Category Archives: writing
In 2015, Clan Destine Press launched an Indiegogo fundraiser to create a fabulous anthology of rollicking adventure stories!
Just over a year later, on 31st December 2016, And Then…: The Great Big Book of Awesome Adventure Tales Volume 1 sprang into the world, arms upraised, TA DAAAAAA! to be at least one good thing in 2016.
Clan Destine invited some of Australia and New Zealand’s best genre writers to be part of the anthology, and I’m very proud to have been one of them. In Volume One, I keep excellent company with so many people whose work I admire: Sulari Gentill, Jason Nahrung, Alan Baxter, Jason Franks, Lucy Sussex, Amanda Wrangles, Evelyn Tsitas, Peter M Ball, Dan Rabarts, Kat Clay, Sophie Masson, Tor Roxburgh, Emilie Collyer and Tansy Rayner Roberts.
This volume contains 15 stories of adventures: each with two heroes, each with a touch of something Aussie or Kiwi about them – but otherwise set across different times and places, from Goldrush Melbourne to outer space.
And Then… is edited by Ruth Wykes and Kylie Fox, with title page illustrations by Vicky Pratt and cover art by Sarah Pain
My story, ‘Virgin Soil’, teams a young man with magical powers with a shapeshifter, a man-turned-rat (or vice-versa; he doesn’t remember how he started). Some people might think they’re black magicians, and possibly they are, but someone has to do the dirty work, even on the side of the good guys. It’s set in 1851 during Melbourne’s gold rush years and involves virgin sacrifice – but maybe not the type you’re thinking of.
An excerpt from Virgin Soil:
Rain had made a mud creek of Queen Street, and the blighted stuff stuck like tar to boots of toff and toiler alike. All these thousands milling off the ships at the wharf were no ruddy help either. Sooner the fools were all off to Ballarat for the diggings, the better; or it would be, if there weren’t thousands more on their way, just as foolhardy.
Lucius wove in and out of the crowd, as mud-footed as the rest and more threadbare than most. He darted between the shifting bodies, dodging low to look under elbows and past waists, or stood on tiptoe trying to see over shoulders, and much luck to him, little titch that he was. Finally, he caught sight of his quarry. He shouldered between a burly blacksmith with his knapsack and a Chinaman late arrived from California’s Gold Mountain in pursuit.
‘Oi, Cato,’ said Lucius, coming up shoulder-to-shoulder with his wiry mate, ‘Put it away, eh?’
The accosted Cato, as grubby and as threadbare as his friend, raised an eyebrow at him, his clear blue eyes all bemused, until Lucius jerked his head at Cato’s rear endage, and at the long, slender, and slightly scaly tail that hung down low enough to be seen under Cato’s weathered Dutch pea jacket.
‘Oh, go to,’ Cato cheerily scolded his tail. He wriggled and the tail disappeared, not only from under the jacket but back into his actual flesh, ‘Alas, I forget to reel the whole in, sometimes.’
‘Well, it is a handsome tail,’ Lucius observed. His eyes were also blue, and sometimes he and Cato were mistaken for brothers, though there was no blood and 260 years between them. Yet they were brothers enough.
Cato plucked at Lucius’s sleeve. ‘There’s the fellow.’ He nodded at a strapping young lad of 19 or so standing with his whiskered father, directing the unloading of goods from The Lady Jane, new arrived from the old country, that had something more useful than gold-diggers on board.
‘Aye,’ breathed Lucius, head close to Cato’s, ‘That’s our virgin lad. It’s a shame. He seems a good chap.’
Fourteen people nearly trod them into the mud for standing still, so they lifted their heels and went with the stream a little way, till they could draw aside into the relative stillness of a cart awaiting a load. One of the horses blew a raspberry with its big hairy lips and gave Cato an affronted look, but horses never paid him much mind. Dogs were another matter.
‘If he is a good fellow,’ said Cato, his lips pursed in a way that made his whole face sharp, ‘Then he would not begrudge his sacrifice for the greater good.’
Lucius scowled, unimpressed with the argument. ‘And would you go whistling to your doom for such nobility?’
Cato, who had tried to do so once or twice, pushed his cheek against Lucius’s shoulder and rubbed. ‘There, there, my Luke. The deed must be done.’
‘I know. Don’t have to like it, though.’
Get And Then… (ebook)
- And Then…: The Great Big Book of Adventure Tales Volume 1 (Clan Destine Press)
- And Then…: The Great Big Book of Awesome Adventure Tales, Vol I (Amazon.com)
- And Then…: The Great Big Book of Adventure Tales Volume 1 (Amazon UK)
Paperback coming soon, as is Volume 2 in due course.
