Blog Archives

Xmas Gifts for Writers: The Journal of Infinite Possibility

img_6469It’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.

img_6463Instead, 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!)

img_6470A 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.

Music Score for Copper Beaches

LaszloI’ve had a very productive few weeks, having submitted three short stories to various anthologies and also sent my first full-length adventure-romance novel, Ravenfall, to my publisher for consideration.

Before I get fully into my new book, The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, I thought I’d share another of the songs for Kitty and Cadaver.

Copper Beaches, as the name suggests, was something I first wrote while noodling about with Sherlockian ideas – though the connection to Holmes isn’t at all obvious from the lyric. It actually relates to an idea I had about BBC Watson having had a more reckless youth, and these lyrics represent the decision he made to find a more constructive path. Once it was done, I felt the whole thing could do extra service as a song in Chapter Seven of Kitty and Cadaver.

In that chapter, Laszlo (the band violinist), Yuka (drummer) and Sal (guitar) are teaching the song to new recruits, Kitty and Stephen. Thematically in that book, the lyrics are very relevant to all three of those singing it.

Here’s the lyric on its own:

Copper beaches

A seaside in rain and a hollow in the heart
And sand is a grave for rocks and bone
Smashed up by the tide and time
An ancient stage
Where we’ll go with age
and we always go alone

And the sun’s going down and it’s bleeding into
An ocean to swallow the sorrow down
And the bronze on the water and silver horizon
In the blazing light, I keep my eyes on
the copper that’s staining the place where I stand
I’m on firmer ground in this copper sand.

It’s nothing to anyone how old is the earth
It’s nothing to the sea that my mother gave birth
And the sun doesn’t care if I live or die
But it’s such a beautiful sky

And everyone’s bleeding and lonely and scared
And the world wouldn’t notice if anyone cared
But we do
And we’re too small to matter to oceans and skies
And our hearts are too broken to love after lies
But we do
But we do

This tiny heart in the burning world
Is finding a flame in these copper beaches
the sun doesn’t care if I live or die
It’s such a beautiful sky

And everyone’s bleeding and lonely and scared
And the world wouldn’t notice if anyone cared
But we do
And we’re too small to matter to oceans and skies
And our hearts are too broken to love after lies
But we do
But we do

And here is the score:

Copper Beaches p1

Copper Beaches p2The song is meant to be very rock – in my head there are drums, bass and lead guitar, maybe keyboards. I was listening to a lot of Shinedown at the time, so think of that, a bit.

I’d be all for someone having a go at playing it/arranging it and sending the result to me, if you have time on your hands. 🙂

“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn” – a happy ending

babyshoesThere’s a story that does the rounds that Ernest Hemingway once wrote the shortest, saddest story every told, for a $10 bet.

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

I first heard that six word story when Mary Borsellino told of how she had found it so terribly sad that her friend, artist Audrey Fox, decided to subvert the gloominess of it. Since they both enjoyed monster stories, Audrey used that as an inspiration to illustrate the story in a way that gave it a happy ending (a version of which you can see here – Audrey redrew the picture for my blog!).

Of the picture, Audrey says, “I was really just using my imagination and thinking about what else the story could mean that wasn’t ‘sad baby tragedy’.”

That story, and the story of Audrey’s illustration, made it into one of Mary Borsellino‘s Wolf House books, from memory, but I’ve always loved that whole story-in-a-story

Now, the saddest part of this whole thing is that the Hemingway part of it isn’t true. Ernest Hemingway’s writing of the tragic six-word novel is an urban legend.

A very similar story actually dates at least to Hemingway’s own childhood, when a newspaper classifieds section titled Terse Tales of the Town published the item, “For sale, baby carriage, never been used” in 1906. Similarly worded stories popped up again every few years in newspapers.

Whether the bet with Hemingway ever happened (and if it did, whether Hemingway quoted this story deliberately) is unclear – but that version of the story is ascribed to literary agent, Peter Miller, who first told it in 1974 – after Hemingway’s death – and then published it in a 1991 book. It was just the latest in a long line of stories about that story, but it’s the one that stuck.

The idea of writing something so perfectly pithy over lunch is an appealing legend, but the perfection and pithiness of the six word ‘novel’ remains, whatever its origin.

I don’t think it spoils the tale to note that Hemingway didn’t create it. I love the fact that this little notion first popped up in 1906 (if not earlier) and proceeded to grow, little by little, acquiring embellishments as it rolled down the years, until it grew to the story of a dinner party and a bet and a writer of terse words.

Or until it grew to the story of terse words, a sad friend, and an artist who decided to turn the whole thing on its head.

