook, a friend mentioned he used never to read a book unless there was a spaceship in it.

I’d forgotten until then that I used to be the same way. Spaceships. Transcendence. I’d been indoctrinated by 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’d learned that apotheosis takes place away from Earth.

My transition probably began with Phillip K Dick. I found my first PKD book when I was 15, on a school trip in Alice Springs.

There were spaceships in his books, but they were peripheral or incidental. He was the gateway drug into what I read now — which isn’t much, admittedly.

It’s because I’m so particular. Where spaceships used to do it for me, now I need high-style, grim wit, irony, genre-tricks. I read Martin Amis sometimes. He and his father, Kingsley, were sympathetic to sf. I wonder if this is why I enjoy Amis, when I do enjoy him (‘The Little Puppy that Could’ is one of my favourite sf stories, I add; one of Amis’s very few in that genre) — because he respects Idea.

Some current sf doesn’t have ideas — it’s ossified — just a pastiche of stuff from before — some sf has ideas but they’re sophomoric, or presented in a sophomoric way. This is never the case with Amis.

Anyway: spaceships. As I say, I don’t read about them these days, with a few exceptions — I’m not an absolutist — Aurora, by Kim Robinson, is a masterpiece, and actually an anti-spaceship story (I dislike war movies, but like anti-war movies).

So that’s one problem. An avenue for reading pleasure has been closed to me.

The worse problem is that a lot of the novel I’m writing is set on spaceships.

They’re great spaceships. There’s one that is driven by shadows; another with a destination-magnet, another still is acausal…

But I started writing it years ago, and I’ve changed since then.

Spaceships don’t solve problems. Transcendence isn’t found in the sky but on the ground. The closer to the dirt the better.

I haven’t thought of a solution yet. Suggestions welcome. Maybe I need to do what Kim Robinson did — go anti-spaceship.  It’s a similar strategy to how the early porn filmmakers got around censorship etc — by making salacious movies, but pretending to be admonitory.

Might be a solution. I often base my decisions on lessons learned from the early porn filmmakers.”

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Launch!

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Just looking at Tania McCartney’s webpage refreshes my wells. There’s a glorious exuberance about her illustrations, her writing, and herself that reminds me why I write; to explore who people are, and why they do what they do.

Here, she talks about how lying in bed is a good thing!

 

“I so love the concept of a refreshment well, and it really got me thinking. I guess my creative replenishment sits firmly outside my ‘work’ yet involves the very stuff my work is made of. Reading. Writing. Drawing. Painting. Pondering. Tossing words into a mental soup. Writing lyrics in my head to goodness knows what artboard and swiping colour swatches across a batch of imaginary text (can you tell I’m an iPad user?).

Overall, I reckon I replenish in two ways. The first, above, seems like work but it’s really not because anything I read or write or draw or muse in Replenishment Mode has no deadline. No place to be. No tentacles leading anywhere other than ‘maybe I shall revisit this lightbulb moment in work mode next week’. And that’s oh-so-freeing.

The other way is a purely physical one. It’s really quite independent of the heart and mind, though it deeply affects both. It’s moving muscles—yoga, walking, travel. Nutrition—plant foods, super foods, pure water. And taking care of my physical brain—meditation, mindfulness, learning. Creative brains are so chronically overloaded—there’s so many clamouring ideas and so much mind chatter (sometimes good sometimes not so good). Some of my greatest peace and creative rejuvenation comes from a silent mind. Or a mind that’s just open to whatever appears at the time. I guess this is a sort of ‘channelling’ and, ironically, this is how I both write and draw—channelling the content from another place.

One of my daily replenishment joys is lying in bed before sleep and watching the day’s ‘theme’ unfold behind darkened eyes—colours, patterns, sounds, perspectives. It’s really hard to explain. All the senses merge into one. It could be hobby horses with green striped wallpaper and the smell of apples. Or it could be skies made of white papercuts, a pond made of music and glass grass. There’s only ever one daily theme and it never relates to my day—it just appears, and it’s like Christmas each and every time.

So it appears to be the small moments that fill my creative well. Those non-thinking times that focus on either pure pleasure (reading, drawing, writing) or physical connection (walking, meditation, travel). Or just staring into space (how I love just staring into space!). I find time for these moments every day, but occasionally need a week or three more deeply immersed in the replenishment well (in fact, I’m just drying myself off from a three-week drenching as I type!). These longer periods always start with a head full of this: ‘Why am I doing this? Am I crazy? My work is shite. I’m getting nowhere. My career and its direction is in the hands of everyone but me. I don’t know if I want to do this anymore. Can I even DO this anymore?’ And half way through my well-submersion, the mind begins to clear and a little light appears, and it becomes brighter and brighter and the focus is brought back to pure creative passion. That’s when nothing else matters, and you’re reborn, renewed, full of jellybeans and ready to forge ahead fearlessly. Until the next bout of staring into space (how I love just staring into space!).”

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 If you want ground-breaking, brilliant fiction, here’s Lavie Tidhar
We first almost met when I was living in Fiji and he was living in Vanuatu. Sadly, the day he was in my neck of the woods I was flying back to Sydney, so I left him a pile of books to pick up and that was as close as we got. As tough as it was to get books in Fiji, it was harder in Vanuatu.
I love the way Lavie thinks and was curious to get a little insight into that brain of his.
“When I get stuck it’s not because I’m out of ideas, it’s because my subconscious is telling me I need to step back for a while. The best cure I found for that is to go out for drinks! Really I feel so tame in comparison to legendary writers – I was reading a book recently on the stuff people got up to in Hollywood’s golden age and it’s just shocking how much fun they seemed to have. You become a writer in the hope of 1) never leaving the house and 2) never having to meet people, so it’s good to get out every now and then, mostly because then you’re grateful to be back in hiding for a while.
Really, I’ve come to recognise when I just need to stop. It’s not even anything special you need to do, you just need to leave things alone and sooner or later the solution comes. The mind needs to be engaged with something else. Because I’m a bit of a magpie writer, though, if I’m stuck on one thing I just switch to something else. I’m writing 2 novels at the moment for instance, which makes it easier. If I get stuck on both, I’ll just do a short story.
Once in a while you reach maximum brain freeze, which is when you really, really, need a holiday. Ideally somewhere with a pool. And a cocktail bar. And lots of books. I remember I used to read books. Now I only get to read them on my phone, if I get a bus or a train. I long for long-haul flights.
But the best thing I’ve ever found is to simply find something new to get angry about.  To be angry at something, to care enough about something that you can do nothing else but sit down and write about it, try to transform it into art, rail against the things that get to you – this is why I write. Without anger I’d never have written A Man Lies Dreaming, or Osama, or just about anything else. I’ll only get worried if I’m ever indifferent, but luckily, the world’s not running out of things to be angry about any time soon…
And if all else fails, watch Australian television!
It’s my guilty little secret. Underbelly, Old School, Jack IrishBikie Wars! My secret dream is to write a movie starring Damian Walshe-Howling and Aaron Fa’aoso. When I get stuck writing novels, I just work on that movie. Maybe you think I’m joking – but I’m not…”

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