Whatever the end of the year means to you, generally it means a few lazy days and grabbing some time for a bit of reading. Whether you’re preparing to soak up the sun in the southern hemisphere, or rug up warm in front of the fire (or frolic how you please somewhere in the middle) it’s always a good time for a new book!
Naturally, I have some recommendations for you!
Narrelle M Harris has a bumper year
If you’ve somehow missed the excellent year I’ve had, may I draw your attention not only to The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, a Holmes/Watson romance set in Australia in 1893, but also to Wilderness, the third of my sexy spy thrillers about Martine Dubois and Philip Marsden.
In addition, there are the many wonderful anthologies in which my work’s appeared this year: Intrepid Horizons, A Certain Persuasion (queer interpretations of Jane Austen), The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes stories Part V: Christmas Adventures (traditional Victorian era Holmes and Watson) and A Murmuring of Bees (queer Holmes/Watson romance and erotica). In the next few weeks, Clan Destine’s And Then… anthology will be joining them with my 1851 fantasy, “Virgin Soil”.
That’s enough variety to keep you going for a few weeks, but if you’ve already been a champion and supported my work throughtout the year, I can also recommend some other fantastic books.
Narrelle’s 2016 recommendations
GoodReads stats tell me that I read 84 books this year, so I was clearly reading as fast and hard as I was writing. So many good books too! Here are some of my favourites:
Romance and Erotica
Herotica Volume 1 by Kerry Greenwood. Full of delicious queer love stories throughout history.
Albert’s Wars by Stewart Jackel. A bittersweet wartime love story. I cried.
Definitely Naughty by Jo Leigh. Short, fast, fun, sexy read!
Thrive by Mary Borsellino. This is the review in which I sang songs of praise to this book.
Are you there, God? It is I, Robot by Tom Cho. Tom’s work, like Mary Borsellino’s, is always an absolutely brilliant, brain-opening treat.
Trucksong by Andrew Macrae. Sentient trucks. Post apocalyptic Australia. So Aussie. So gritty. So good.
Monstrous Little Voices: These five novellas set in and around Shakespeare’s plays and life were an early gem and utterly brilliant.
- Coral Bones by Foz Meadows;
- The Course of True Love by Kate Hearfield;
- The Unkindest Cut by Emma Newman;
- Even in the Cannon’s Mouth by Adrian Tchaikovsky; and
- On the Twelfth Night by Jonathan Barnes
Lady Helen and The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. Regency-era demon hunters, deft and fast-paced with fabulous frocks, manners that are not always impeccable and sexual tension you could cut with a knife!
The Time of the Ghosts by Gillian Polack. I didn’t think anybody could make me find Canberra interesting, but I was mistaken. Gillian Pollack does it effortlessly with the intriguing and marvellous tale of three older women, their protege Kat and all the ghosts becoming corporeal and dangerous in the ACT.
Tansy Rayner Roberts’ delightful novellas Glass Slipper Scandal: A Castle Charming Story, Unmagical Boy Story: a Belladonna University novella and Kid Dark Against The Machine. This woman keeps writing winners.
Pin Drop by Roz Monette. Life on the street for a young woman in America. Realistic but hopeful, with a positive ending.
Fast Pitch by Tim Martin and J Creighton Brown. I don’t normally go for sports books. I really loved this one.
Thyla by Kate Gordon. Tasmanian YA. An amnesiac girl is found in the wilderness. As her memory slowly returns, we learn why Tessa is a bit unclear on modern technology and what’s really going on with some missing girls from the school she now attends. Loved this one. Looking to get my hands on the next, Vulpi.
Ghost Girls by Cath Ferla. Set in Sydney’s Chinatown, it’s crime in a transient Australian community and it’s fantastic.
Livia Day’s Cafe La Femme series: A Trifle Dead, Drowned Vanilla and The Blackmail Blend novella. Set in Hobart. Tasty, tasty crime! (Livia Day is another name for Tansy Rayner Roberts, just going to prove that everything she writes is perfect)
The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim. Another crime novel exploring more diverse sections of Australia’s community. The splash of paranormal with the astrological charts just adds piquancy to the fantastic whole.
Richard III: The Maligned King by Annette Carson. I’m convinced. I’m now a committed Ricardian. What’s more, I think Henry Tudor is the one who did for the kids. Boo. Hiss.
Reckoning: A Memoir by Magda Szubanksi. Powerful and deeply moving.
Blockbuster! Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Lucy Sussex. Lucy breathes vitality and wry humour into this biography of a book.
Lives Beyond Baker Street: A Biographical Dictionary of Sherlock Holmes’s Contemporaries by Christopher Redmond is an incredibly useful book of the prominent, the famous, the influential and the infamous of the Victorian era. Handy if you’re writing Sherlockian fiction.