It’s a great reminder that many stories never stop being told, and never stop growing in the telling. It’s a reminder that stories can mean different things to different generations and that sometimes, if you look at an old story in a new way, it can grow into a whole new meaning.

Sometimes with tentacles.

You can find some of Audrey’s art, and other art that she likes, on her Tumblr.


Continuum 11: Launching Thrive and Building Connections

Mary ThriveI’ve just spent the weekend at Melbourne’s annual Continuum Convention, and had (as usual) an absolute blast. I did a few panels – including one on filking (fannish folk music, basically) which resulted in a new Facebook Melbourne Filking community being set up.

I spent the rest of the time running a table in the dealer’s room (selling books and Kitty and Cadaver jewellery) – but what I mostly did was talk with people.

I reconnected (however briefly – we’ve all got so much on at a convention) with old friends and made some new ones. I commiserated on trials and difficulties in the last year. I celebrated the year’s successes with people. I had great conversations, and learned some things, and if I was lucky I shared some good things that others hadn’t known before.

I was very, very honoured and excited to launch Mary Borsellino’s new book, Thrive, which I was thrilled to edit on behalf of the publisher, Clan Destine Press. Most of my readers probably know how very much I love Mary’s books. Thrive is a superb edition to her body of work: a YA novel set in a dystopian future that’s frighteningly very like our rather dystopian present.

THRIVE coverThe blurb:

In a time and place where the gulf between the haves and the have-nots has grown painfully wide, Olivia lives a life cushioned with abundance. Until the day she is kidnapped and held for ransom by Hannah, a girl from a very different kind of life. Olivia discovers a taste for things not commonly condoned in her world: black-market books, daring friends, wild creativity.

From the depths of factory oppression to the dizzying heights of vigilante rooftops, Olivia travels the margins of society, where the misfits gather and build homes for themselves out of whatever they can get their hands on – and fight to make a life worth living.

This story of Olivia discovering the greater world and its unfairness and suffering is as compellling as Mary’s work usually is. It is filled with horror, violence, cruelty and loss but from that desolate ground, Thrive gives us a rich soil from which grows beauty, love, hope and ways to use ideas to fight for better times without destruction.

Thrive is also a very smart book, literate and funny while cracking along with wonderful characters and huge energy. Delightfully, a re-read is guaranteed to add extra depth to your appreciation, as you realise how cleverly plotted it is, and how so many ideas are intricately woven into the cloth of the whole.

In short, if you want to be challenged and engaged and delighted and wowed, go now to get Thrive from Clan Destine Press!

Thrive launchSo. Yes. I launched a book I love with a passion, I bought a lot of other books that set my reader senses tingling, I had long, lovely talks and much laughter with wonderful people and I spent time connecting once more with the broad family of readers, writers, creators and thinkers in the Australian genre community.

Was it awesome? You bet. Will I be back at Continuum next year? HELLA YEAH!

I’m physically exhausted now, but mentally abuzz with ideas and plans ricocheting around my head, turning my brain into an overcaffeinated hive of thought-bees. Which is both brilliant and a little bit frightening.

Just as it should be.

Never say never (almost)

13186868_sA long time ago now, I spotted a post on Twitter from a bookseller who had overheard a male customer saying “I would never read a book by a woman”. It struck us as an odd thing to say. Why cut yourself off from half the books in the world, regardless of quailty or subject, because of the (apparent) gender of the writer?

Another contributor to the discussion added the amusing story of a man who said who never read fantasy by women but only by men – men like Robin Hobbs.

Oh, how we laughed and laughed.

The discussion moved on, however, to declarations of the books we ourselves might never read, and some fairly blanket terms came up, culminating in: “I’d never read a book by a footballer!”

I thought about this. I’m not very interested in sport, and might have declared I’d never read a book about football – but I had enjoyed Angela Pippos’s Goddess Advantage – One Year in the Life of a Football Worshipper. It was funny, clever, insightful and, yes, about football, but much more about family and community and one person’s life. But it also made me quite like football, through her eyes.

Would I refuse ever to read a book by a footballer, I wondered? I couldn’t imagine what they might have to say that would interest me, but that was just about being selective about what I read in my limited reading time.

I had decided a while back that I wouldn’t read books by certain authors because I found aspects of their very vocal opinions (one a rampant homophobe, another a convicted violent criminal) so repugnant that I was reluctant to contribute to even the price of a cup of coffee for them from my purchase. But there are maybe three writers on that list.

But that’s not a blanket ban on a type of person or on any particular subject. There’s always the chance that a good writer, or a good story, can come from anywhere.

