Baltimore, 2018

News is out: I’m a judge for the World Fantasy Awards 2018. Very happy to be taking on this challenge. It involves an enormous amount of reading in a genre I love, which will give me a good, rounded knowledge of the state of the business. I really like having that overall understanding, having read for international awards before. It makes you aware of writers and publishers you wouldn’t otherwise be aware of, and gives you something to talk about when people ask you what you’re reading!

From past experience, friendships form in the process, and I’m pleased about that, too.

So when I come to World Fantasy next year as a Guest of Honor, I’ll also be there as a World Fantasy Award judge. Busy year ahead!


Writerly updates

Last month I went to Lexicon, the New Zealand Science Fiction convention. I loved the location, Lake Taupo, where the air seems to suit my health. My hair doesn’t frizz, my skin feels soft, my lungs feel clear. And with the massive lake, filled with mystery and beauty, and things stick out of the water, I was creatively inspired as well! To be surrounded by that environment, and by clever, funny, creative people…what a great weekend it was.

Grace Bridges is chairing the 2019 Convention, which will likely be held at Rotorua. They asked me to return as a guest and I absolutely agreed!


Lots of exciting things happening during the Conflux Science Fiction Convention which runs Friday September 29 to Monday October 2. I’m lucky enough to be MC for the event, which has two incredible guests: Ellen Datlow! and Angela Slatter! We’ll be doing a one hour event at Muse Bookshop, one of my favourite places in Canberra, on the Thursday night. Conflux is such a good convention for meeting writers, publishers and editors and for finding inspiration in words.



My story “Mine Intercom”, which I consider one of my scariest, appears in the 2015 Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror. Edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene, this book is a beauty with great stories from Australian writers. This story first appeared in Review of Australian Fiction.


years best

Possibly the biggest news is the awards! “The Grief Hole” has become the first Australian novel to win the Aurealis Award, the Shadows Award and the Ditmar Award. Absolutely thrilled! It also one the Canberra Critics Circle Award, and I’m beginning to the think they are the predictors of what’s to come, because they also gave me the award for “Through Splintered Walls” and “Slights”, my other two most awarded books!

Here is the book its awards. Admittedly the Shadows Statue is my one from last year, but I couldn’t wait to post the news!




Eating the Alice Cake

A while ago, I picked up a pile of books for free from a second-hand book stall. They were on the ‘recycle’ pile, headed for pulp. I loved the covers, so brought them home.

One was Muriel Spark’s Robinson.

What a bizarre, fascinating, creepy novel this was. It’s about a woman who is shipwrecked on an island called Robinson, after the sole inhabitant. He’s a manipulative, brilliant, obsessive man who lives, in part, from the salvage of wrecked ships.

One moment stood out for me, and sat in my backbrain waiting for the right story to come along. The main character refuses to wear the clothes of the dead, or to touch any of the other salvage. Robinson, meanwhile, has no problems with either.

I wondered; what sort of person would live only on the food left over in dead people’s houses?

I know. It’s a very odd place, my backbrain

This inspiration came to roost in my story “Eating the Alice Cake”, which I’ve sold to Ellen Datlow for her Mad Hatters and March Hares anthology for Tor. All stories inspired by Alice in Wonderland! Cannot wait for this one. Look at the amazing writers I’m sharing space with!

Gentle Alice                                        Kris Dikeman  (poem)

My Own Invention                            Delia Sherman

Lily-White & The Thief of Lesser Night C.S.E. Cooney

Conjoined                                            Jane Yolen

Mercury                                              Priya Sharma

Some Kind of Wonderland                  Richard Bowes

Alis                                                     Stephen Graham Jones

All the King’s Men                             Jeffrey Ford

Run, Rabbit                                         Angela Slatter

In Memory of a Summer’s Day         Matthew Kressel

Sentence Like a Saturday                    Seanan McGuire

Worrity, Worrity                                Andy Duncan

Eating the Alice Cake                          Kaaron Warren

The Queen of Hats                             Ysabeau Wilce

A Comfort, One Way                                     Genevieve Valentine

The Flame After the Candle               Catherynne M. Valente

Moon, Memory, Muchness               Katherine Vaz

Run, Rabbit, Run                                Jane Yolen (poem)


L.J.M. Owen knows her stuff! Her books are meticulously researched, which I love. I feel smarter after reading her work. We share an interest (obsession?) with the darker side of human behaviour and motivations, so always have a lot to talk about!