That’s probably enough to be getting on with!
Enjoy your reading, one and all, and I hope you have a relaxing break as we head into 2017, filled with excellent reading!
And please share your recommendations in the comments for holiday reading.
It’s only November, I know, but Christmas is coming anyway, with all the inevitability of sunrise, vampires in fiction, and a writer’s need for either coffee or wine (or both).
Speaking of writer’s needs, here’s a really neat gift idea for the writer in your life. Whether they’ve got thirty books under their sparkly belt or they’re still experimenting with style, form and pen name, you can’t go wrong with an inspirational journal.
And oh look, here’s one that Clan Destine Press prepared earlier!
The Journal of Infinite Possibility is a gorgeous little journal indeed. For a start, it’s full of pages waiting to be filled!
Mind you, the creators of this journal are writers and artists themselves and well know the terrifying tyranny of the blank page. That’s why the pages here aren’t exactly blank.
Instead, every page of The Journal of Infinite Possibility contains a picture, a quote, a prompt. Places to doodle when the words aren’t wording, images to colour in when doodles aren’t even doodling.
Actually, there’s plenty of space here for artists as well as writers, or for those scarily talented people who do both! They’ll certainly be inspired by the gorgeous covers and corner illustrations by Sarah Pain, Ashlea Bechaz, Vicky Pratt, Loraine Cooper and Ran Valerhon! (Two of that august list have created covers for my books with Clan Destine!)
A few of the pages are shown in part here so you can see how gorgeous this whole package is. The only real danger is that the writer who gets this won’t want to ink up the pretty pages. But ink it up, folks! Make it messy and crazy and bursting to full with your own ideas sparked by these words and pictures and blank spaces just begging to be decorated with words, lines, lists, scrawls, sketches and the seeds of something bigger.
What the hell. Don’t get it for some other writer. Get it for yourself.
It’s what I’ve done.
Modern LGBTQ+ fiction inspired by Jane Austen’s novels.
Thirteen stories from eleven authors, exploring the world of Jane Austen and celebrating her influence on ours.
Manifold Press’s anthology of queered Jane Austen short stories became available on 1 November 2016. Some of the stories use Austen’s characters in their original setting; some are modern takes on Austen’s tales; and some are original characters in the Regency period.
My contribution to the anthology, ‘Know Your Own Happiness’, is a modern take on Persuasion. It’s the story of Cooper West, who was persuaded by his brother four years ago that it was easier to pretend to be straight than admit to being bi and having a boyfriend. It was a stupid decision that cost him the love of his life, Archer Flynn. Now out, recently dumped and still harbouring regret for his lost love, Fate and Cooper’s cousin Kate are about to intervene.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Come to my book group with me on Thursday, Coop,” Kate told her melancholy new flatmate.
Cooper sighed and shook his head, resisting the inevitable.
“C’mon,” she wheedled. “You’ve been lying around the flat like a depressed slug for eight weeks. So it didn’t work out with Ruby.”
“Or with Shen, or that boy with the mohawk,” she added, “or … Helena wasn’t it, before that, and Mandy? They were about the same time, anyway, and before that Isla, Poppy … “
He grunted again. More of a snarl, really.
“Okay, so you’ve had a run of miserable luck. Shake it off. Read a book, eat something with vitamins in it, have a fucking bath, spritz up your sad hair and come out with me on Thursday. We’re reading Jane Austen this month.”
Cooper made a noise like it was the end of the world, and the end-times smelled like cheap dog food. “Aren’t you meant to make this sound appealing?”
“What’s not appealing about Austen, you cretin?”
“It’s all fucking bonnets and county balls.”
“Shows what you know,” Kate sneered back. “It’s all sass and snark, though I will admit there are bonnets. And you like balls, don’t you? As well as boobies?”
“Ha fucking ha.”
“No, really Coop. You smell like a school bathroom. Scrub up, pull on your glad rags and come to book club. You could meet a lovely girl. Or a lovely boy. With or without bonnets. Besides, if you don’t, I won’t have anyone to be my wingman at the club after. And I need a wingman.”
“You said I had a face like a wet week and to stay the hell away from you when you were on the pull.”
“That was last week. This week I need a wingman. So get up you lazy, mopey sod, and read this.” She tossed a pre-loved paperback at him, “And gird your loins for Captain Wentworth. He’s hot. Imagine Hugh Jackman in tight breeches.”
Cooper took up the copy of Persuasion and leafed through the first few pages. “All right,” he said, unenthusiastically, “I’ll come to your book group. I’ll even wash.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Kate, with a little air punch. She grinned, then sobered at Cooper’s frown. “Really, Coop,” she said, “it’ll be good.”
Cooper smiled at her, giving her some crumb of effort in exchange for hers.