So… as an experiment, I tried to find a book written by a footballer that I might like to read. My call for assistance ended in a friend lending me a copy of Jason McCartney’s After Bali (co-written by Ben Collins, who is credited in the fly-leaf, though not with his specific role in the creation of the book).

That was maybe two years ago. I’ve been putting off reading it in favour of books I was much more committed to reading, in my relatively limited reading hours.

This weekend, I finally opened it and gave it a whirl.

The book is written interview-style, with Jason McCartney’s story of being caught up in the bomb blasts in Bali in October 2002, his injuries and recovery, interspersed with quotes from family, friends, medical staff and others.

I tried and tried and tried to like it.

Half way through, I gave up. I just don’t have the time to keep reading books I’m not enjoying.

I feel bad about it. McCartney endured much, suffered much, achieved much, and it’s a rude of me to want the account of his experiences to be more articulate or more insightful or more… something. But the truth is, I found the writing awkward, repetetive and ultimately a bit dull. I wish him and his well, I do, and I feel awful that I was not sufficiently ‘engaged’. But I wasn’t.

What do I conclude from this experiment?

It isn’t that I will never read a book by a footballer. It isn’t that I will never read a book about personal suffering and endurance, or one about football, or any of those things.

I conclude mainly that not every writer or every subject or every writing style is my cup of tea, and that’s okay. I may choose not to continue a book, or not to read particular authors because I don’t particularly enjoy their work (or their personal politics) or because there are just so many other books that engage me much more at the time.

Never say never, or at least almost never, is what I conclude. I don’t want to close myself off from books and ideas that may be unexpected and brilliant, or at least educational.

But I’ll continue to be discerning in my choices, because I only have so much time, and there is ever so much in the world to read!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at

[Image by ponsuwan at

Night Terrace’s Adventurous Woman by Ben McKenzie

Night-Terrace-house-and-logo-1024x830Recently, I’ve been very excited by a new Kickstarter project –  the SF comedy radio serial Night Terrace (made by the creators of the Splendid Chaps podcasts)about Anastasia Black (Jackie Woodburne of Neighbours fame) a retired world-saving adventurer who finds her quiet life irritatingly interrupted when her house starts inexplicably travelling through space and time. Stuck with her (or indeed the other way around) is Eddie Jones (Ben McKenzie), who was trying to sell her something at the time.

Of course, the show needs funding first!

The makers of the Night Terrace radio series knew from the start that they wanted their lead character to be an adventuring woman.  Ben McKenzie – actor, writer and co-producer of the series – writes about why.

Read on! (or skip straight to pledging support for Night Terrace at Kickstarter.)

Night Terrace’s Adventurous Woman

When we started to work out Night Terrace, the Chaps wanted to make a show that was unique but Doctor Who-esque: a versatile travelling narrative based around a central hero, more “smarts and adventure” than “violence and action”. We all thought it would be great to have a female Doctor, and we’re among those were a little disappointed that Twelve is still a man (though we are quite excited about Peter Capaldi). But why wait for the BBC to get with the times? “Female protagonist” was one of the first things to go on the list of ingredients that eventually became Night Terrace.

But why does it feel so important to have a female character who’s Doctorish?

For starters, the Doctor is a character with unprecedented freedom. He travels wherever and whenever he likes. He does what’s right where he can, but not out of obligation (unlike Starfleet Captains, for example, who are bound by duty and their jobs). On the whole he’s never been tied down with responsibilities of family and he needs no further motivation than being intrigued or enjoying himself. Even his love life allows him to wander. His relationship with River Song, whatever else it might be, is clearly at both of their convenience.

Other male characters have similar freedom, like Hercules or MacGuyver, but female genre heroes always have to justify their status as adventurers.

Xena is trying to atone for past wrongs; Buffy has been chosen by fate (and is trying to live a normal life alongside her role as Slayer); Helen Magnus was initiated into the family business by her father; Lara Croft had a traumatic experience in her youth which leads her to seek out danger. A woman who travels and has adventures “just because” bucks the idea that unless she has some kind of excuse, she ought to be settling down and having children.

It’s fair to say that our character, Anastasia Black, isn’t entirely free – her adventures are forced upon her, and initially at least she resents them. But she’s been an adventurer a long time before Night Terrace begins. And despite the interruption to her retirement, she starts to realise that without the red tape of her old job she might actually enjoy saving civilisations and exploring new worlds. Though she’s still learned to be a bit cynical, at her age.

Speaking of age: the Doctor is also old. Sometimes he looks young, but certainly among the Chaps we feel it’s best when a young actor captures that feeling of an old man on the inside. He’s presumably hundreds of years old when he begins his journey – he’s already a grandfather – and yet there’s rarely a sense that he’s too old to cope with adventuring.