You can find L.J. at her website or meet her in person at the National Library for the book launch of Mayan Mendacity

Here she is, talking about how she refreshes her wells:


“How do I refresh the wells?

This question arrived at a fortuitous moment. Bone-shakingly tired, having just finished editing the second instalment in the Dr Pimms series, it was the perfect time to divine an answer. It emerged that my process is threefold:  first, deny that my energy reserves are running low; next, avoid replenishing them even when it’s obvious I must do so; and finally, go wandering.

Creative inspiration runs rampant through the pathways of my mind in apparently inexhaustible and chaotic supply. My body, on the other hand, dictates physical limitations *queue synchronised eye-roll from family and friends*. The gap between all I want to do, and what I am actually capable of doing, is an endless source of personal frustration. When in the writing zone I’m annoyed by the need for sleep, the requirement to eat and the passage of time. Is that so unreasonable?

My attempts to ignore the dictates of the physical world result in extended bouts of exhaustion. Thus, my recent proposal to delay sleep for a few months until I “catch up on everything” did not meet with universal support *on the edge of your hearing, that’s a sigh from Longsuffering Partner*.

When my batteries deplete to 30% I insist I’m fine and continue as normal. Since I’m running on an ever-increasing sleep debt of over 2000 hours, I honestly can’t remember what it’s like to not be tired. Once I dip to 20% capacity, however, I will indulge in an afternoon of Midsomer Murders, Terry Pratchett or Kerry Greenwood, and a vat of Earl Grey tea.

In days gone by I learned a trick to side-step mental exhaustion. I dealt with soul-crushing years as a public servant by escaping into out-of-hours study. After degrees in archaeology and biological anthropology came diplomas in librarianship and various languages. I realised, as I prepared for multiple exams, that when one processing centre in my brain fatigued others remained vital. Thus I could study Chinese for two hours, then French for two, then Spanish for two and be ready for Welsh that night. But I couldn’t study Chinese for six or eight hours straight – two hours per language was the limit. At times I could almost feel the worn-out lobes power down as fresh synapses sparked to life.

I’ve since replaced study with creative writing and discovered the side-step trick works here as well. If I’ve temporarily wrung every last drop of prose from my mind I can swap to research, or editing. Each step in the writing process seems to draw on different cognitive repositories.

Occasionally, though, I exhaust all sectors of my brain. If scraping the bottom of the well I will finally concede the need for a short break. When the inner battery levels flash red it’s time for G&Ts, a feast of epic proportions, and binge-watching TV shows like Spaced, Black Books, Green Wing, Firefly, Archer or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. In extremis I may actually do some housework *audible huff from Sadly Neglected Furchildren*.

Recovered slightly, the replenishment of creative energy begins as I go for a wander among the people and places in my head…

I stroll along country roads, running my fingers through the agricultural crops discussed in a half-drafted recipe book that explores the relationship between human evolution and the domestication of plants and animals…

I nod respectfully to the entire cast of my Celtic Kings series, spread as they are from western Ireland to western China…

I slip by my band of Marauding Steampunk NunsTM rampaging through an epidemiologically-accurate 19th century London. They occupy a disproportionate quantity of writerly daydreaming time as it is!

I have long, in-depth discussions with Elizabeth, the protagonist of my Dr Pimms series. As a young woman in her 20s she’s a passionate archaeologist, introverted and a Whovian, so I have substantial empathy with her. Nonetheless, it took me quite some time to like her. We didn’t get off to the best start as I resented certain freedoms in her childhood denied to me, and she found my insistence that she grow up overbearing. We explore the areas of her life that both she and I are happy with, the parts of her life she’s disgruntled by, and the aspects of her personality I would like us to work on. Self-reflectivity is a good thing, that’s all I’m saying.

As I amble on I turn down narrow alleys of history where women’s stories linger, starved of light. I listen to their tales of adventure, invention, triumph, persecution and betrayal. I meander woodland paths of academic research on ancient civilisations, forensic science and information management.

And finally, the right archaeological artefact or scientific breakthrough or moment in history triggers a neural cascade, another story flashes into existence. *That faint whoosh is a collective shoulder slump from Partner and Furchildren*

I’m off again!”


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.




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


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.”



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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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!).”