His cousin patted his shoulder and it made him want to weep.
“Are you ever going to tell me what happened? I mean … you came back with one bloody suitcase, and Ruby sent four boxes over, and that was it. Most of your stuff was still here in your room. My spare room.” She shook her head. “Your room. You never really moved in with her, did you? That was the problem.”
Cooper looked at his feet. “It was a manifestation of the problem.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“Is it about what happened when you came out to your mum and dad?” Which was why Cooper now lived in Kate’s spare room on such a regular basis.
“Before then. But. I don’t want to talk about it. I messed up. I ran away because I was scared of losing everything, and lost it anyway when I stopped pretending I wasn’t bi. So.” He shrugged. “I’ll get over it.”
Kate stooped to kiss his forehead. “You’re a good guy, Coop. You’ve got a good heart, and a good brain. It’ll get better.”
He nodded and smiled, more successfully than last time.
He was better than he’d been after abandoning Archer. He was better than he’d been after his family abandoned him. It would get better again. Not as good as it had been with Archer, but better.
You can get A Certain Persuasion here:
- A Certain Persuasion (Amazon Kindle)
- A Certain Persuasion (Amazon paperback)
- A Certain Persuasion (Amazon UK)
- A Certain Persuasion (Amazon UK paperback)
- A Certain Persuasion (Smashwords)
- A Certain Persuasion (AllRomance)
- A Certain Persuasion (Kobo)
- A Certain Persuasion (Nook)
I have this neat little writing room in the Nicholas Building in Melbourne, which I share with a few other writers. The room right next door to ours is home to Verve Studios, an acting school. Every now and then my writing time and their rehearsal time coincides, which isn’t necessarily the right atmosphere for getting much writing done, but when you’re as endlessly nosy curious as me, it’s just another insight into my fellow human beings.
When I learned that Verve’s graduating actors were appearing in a La Mama co-production out in Kensington, naturally I wanted to see it. The play, Falling Apples, by Norwegian playright Lene Therese Teigen, talks about “how we see our personal futures and how we so easily relinquish self-determination and sew our destiny into the lives of others”.
This link between Verve and me is an intriguing parallel with the themes of Falling Apples, in which a cast of thirteen fill up a long stage facing the single line of chairs for the audience. The characters wander to and fro – sometimes running, sometimes performing subtle pantomimes that reflect scenes to come – and in groups of two or three, they coalesce into a short exchange of dialogue, before the characters spin back out to bounce through the vast stage.
Slowly a story emerges – a husband and wife in a terrible car accident and falling into persistent unconscious states. This affects their adult children; the people that these adult children know – a neighbour, a lover, an employee, his brother and his girlfriend, the employee’s ex-girlfriend, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, the driver of the other car, and a woman from Russia seeking more than just a job. The links get more and more tenuous, yet the filament of connection remains.
Most intriguing of all is the thirteenth character – a young woman who has been a painting for 500 years. Her ambitions to become an artist herself were frozen by her father, but she steps out of the prison of this painting where she’s been an observed object and now observes, and tries to help, all the others.
A strong sense of both attraction and repulsion exists in the way characters are drawn together and fly apart. Almost like a tray of balls sliding about, these people meet, collide, spin off, until there’s a sudden moment of coalescence. Dressed in black for a funeral, these thirteen characters all pull together in the gravity of the situation. Seated directly opposite audience members, stories are finally revealed, connections made clearer, disconnections resolved…
Until, in the final moments, a storm seems to break out and refracture the group once more.
The aforementioned gravity seems to be part of a scientific undercurrent to the story of how this group interacts. Even the title is a reference to Newtonian physics. There’s a sense of watching bodies in orbit, of falling and flying, of entropy and creation. Their fates and how they intertwine seem to be subject to even bigger forces than their own desire to find somewhere solid to stand.
The acoustics of the Kensington Town Hall can be a bit challenging, but the cast do a fine job of delineating their characters and using the vast space in a complicated but engaging way. It takes a little while to get into the rhythm of this unusual production, but it’s fascinating and unusual and worth seeing.
Falling Apples, directed by Peta Hanrahan for Verve Studios in conjunction with La Mama Theatre, is on at:
- Kensington Town Hall, 40 Bellair Street, Kensington
- until 8 October 2016.
- Tickets: $29 | $19
- Book online
Find out more about Falling Apples at La Mama Theatre
In 2013, I visited a beautiful lodge in the Canadian wilderness, where I spent several days grizzly-bear-watching, observing hummingbirds and enjoying the Great Bear Lodge. I blogged about the experience (and the importance of Not Surprising Bears).