Of course the Doctor is a special case, being a nearly immortal Time Lord, but male human adventurers are allowed to be older too. Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis, Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson and Ian McKellan didn’t stop at 40. It’s only very recently that older women have been allowed adventures: Helen Mirren in RED, Judi Dench as 007’s boss M, or Amanda Redman in New Tricks. Like them, Anastasia is of retirement age, but she’s not slowing down or stopping until she wants to.

But perhaps most importantly, the Doctor is a brain-hero at least as much as a fists-hero (or so we like to think of him, despite all evidence to the contrary). Such heroes are fairly thin on the ground, but among female characters they seem even less likely. Xena, Buffy, Lara Croft and the others are all arse-kickers; even Captain Janeway is a fairly ruthless starship captain by Starfleet standards, more Kirk than Picard, and most of the time she has people to do the science for her (though it’s worth noting both B’Lanna Torres and 7 of 9 are sciencey and can kick arse when required).

Helen Magnus of Sanctuary is probably the only counter-example, and indeed she has some other Doctorish qualities as well.

So we’ve put all these traits into Anastasia. She’s a trained scientist with decades of field experience studying unusual phenomena. If the Third Doctor had never shown up and Liz Shaw had stayed with UNIT for thirty years, she might have ended up like Anastasia: brilliant, capable, knowledgable, and sick of working for The Man. She’s a real pleasure to write for, she’ll be played by the brilliant Jackie Woodburne and I can’t wait for all of you to meet her.

– Ben McKenzie


Night Terrace is a new audio comedy from the minds behind ABC1′s Outland, ABC2′s Bazura Project and the hit podcast Splendid Chaps. It follows the adventures of Anastasia Black (played by Neighbours veteran Jackie Woodburne), who used to save the world for the government but now just wants a quiet life in retirement. So when her house inexplicably starts travelling in time and space she’s understandably miffed. She’s also not exactly thrilled about Eddie Jones, who happened to be on her doorstep at the time and is now her unlikely fellow traveller. University hasn’t prepared Eddie to cope with other worlds or time paradoxes, but he still thinks they’re a step up from selling electricity plans door-to-door.

Together Anastasia and Eddie will face alien invasions, hideous monsters, and a shadowy figure known only as “Sue”. All the while hoping the house will eventually take them home…

The team are crowdfunding the first series of Night Terrace right now. Jane Badler, chanteuse and actress (the original Diana of the original V!) is also slated for a role if the show is funded. They’re getting close to their target – and you can help them reach their funding goal at Kickstarter. I have a Key to the Terrace, but if you’re really keen you can be listed as a producer!

Who are your favourite female lead characters in TV, film or books?  Feel free to leave a comment!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at

Genrecon 2013: A Lifting Experience

GC logo 2013 smlI have just returned from another fabulous GenreCon, hosted by the Queensland Writers Centre in sweaty Brisbane. I had a fabulous time! It was enormous fun, but also encouraging, supportive, amazing and educational.

I met so many incredibly talented people doing so many brilliant and amazing things, and who were happy to hear me talk about my Kitty and Cadaver project too. I’m fired up about the possibilities inherent in unusual storytelling projects being undertaken by people like Sue Wright of Tiny Owl and Jodi Cleghorn’s Piper’s Reach epistolary story, which started as an online project and is now being prepared for submission to publishers.

I have been energised and engaged by the speakers on the podiums and the ones I met during meal breaks and at the banquet. I am excited for other people’s books and as much so for my own. Sharing a room with Lindy Cameron, my publisher, has resulted in us becoming better friends as well. I made new friends, deepened acquaintanceships, learned about writing about publishing, had it at least confirmed that some of my approaches are the right ones and generally steeped myself in the rich soil of fellowship with others in my profession.

Genrecon  (2)And I have so many new ideas! I’ll be meeting soon with someone to discuss a way to invite musicians to participate a little more in the world of Kitty and Cadaver. I have copious notes about creating a book trailer for future projects and some ideas of where I want to take that. I’ve joined the Romance Writers of Australia to learn how to become a better writer of romance and erotica, since I’m writing that these days (and enjoying it) and promptly came up with ideas for several new short and long stories. My main trouble now is finding the time to write. Or alternatively to sleep!

For those who follow my Twitter account (@daggyvamp), you’ll recognise the lame pun in the blog heading. For those who missed it, on the night of the Cutlasses and Kimonos banquet, a group of us got trapped in a lift for about twenty minutes.  One of our number, we discovered, was keenly claustrophobic, so there was a focus on staying calm and trying to help her. Apparently, we did this mostly by digging deep for our inner Laconic Aussie and tracking the whole experience on social media. We were all writers, so one or two folks tried to read books. The rest of us Tweeted and Facebooked, and fielded much so-called hilarity from friends who were not likewise trapped in a small, hot, humid lift.

