Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category


This weekend, I’m heading up to Brisbane for the Aurealis Awards. Slights is shortlisted for best horror novel.  I’ll be dressing to win, so here’s hoping!

I’ll be appearing at Pulp Fiction Bookshop in Brisbane with Trudi Canavan at 10.30 on the Saturday. Here’s the full schedule of fab authors appearing:

Trudi Canavan and Kaaron Warren at 10.30 – 11.30am

Sean Williams, Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier at 11.30am – 12.30pm

Karen Miller and Glenda Larke at 12.30 – 1.30pm

Pamela Freeman and Katie Taylor at 2.30 – 3.30pm

To take my mind off the award, I’m sorting papers as I unpack our boxes. I found a folder of early notes for Walking the Tree, when I already had the story in mind but was thinking about the themes, layers and the nitty-gritty.

There is one precious piece of paper where my brilliant mathematician friend, Phil Kilby, figured out the size of my island. In Walking the Tree, schooling consists of the children leaving their home communities at the age of 8 and walking around the tree, stopping in other communities to get to know and understand the people living there.

Given the number of days the children walk and how manyhours a day they could be expected to walk, Phil figured out that my island was approximately 772,882 km squared. Approximately equal to Turkey.

It was important to know how big the island was to give me a sense of space. at first, I thought there would be many hundreds of communities, but as I wrote, a sense of isolation came through, of separation. knowing how big the island was meant i could imagine how far apart the communities were.

Phil is not related to Steve Kilbey, an Australian musical genius. This is the Church’s “Under the Milky Way“, one of those songs guaranteed to stop conversation at parties while everyone sings quietly and reverently.

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Bi Bim Bap

I love this Korean meal, served in a hot stone dish. The heat of the bowl remains long after you’ve finished eating and are sipping your green tea. The beef is tender, the vegies sweet.

For company I had my Japanese friend, just returned from Tokyo. She brought me another book. This friend introduced me to the author Soseki Natsume though his hilarious book, ‘Botchan’. She also gave me ‘I am a Cat’, but I’m saving that one.

Today she gave me Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s collection of short stories. What a tragic life he had! Listen to this, from his biography in the front of the book:

“His mother died insane when he was a child. His father, toward whom he had great resentment, was a failure who gave him up to his maternal uncle for adoption.”

The stories range from “The Hell Screen”, which is described as comprising the qualities of horror, the groteqsque and the macabre, and “The Nose” in which a Buddhist monk finds life difficult with his oversize nose.

I’m lucky in that I can read these books in the English translation. It’s hard for me to find Australian books for her. Her English is very good, but it is difficult to absorb a novel in another language, I think.

At the same time, on my search for last things, I’m reading “Japanese Death Poems written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death”. The poems are of interest, but more fascinating are the descriptions of the men who wrote them. Seira, who died in 1791, apparently said that, having suffered from inflammation of th skin and a boil the size of  pumpkin on his head he could no longer escape the inevitable.



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I shouldn’t read The Guardian Weekly while eating my lunch. I shouldn’t read William Vollman’s “Poor People” at night, when I’m trying to get sleepy. Both are so full of ideas, stories and inspirations that I have to rouse myself to  note them down. If I’m eating lunch the food goes cold as I scribble this: The US has 8 grades of meat. Bottom three are Utility, Cutter and Canner – for processing. Described as ‘older steers with partially-ossified vertebrae’.

At night, I’m wide awake after copying these words from “Poor People”: Hope dies last says Elena, and they were already in the category of last things.

Will these notes end up in stories? Possibly. I know I have to make them, though, or else the thought is gone and all I’m left with is a vague recollection of a story that could have been.

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Slights Location

In “Slights”, one of the people who inhabit Stevie’s dark room is a shop keeper.

This is how I describe their interaction:

I liked to dig for hours on end, sleep, eat, buy my needs from Mrs Beattie at the corner shop. I really enjoyed entering that place. It was dark, cool, small, the goodies all lined up like a marching band. I loved picking things up and putting them down, just out of place, until Mrs Beattie said, “Can I help you?” as if I hadn’t worked there for three years, from the tender age of fifteen. Her arms were fatter than ever, and she hadn’t bought a new dress in years, so you could see a tight line of strain pressing into her flesh.

The thing she hated most was the way I bought lollies. I had half the kids doing it too; they had a fine instinct for what irritated an adult.

“I’ll have a red traffic light. And a green traffic light. And another red traffic light. And a yellow traffic light. And a green traffic light,” until my bag was full. I don’t even like lollies; I gave them to all the sugar-starved children.

The shop I describe was inspired by the corner shop where I lived in Rose Street, Annandale. I passed it every day but rarely shopped there, because, like many corner shops, it often didn’t have what I needed. It was indeed quite dark with a great sense of age about it. I can’t remember if the shopkeeper had fat arms or not!

Now the old shop has been turned into a cafe! Jonathan Shaw, at his Me Fail? I Fly! blog has photos and a description. Revolver looks fabulous from the photos. If I ever write another story about Stevie, I’ll have to make her go and order a coffee in an irritating way!

Here is Jonathan’s history of the shop.

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When I was eight, already a voracious reader, I borrowed a book from the local library about the California Redwood Tree. Reading it filled me with a visceral sense of BIG. I came back time and time again to read this book because I loved the idea of something so ancient and so huge existing in my own, real world.

The sense of BIG is something difficult to explain. It fills my brain with itself; the sense of something magnified to such a degree that it changes in the way it looks.

“Walking the Tree”, which is now the next novel to be published by Angry Robot, has this idea of BIG at its heart. The idea, story and character came to me fully formed while watching a documentary about ancient artefacts. The Tree, which almost fills a large island and forms the mythology, history and law of the novel, is inspired by my early fascination with the Redwood.

When in San Francisco last week, I discovered that the forest was a mere 45 minute drive away and I knew we all had to go.

Muir Woods is a well-developed venue, with wooden walkways (not made of oldgrowth Redwood, as my husband joked!) to keep you off the path. Walking them reminded me of Ray Bradbury’s “The Sound of Thunder”, and the importance not to change anything.

The trees were breath-taking. So tall you had to tilt your head back as far as it would go. Their trunks are red, soft, straight. Some of them have been burnt, but they grow on regardless. Some have caves inside (as does the Tree in my novel) and we all imagined how it would be to live there.

I have a great sense of fulfillment, having seen these trees I’ve loved since I was eight.

North America 2009 236

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One of the things which influenced the beginnings of me as a writer of speculative fiction was the disintegration of Skylab and its consequent descent to the Earth. I still have the articles I clipped out during my pivotal 15th year. There was so much that fascinated me and sparked ideas; what if the metal had absorbed some kind of knowledge or experience and could now transfer it? What if something had hitchhiked? How would the landing of a piece of Skylab affect Country Australia? Suburban Australia? City Australia? I never wrote a Skylab story, but thinking about all these things, without being restrained by ‘what really is”, led me to the sort of stories I still write today.


I had forgotten all this until we went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on our trip to Washington. Seeing it, large in the centre of the hall that way reminded me of how excited I’d been at the time, and what huge affect it had on me as a story-teller.

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