I’m not especially outdoorsy (pause to allow the people who know me to stop howling with laughter at the understatement) but I did enjoy the Lodge. The Lodge itself was comfortable, with nice cosy beds, an excellent chef. I even saw some bears.
Some of my fondest hours over the three days were spent on the deck of the floating platform of the lodge (designed to ensure bears and other large wildlife didn’t get too up close and personal). I watched the haze over the river, the splash of the occasional seal, the curious buzz of the pretty hummingbirds hovering like wee helicopters and chasing each other from the feeders. Time slowed down (except I suppose for the hummingbirds) and I soaked up all the fresh, green, untamed atmosphere beyond the very elegantly tamed portion of the lodge itself.
Naturally, almost my second thought was “How can I take this tranquil setting and introduce mayhem into it?”
Marge, one of the people who runs the lodge and Great Bear Nature Tours, said that it was oay for me to use the lodge as a location in the story, provided I didn’t make the bears look bad.
So. Grizzly bears do not get a bad rap in the latest story of my Secret Agents, Secret Lives series – but bears, bear wallows and the wilderness in general all play their part in the story.
Wilderness brings us back to the lives of agent Martine Dubois – a former cop caught up in disgrace when betrayed by her partner – and spymaster Philip Marsden.
Martine Dubois is on a mission to extradite Thomas Reilly, a dangerous criminal, which ends in treachery and a crash landing in the Canadian wilderness. Grizzly bears are the least of Martine’s problems as she and Reilly hunt each other through British Columbia’s Great Bear Forest. Whatever the outcome, Martine is determined to survive and return to Phillip Marsden: top spy, the Grey Ghost, her boss who is also her lover.
- Secret Agents, Secret Lives 3: Wilderness (Amazon Kindle)
- Secret Agents, Secret Lives: Wilderness (Clan Destine Press)
This new story comes out along with a re-release of Double Edged and Expendable with their new covers.
If you’re after a bit of action and spy adventure with your sexy romance, the Secret Agents, Secret Lives series delivers quick reads that pack a punch.
Quintette asks writers five quick questions. This week’s interview is with:
1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how hard was it to pick a title?
It takes me ages to find titles for stories – this one was called “miner + airman” until about draft 4, when I decided I was close enough to the end that I really ought to get thinking about a proper title. Having just settled on “Make Do & Mend” being suitable for the era and themes of the book, Manifold Press announced a book by Adam Fitzroy called – yes, you guessed it, “Make Do & Mend”.
So I went back to the books I’d read as initial research for inspiration, and found mention of a poem that members of the Air Transport Auxiliary thought fitted their work. The first lines were quoted as being “Dicing with death / Under leaden skies” I haven’t yet been able to find a copy of the full poem, but decided that Under Leaden Skies fitted my story very well.
2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?
Oooh, tough question! I don’t tend to cast my characters, but I’ve had a lot of thought, and decided Gregory Peck as Teddy and Errol Flynn as Cheeks because I think it was watching old movies with those actors which got me interested in the era when I was younger.
Huw’s more difficult, and I think I’ll go with James Bolam – I don’t know if he’s very well known outside the UK but he’s done a lot of very good TV work in the UK (all of these actors I’m casting in their younger years, to suit the characters’ ages).
Since I’ve mentioned the men, it would be rude not to think about Syliva. She’s harder for me to cast. I’m going to say Grace Kelly, but really she could be played by any one of many classy actresses from the 1940s & 1950s.
The only person I have no trouble casting is Jem, one of the secondary characters. I took a day’s break between my penultimate edit and last read-through, and watched the whole of Lucifer season 1. Jem needs to be played by Tom Ellis with his Lucifer voice.
3. What five words best describe your story?
Aircraft, lovers, loss, family, love.
4. Who is your favourite fictional couple?
Another tough question… I fall in love quite easily with any well-written couple, and there are several I’ll enthuse about at any one time. I like a bit of snark and realistic misunderstandings to happen in a fictional relationship, because that makes it more believable for me. Sarcasm is also good and, because I’m British, the ability to sort everything out over a cuppa or a pint.
My top choice changes at least weekly, and is highly influenced by which book I read most recently… right now, I’m going to say Tom & Phil from JL Merrow’s Plumber’s Mate series (Pressure Head, Relief Valve, Heat Trap, and the recently-released-I’m-going-to-read-it-tonight Blow Down)
5. What song always makes you cry?
Danny Boy – even just the tune will have tears streaming down my face. I’ve loved it since I first heard it as it’s a beautiful piece of music, but now I’m an adult it just gets me, every time.
I found a couple of versions online which I liked – one was by the Dublin Male Voice Choir (I do love a good male voice choir), but the one I liked best starts at 3:06 in this video:
I was imagining it was Huw singing while I listened to it… yeah, right in the feels (as they probably don’t say any more as I am always hopelessly behind the times)
About Under Leaden Skies
Love. Loss. Betrayal. Forgiveness. Honour. Duty. Family.