GenreconAt one stage, I took a photo of everyone (and most of us were dressed as pirates) giving the wags the finger and posted it on Twitter. The primary target, a horror writer and heavy metal fan from NSW (you know who you are), pretty much just roared with laughter and declared us ‘hardcore’.

We emerged mostly unscathed, though crumpled. And let’s face it – we’re writers. You can bet at least half of us have already worked out how to use the incident in a novel.

So thank you to Peter Ball and Meg Vann and their team of ninjas for a Genrecon that provided communion with like-minded folks, an excellent program, opportunities to find new projects and partners, and even provide a platform for adventures in elevators!

The next Genrecon won’t be held until 2015, which makes many of us a little sad. On the other hand – there’s no reason we can’t have impromptu get-togethers in the between times. So, if any of you Genrecon folks are in Melbourne and would like to catch up for coffee, chat and mutual energy boosting, drop me a line! We’ll find a time and place to make like cartoon superheroes and combine our energies to encourage awesomeness in each other.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at

P.S. – Grammarly: 

I’ve been experimenting with an online tool called Grammarly (they promised me shinies if I did). It’s pretty neat. It helped me pick up some typos and check that when I vary considerably from correct grammar, the creative licence I employed really expresses what I wanted to say.  I could also run the text through a ‘Plagiarism’ algorithm, but mostly it just found I had quoted standard text from my own blog. It was more useful than I expected it to be, and I’ll use it again in future.  It could be handy for running manuscripts through before submissions.

And so, a little endorsement: “I use Grammarly’s plagiarism checker because with its Plagiarism algorithm I’ll at least know when I’m repeating myself.”

The commercialisation of fan fiction

KItty sm

The lead character from my new project, Kitty and Cadaver. How does the concept of a creative commons licence interact with the new Amazon Kindle Worlds concept?

One of the big buzzes in publishing this week was’s announcement that it was bringing Kindle Worlds to the masses. If you missed it, Kindle Worlds is Amazon’s new initiative to ‘enable any writer to create fan fiction based on a range of original stories and characters and earn royalties for doing so’.

The initial set of works open to commercial exploitation of fanfiction are the Gossip Girl series, by Cecily von Ziegesar; Pretty Little Liars, by Sara Shepard; and Vampire Diaries, by L.J. Smith, all of which are held by Alloy Entertainment, a division of Warner Bros. Television Group. More licenses for existing works are expected to be announced soon.

Writers of fan fiction under Alloy’s licenced worlds, provided certain criteria are met, would earn royalties on the sale of the Kindle Worlds fan fiction, as would, obviously, the original author/licence holder, with Amazon naturally getting its cut.

On the face of it, the scheme doesn’t seem a bad idea. It allows a kind of Shared World arena, and the holders of the original licence (which may be an author, or may be a publishing house that owns the copyright) get paid for the use of their intellectual property (IP) while new writers also get paid for their creative efforts.

In some ways, although they are referring to it as fan fiction, it doesn’t feel dissimilar to people who write novelisations or books in the Star Wars, Star Trek or Doctor Who franchises (for example).

Why then did I have such mixed feelings about the announcement? Especially as I have a background in writing fan fiction myself – 30-odd years ago, writing Blake’s 7 and Star Trek fiction is where I learned a lot of the basics of character, plot, dialogue, and sentence and story structure, in a supportive environment where I got constructive feedback.

Part of the unease I felt is answered right there.

Obviously not all fan fiction is good (actually, not all professionally published fiction is good either) – but it’s a labour of love, part of the community of love and appreciation that fans share about their favourite shows. As academics like Henry Jenkins points out, the copyright of broadcast texts may belong to particular individuals or companies, but those who love those texts feel like they own them too, in a way. Not commercially, clearly, but there is commitment, passion and engagement with those texts, and fan fiction, fan art, filking, craft and so on are, I feel, legitimate expressions of creative response to texts people find personally or culturally meaningful.

So, does everything we do for love – to participate in a community of like-minded aficionados – does it all really have to be turned into a money making venture for it to be legitimised? Isn’t it legitimate enough as a creative expression of engagement with both culture and community? And isn’t it slightly discomfiting that a big corporation saw an arena out of which it could be making money and promptly jumped in to plant a flag and claim dominion?