In 1939, the arrival of war prompted ‘Teddy’ Maximilian Garston to confess his love to his childhood friend, Huw Roberts. Separated by duty – Teddy piloting Sunderland flying boats for RAF Coastal Command, and Huw deep underground in a South Wales coal mine – their relationship is frustrated by secrecy, distance, and the stress of war that tears into every aspect of their lives.
After endless months of dull patrols, a chance encounter over the Bay of Biscay will forever change the course of Teddy’s life. On returning to Britain, how will he face the consequences of choices made when far from home? Can he find a way to provide for everyone he loves, and build a family from the ashes of wartime grief?
About Sandra Lindsey
Sandra lives in the mountains of Mid-Wales with her husband. Their garden is full of fruit and veg plants as well as home to a small flock of rare breed chickens, and she is a servant to two cats.
Sandra loves indulging in stories because she gets to spend her time with imaginary friends, and the research and observation required to write fiction open her eyes to a myriad different ways of seeing the world. Find her on Twitter @SLindseyWales – or curled up out of the way reading a good book!
Buy Under Leaden Skies
Here I am, travelling once more and taking in the atmosphere with eyes and brain wide, ready to learn new things. This is my second trip to the United States, my first to Los Angeles, and as always I’m finding a place to be both exactly like and nothing like I expected it to be.
The inherent contradiction in that sentence comes of course from the fact that no matter where you go in the world, the things you’ve seen (in films and television) and read (books, comics, articles) form a kind of proto-location before you see the place in real and actual life.
As a result, I always have impressions of a place before the First Impressions kick in. Kind of Impression Zero, as it were.
So. Impression Zero of Los Angeles: sunny; flashy; fast-paced; a bit superficial; all Hollywood; not much of a sense of history; everyone you see who is not in the film business is working out how to get into the film business; a veneer of cheerful over a bedrock of desperation; cars cars cars.
Since arriving in LA on 13 July (a few hours before I left Melbourne on the same date: gotta love the international date line and pseudo time travel!) Impression Zero has proven to be occasionally accurate but also – and naturally – a very shallow impression that’s as often completely wrong as right.
It’s certainly sunny here, though most mornings have so far started a bit hazy. The July sun burns that fog away within a few hours, though, and hot days with blue skies follow.
Everyone I’ve met so far is very friendly, and I’ve had random conversations not only with service staff and Uber drivers but with people at museums. Today, for instance, I fell into conversation with an older couple at the Petersen Automotive Museum when they asked my opinion on the colour of a car on display (we finally agreed that it was probably mint green).
Is everyone in the service industry secretly trying to make it big in Hollywood? Maybe. An Uber driver today turned out to primarily be a music director of K-pop, who has organised Korean pop music gigs all over the world, including Australia. Next week he’s off to Japan for a big gig in Osaka.
Then there’s the waitress at our current hotel – The Redbury, a lovely flash hotel on Hollywood and Vine, all done up in rich reds and just down the road from Capitol Records. Virginia Tran is one of a team of people behind a new web series called Wait Crimes. If you’ve ever worked in the service industry with rude customers you’ll probably identify with the comedy shorts. Virginia told us this morning that more episodes are on the way, and that she and her fellow creators have enjoyed having creative control. Episode one is now available:
There was also the incident of discovering I hadn’t packed the right 3-pin adapter for my computer charger, and an emeregency trip to a Radio Shack to find one. Radio Shack has appeared in so many films that it felt like a Hollywood experience to visit one and find exactly the gadget I needed. (Thank you Radio Shack!)
But in most other ways, Impression Zero wasn’t much good. I’m sure the shallow, flashy, all-glitz LA is out there, but I haven’t seen it yet.
What I have noticed is that there’s a lot more Spanish spoken around the place than I had gathered from the films and TV I’ve watched. Combined with a lot of Spanish-style architecture there’s a weirdly more European feeling to the city than I expected. Additionally, Downtown LA is scattered through with grand old buildings that were once part of the financial district, but that relocated and these magnificent and imposing blocky buildings radiate a faded grandeur.
These areas seem to be thriving locations for arts and culture, though. The monthly Downtown Artwalk opens up to all kinds of galleries that open late, along with little stalls lining the streets selling art and jewellery, and car parks filled with food trucks and DJs.
Altogether, I keep getting flashbacks of places I’ve visited in the Middle East and parts of Europe, where lively locals gather in suburbs past their prime to reclaim spaces, occupy the streets with handcrafts and generally inhabit their environment with a lot of energy and enterprise. Not that it’s all slick and shiny; there are plenty of signs of poverty around too. This is a real place, not a film set.