But I was uneasy for other reasons too, coming from the other end of that creative spectrum. As a writer of original fiction these days, I also began to wonder how such an agreement would interact with the original creator’s rights. Would these new stories be expected to be accepted as canon? Fan fiction has no such standing now, but with contracts, royalties and money changing hands, will owners of IP be able maintain creative control? Should they? Who will monitor the quality of forays into worlds they may have spent years building? Can a fan written work render significant changes to backstory or future story? To what effect?

The latter is a particularly interesting question to me, with my new Kitty and Cadaver online multimedia project. As part of the project, I’ve included a creative commons licence to encourage creative response to the material: a licence that essentially says ‘you can come and play in the sandpit, as long as you’re not trying to make money out of it’. (The aim is that I’ll keep an eye out for potential partnerships where both the original licence holder – me – and the new artist will come to mutually fair commercial arrangements.)

So far, so speculative. The idea has some merit, and there are points that might be considered uncomfortable but will certainly be for individual IP holders and budding writers to assess.

Some more worrying detail came to hand, however, via John Birmingham’s post on Attendly, citing concerns about quality control. Now, I know there are some terrific fan fiction writers out there – and some of them will learn their craft, get restless with writing in other people’s worlds and start creating their own. Some people are less skilled but will enjoy noodling around their favourite universes through fan fiction and art, and that’s cool too. But this question feeds into my concerns about not only quality but how these works affect canon – the original creator’s original conception of the world they’ve created.

Birmingham’s blog, Cheeseburger Gothic, has a more recent post now too, talking about the rights set-ups for those potential fan writers. A major concern there is that the Amazon contract for these works include a clause which also gives Amazon rights to any original characters or ideas that appear in the authorised fan stories. Effectively, if you create a neat new character or situation and it turns out to be a huge hit with the reading public (or even if it doesn’t), the contract gives Amazon the right to exploit that idea without the original creator getting any further payment.

Given that many fan writers actually develop original characters or scenarios which they may later peel off into brand new, original fictions (and thereby launching their careers in the non-fannish arena), this is a clause that writers will have to think very seriously about. Birmingham quotes John Scalzi saying the approach is like providing a free ideas mine to the key licence holders (in this case, primarily Alloy Entertainment).

It’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but it’s one of those times where writers are reminded that they really need to look closely at contracts, wherever they come from, to be sure that they are getting the best deal. Being paid for playing in someone else’s sandpit is a grand idea, but it’s worth making sure that the sandpit owners don’t end up with the right to take away your bucket, spade, sunglasses and Factor 15 sunblock while you’re at it.

The Kindle Worlds idea has merit, but there are serious issues for both IP holders and fan writers to consider, in terms of how it may impact their intellectual property in the long term. For all my concerns as a creator of IP, my inclination, having come from a fan fiction start, is to be concerned for the rights of fan writers who come up with original ideas and may lose the right to use them under this contract.

It could be that the traditional fan fiction path – starting with fan fiction, developing your craft and then moving naturally into creating your own original worlds – will still be the best choice for writers taking this route.

Further reading

  • John Birmingham’s posts:
  1. Attendly: Kindle Worlds and the Problem of Quality Control
  2. Cheeseburger Gothic: Kindle Worlds update

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at

Interview: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Large Greyscale TRRTansy Rayner Roberts is a fantasy novelist who shares a pair of typing fingers with crime novelist Livia Day. Livia’s first murder mystery, A Trifle Dead, will be released from Twelfth Planet Press on 28 March 2013.

Tansy’s recent releases include Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts, the three books of the Creature Court trilogy.  Her first novel, Splashdance Silver, was recently re-issued as an e-book.

With so much going on for Tansy and her alter ego, I thought it was high time I asked her a few searching questions. She repaid me with very thorough answers!

The Shattered City is a terrific book, telling a whole story yet still functioning as the middle book of a trilogy. You said to me you’d set a challenge to yourself to overcome the ‘Middle novel problem’. How do you define that problem, and how did you go about meeting it?

I think there are two sides to the middle novel problem – one is that narrative: the middle act in a three act structure is the one that has to hold everything together, and in the case of epic fantasy, that’s a really long time to keep everyone entertained while you move all the pieces into place for the big finale.  What you don’t want is your reader to think of the middle book as being the interval they had to sit through in order to reach the second half.

The second and perhaps more dramatic problem is one of reader perception – fantasy readers are pretty worn down and cynical these days, and the middle novel of a fantasy trilogy has acquired a poor reputation, I think unfairly.  If the middle novel is soggy or boring or has characters running around in circles for no good reason, then that’s the fault of the author and to some extent the trilogy – it doesn’t mean that middle books everywhere are unnecessary!

I rather like the middle book of a trilogy because it tends to be the one with the most character development, and more room to breathe because the readers know who everyone is now, and aren’t yet all tensed and psyched up for everyone to start being killed off. Which means, of course, that as an author, I can happily screw with their expectations.