Los Angeles is a relatively young city, too. It was founded in 1781 by 44 Spanish-speaking people in what’s now known as El Pueblo. The area contains the oldest house in Los Angeles, the Avila Adobe. However, the town stayed small for decades and most of the city was in fact built in the 20th century. Throughout Los Angeles, but particuarly here in El Pueblo, you get the strong resonance of Los Angeles’ Spanish history. Some of it is a bit ‘disneyfied’ but you also have the 1932 mural American Tropical, which far from being a happy little tropical image of Spanish peons in early America, is a strong political statement against oppression.
Much older local history is at the La Brea tar pits, with their wealth of prehistoric fossils (including 404 Dire Wolf skulls) and their ongoing archeological digs; then there’s the automotive history at the aforementioned Petersen Automotive Museum (complete with Hollywood vehicle displays) and next week we’re off to the California Science Center to see the Endeavour space shuttle.
And yes, it’s a very car-oriented city, but I’ve found the buses and subway, both relatively new and shiny, to be excellent for getting around.
This is no doubt a twisted impression of the city too. I’ve only been here three days, after all, and like all large cities, there are several versions of it around, depending on the neighbourhood you’re in and what you’re looking to experience.
But so far? First impressions are positive and I’m looking forward to discovering more of the many versions of Los Angeles that exist.
“I learned something recently,” my friend Wendy said to me during her visit to Australia. “Some things are just big black piles of shit, and they’re everywhere, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about that, so sometimes you just have to turn your back on it. You have to face the other way. Towards the light.”
We were talking about how much rage we both carry in us, about discrimination and harm in the world, in all its many forms. We’re both prone to shoutiness in this regard. (Actually, we’re as prone to joyful shoutiness as ragey shouting, and I’ll come back to that.)
Wendy is absolutely correct. Many of the things that reduce us to rage and despair and shouting are heaping mounds of stinking, fly-blown ordure. The comment trolls spitting venom online; misogynists making rape threats against women who dare to have a voice; bigots spewing venom about refugees and the queer community. Gunmen full of fear and hate. Hypocritical leaders who condemn the violence while encouraging discrimination through legislation and denial of human rights, thereby creating environments in which hate is allowed to flourish through tacit agreement that these or those human beings are only second class.
Wallowing in the mire
The trouble is (well, one of the troubles is) that too often, we get caught up with those mounds of excrescence. We go and read the comments; we share the awful and cruel things that someone just posted and point at it saying I CANNOT BELIEVE THIS CRETIN SAID THIS THING! We give oxygen to the haters and let everyone know what the haters said and how outraged we are by it.
Basically, we run up to the big smelly turd and look at it from every angle, sniffing in the toxic stinking stinkiness of it, complaining the whole time about how AWFUL it is – and offering other people a whiff of the proof that such ugliness exists in the world.
And okay, sometimes there’s a good point in paying attention to the pile of poo. Sometimes, knowing that it’s there, it’s possible to pick up a shovel and start mucking out that particular stall.
It’s good and right to fight against this stuff stinking up the world. To lobby politicians to change the law, to add your body and your voice to the protest marches and the gatherings in support of vulnerable people – often those buried under that awful shit. That kind of presence and activity is incredibly important. Representation is important. Whether you’re fighting for your own rights, or are an ally of those struggling for them, it’s good to be seen to be out there. Refusing to be silent is powerful.
It’s true, too, that some people siding with the stink piles simply lack information. Maybe they’ve never been challenged. Maybe nobody has ever gone through the issue with them. They’ve been surrounded by the stink so long they don’t know it’s possible to live in fresh air. So sure – engage with them if you believe you can win an ally from it. If there are people who are willing to listen, be willing to talk, to converse – not to browbeat but to share ideas that may be new to them. That’s a noble undertaking too.
Cutting off the air
But sometimes, paying attention to the haters is just lavishing attention on garbage. When we acknowledge what they say by paying attention to it at all, we’re giving oxygen to outdated and vile viewpoints. We’re feeding the trolls.
And it’s exhausting. It’s disheartening at best, soul-crushing at worst, to expend energy on arguing against people who have no logic to stand on in the first place. They won’t be turned into allies. They’ll just enjoy watching your blood pressure rise, and the fury in your eyes turn to despair and hopelessness at the awfulness of the world.
Sometimes, I think we’re at risk of making those smelly mounds of ignorance, fear, hatred and viciousness bigger and more important than they should be.
Sometimes we should note that there’s a stink and instead of sticking our faces close to inhale it deep and then rage about the stench, we should turn our backs to it and face the other way. Maybe they’re only heard because of the shouty rage that is spreading word of the awful thing they said. Deprive them of oxygen and attention. Turn away.
But don’t turn off.
Don’t shout down – lift up
If you can turn your back on the smelly, time-consuming, attention-demanding turds, you’ll see other things. Not necessarily sparkly rainbows and ponies. Brightness is in the world too, of course, but that’s not what you look for.
What you look for is those who, like you, are half broken by the awfulness of that shit that’s everywhere in life. Look for anyone who needs the air that got taken up by the stink you’ve turned your back on, and give the air to them instead.
Raise your shouty voice to say: I belong here too! Raise it to say: I deserve my space and I’m taking it back!
Raise your shouty voice to say: I hear you! I’m your ally – how can I help? I will fight for your rights too, because human rights are everybody’s business.
Spend your energies on listening and learning. Get behind projects and ideas and voices that counter the vile stenches, and lift them up.
Shovel the shit away when you can; but don’t roll around in it. Don’t stick your face in the fumes and make your eyes water with it. Don’t try to shout down the ugly voices who just love to shout back and never learn a damned thing, because they revel in the pain they cause.
Use your passionate voice to lift others who need lifting. Use whatever you have to encourage, affirm, support, and give and give and give to those who need encouragement, affirmation, and support. Help the ones who need lifting to be heard and seen above the miasma of the stink-makers.
Wendy and I have taken to reminding each other of this choice we’re making. When we’re full of rage and distress and despair that there’s so much hate, we remind each other to turn our backs on it, and to try in whatever way we can to give something to the love, to face the light
To listen and to learn. To steal our oxygen back and breathe it – and sometimes shout it joyfully – into something that grows.
Image: Celestial by johnhain
CC0 Public Domain
Some years, my writing schedule looks pretty quiet. I’m always writing up a storm, but in the way of the writing world, I am not always publishing up a storm.
This year seems a little different. Of course, numerous projects are still in waiting and may be delayed, but if all goes well it’ll look like I haven’t slept for six months while I wrote ALL THE THINGS.
As a bit of a round-up:
And Then… anthology
My story, Virgin Soil, is slated to appear late in 2016 in the two-volume And Then… anthology of Antipodean adventure stories, coming from Clan Destine Press!
Virgin Soil is set in Melbourne and the goldfields in 1851. It’s about a young man with magical powers, his equally gifted friend, a 400 year old shapeshifter who can’t remember if he began as a rat or a man because he has both memories, and a monster that requires a virgin sacrifice. Which may not mean what you think it means. Moran and Cato might look like the bad guys, but even the good guys need someone who’ll do the dirty work…
An Indiegogo project is underway for people who’d like to pre-order the anthology, which contains stories from fantastic Australian genre writers like Kerry Greenwood, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Jason Franks, Alan Baxter, and heaps more. Pop on over and pre-order the anthology as ebooks, paperbacks or hardbacks, and with extra book incentives!
A story called Death’s Door is in a science fiction anthology called Intrepid Horizons, published by UK small press, Jay Henge in April 2016.
The story is about a young woman who writes poetry about Death. Death is a bit of a fanboy and is stalking her to read it. They get to know each other and that changes how they view their own existence… If you’re interested:
The Adventure of the Colonial Boy
This Holmes/Watson adventure romance set in Australia in 1893 takes a homoerotic interpretation of the legendary friendship out of subtext and makes it just plain text.
In it, Watson, believing Holmes to have died at the Reichenbach Falls, received a summons to Australia. Shocked and hardly daring to believe it true, Watson sails for Melbourne. There, he and Sherlock Holmes have to confront their heretofore unexpressed attachment to each other, while at the same time in pursuit of (and pursued by) a deadly menace involving a repulsive red leech.
Reviews have been great so far, and I’ve spoken about it on the radio and in a couple of interviews. It’s from UK publisher Improbable Press, and I’m already doing more work with them. (There’s a big list of where to get the book in paperback or ebook on this page.)
The rest of the year
As I said, it’s all in flux to a degree, but on the cards for publication later this year are a Secret Agents, Secret Lives story, and another for the Talbott and Burns Mysteries. I’ve just submitted a short queermance story to one publisher with a positive reception, so if that comes off, it’ll be out towards the end of the year. Another queermance story submitted to an anthology may go ahead round that time too, so that will be cool.
A paranormal queermance novel is looking good with one publisher, and I’m co-writing a new Holmes/Watson adventure romance in a modern setting for Improbable Press, called God Save the Queen, which will be out in the latter half of 2016 all being equal.
A few more stories are in various pipelines, so we’ll see how they go. And of course I’m still writing up a storm, as usual.
Whatever happens, it’s a very big year for me already. Thank you to everyone who’s been part of my journey so far, and who continue to support me. May your library be ever full of books that give you joy.