In my own case, the secret was in fact to originally plan a four book series, agree to let it be a trilogy instead, and write two books worth of plot into the middle book. This meant paring down a lot of stuff, building up new characters, and sadly resisting the urge to kill off a beloved character as a cliffhanger to a volume. In retrospect, it meant that the middle volume had to be the tightest, and work the hardest, which is actually what I should have been striving for anyway.

After all that, though, Sarah Rees Brennan’s definition of the trilogy is one I now wave at people who suggest middle books are a waste of time. “Book 1 – Set up. Book 2 – Make Out. Book 3 – Defeat Evil.

shattered cityIf you’ll pardon the pun, the concept of Velody being a dressmaker is interwoven through the whole of the Creature Court stories. It’s not just her job, it’s fundamental to who she is and her approach to life, and that sense of creating new things permeates the politics and relationships we see. It is also, though, a catalyst for some pretty destructive plot elements. I suppose I’m asking if you’re a dressmaker and, either way, how that concept got woven into plotting the series.

I’m so not a dressmaker!

I love fabrics and textile arts, and I’ve always been fascinated by them. I’m a quilter and I love to play with the pretties. But my secret downfall is measuring. I sew like I cook (and like I write!) – madly, and without measure. Which means trying to make an actual garment that fits an actual specific shape is totally beyond me.

I have however spent my life surrounded by artists and creative people, and I am well aware that whatever your artistic obsession is, that’s how you see the world. So it was important to me that Velody’s Point of View voice would be wrapped up in her sewing terminology. I did need a friend to read the books over for clanger mistakes, though – and among other things, to make sure Velody could do what she actually needed to be capable of doing, I did shift the industrial level of the world just a tad, to let her have an early Singer sewing machine.

I knew Velody was a dressmaker before I knew what her name was, so it is an integral part of the story, but the most important thing to me was that she was a professional craftswoman, someone who was a practical producer of things, because of the conflict between that life and the insanely frivolous, beautifully dressed Creature Court. Sure, they save the world on a regular basis, but that’s their only contribution to society – in other ways, they’re quite parasitic.

Velody had to have a real job, because one of the essential questions of the book was – how can you save the world and hold down a real job at the same time? I wanted a woman as protagonist who had responsibilities, and valued what she did in the daylight, and had to weigh that up with what she could achieve during the battles of the nox. Not all superheroes are Batman – some have to pay the rent! And the contrast between Velody and Ashiol, who drops every responsibility he’s ever been given, never hurts for money, and constantly lets the people he loves down, because of that single justification that he’s busy saving the world.

Heroing is so often unpaid work in fantasy worlds, to the point where heroes who want to be paid are seen as unworthy of the role, and I wanted to write a fantasy which addressed how problematic that is from a privilege/class/gender point of view. Not that I’m preachy about it, I hope!

Frankly, one of the questions I want to ask is: “How do you manage to be so very, very awesome as a plotter?” but that’s a rubbish question. I still want to ask it, though. Do you do huge, 10,000 word story treatments, like PG Wodehouse used to do with his own convoluted plots? What is the secret of your success?

Thank you for the compliment! I work really hard on my plots, it’s not a magical talent that comes naturally to me. I tend to work fairly free form, with only a general idea where I am going, but a quite clear idea where I want to end up. Mostly I allow my plots to grow out of characters rather than the other way around, because I find characters more interesting.

I also try and stop and check in from time to time, to make sure I’m going in the right direction, and to run the story so far past other eyes to make sure I’m not majorly stuffing up.

I did call upon a spreadsheet or two for this one, but that was mostly to keep track of character history rather than plot threads – there’s a complex back story and the hierarchy of the Creature Court meant I had to know the history of servitude and alliance that each character had been through – the fact that Mars was Livilla’s courtesi once and is now her equal and ally is important to how they behave towards each other, as is the uncomfortable, complex relationship between Ashiol, Garnet and Poet (which you’ll see more of in the third book!).  There are a couple of characters not alive for the entirety of the trilogy who are vital to how my sweeties interact with each other now.

But as for plotting forward… I’m actually a terrible leaper rather than a looker. I know the feel of what I’m going for, and I grope wildly towards it. More than once, I get it wrong, and have to recover fast.

I will admit that when I was writing the third book, I was still building the finale, and in many cases I only knew about particular events days or hours before writing them. Other parts had been planned out from the beginning. But I am a big believer in the idea that if you know the past of your characters in great detail, then their future will unfold with integrity.

Do you have any preferences for a fantasy casting of the novels? I like Johnny Depp for Poet, myself.

I want to say he’s too old, but Johnny Depp, of course, is never too old. You’d definitely need someone with his great capacity for being weird, scary and innocent all at the same time. I have a fondness for the actor who played young Octavian in HBO’s Rome series – I think he could pull off the part, in a few years, which is at least as long as it would take to get something like this off the ground as a production. If not, grab him from a few years ago via. time travel and he can do the flashback scenes.

After seeing all those beautiful stills of the Great Gatsby, I would accept Carey Mulligan as Delphine in a heartbeat. Joel Edgerton or Dan Spielman as Macready. Now I’m just totally rifling through old Secret Life of Us casting…

Nicholas Hoult is too pretty for nearly everything he is in, so I’m sure we could find room for him somewhere.

When it comes to my central protagonists, though, Ashiol and Velody, I can’t cast them at all. I know how they look in my head, but couldn’t match them to anyone real.

TrifleDead-Cover2Your new crime novel, A Trifle Dead, comes out through Twelfth Planet Press later this month, under the pen name Livia Day. It’s set in Hobart and features a pastry chef named Tabitha Darling. Is this a kind of theme of yours? Elevating domestic skills to literary greatness? What is it about the domestic arts you find so appealing?

Partly it’s a fantasy for me – I will never cook as well as Tabitha nor sew as well as Velody. But I do value the domestic arts highly. The combination of practicality with aesthetic pleasure is fascinating – there’s a narrative there, and it’s something I find excellent to make stories out of. Tabitha doesn’t just cook – she uses food to soothe people, and butter them up, and tease them. She even withholds food on some occasions, which proves she is a little bit evil.

I wanted to show what a good detective she would make through her other life – and her other life is about social skills and food. You learn a lot from Tabitha about her work and her attention to detail – that’s there in how she dresses, as well, and organises parties, and is the social centre of her friendships.

But I also think that the domestic arts are not valued as highly as they should be in our society, particularly in our history. There’s that whole bullshit gender idea that something women do is lesser somehow, that it’s compromised, despite the fact that female artists often have less to work with from a resources point of view. As a social historian, I think it’s brilliant that women have often used domestic arts as a foil or a cover for other freedoms.

For instance the whole thing about patchwork being invented out of frugality and the saving of every scrap of fabric, is an insanely beautiful con job that the women of colonial America played on their men – sure, fabric was scarce, but it’s ridiculous to believe that the beautiful quilts they made were the most efficient use of their time. They used the cover of frugality and housewifely virtue to gather in female social groups, to share information and gossip, to entertain each other, and to make beautiful art that also had a significant social value as well as practical use.

And maybe that’s not true at all. Maybe that’s my immense Western 21st century ignorant privilege speaking, that I even think that. But the narrative seems so clear to me – a combination of pretty things and practical function can’t help but tell a story.

Also, my heroines are always more stylish than me. That’s definitely a theme.

This book is set in Hobart: what about Hobart makes it an appealing locale for the story?

Pretty much that I know Hobart inside and out, plus that’s where Tabitha lives, which makes it convenient. It was never a conscious choice.

Having said that, if I had been going out of my way to pick a location for a murder mystery that was going to be on trend in 2013, Hobart would have been a genius choice. Our media is exploding right now with the artistic and tourist boom in Tasmania, and it’s a very creatively exciting place right now.

We’ve been a forgotten corner of the country for a long time, off on our little island, but over the last few years, Tasmania has become a Destination with a capital D. When I first started writing about Tabitha and her world, I remember an earlier version of the manuscript being rejected by an industry professional who couldn’t comprehend my Tasmania at all – she had visited the place once I guess, and was so wrapped up in the narrative of us as a ghostly colonial throwback, all old fashioned sweet shops and “an almost biting sense of cold” that she could not accept a book which showed Hobart as being vibrant and bright and, you know, occasionally had a bit of sunshine.


So yes, it’s rather lovely that the Australian narrative about Tasmania has changed and continues to change, just in time for this book to be released. Because the idea that books can’t be set here without being full of sad people and grey skies makes me want to beat my head on a sandstone brick.

splashdanceYour first novel, Splashdance Silver, has just been reprinted. How do you feel you’ve developed as a writer since you won the George Turner Prize with that book? Do you have any advice for your younger self? Does your younger self have any advice for your current self?

Fifteen years, can you believe it? My first novel was published nearly fifteen years ago (the anniversary is in September this year).

I know that I’ve developed a lot as a writer since then because I have had the charming and alarming experience of proofing the books for e-release (Splashdance is available now at Wizards Tower, Weightless Books and via Kindle, the rest are to follow shortly). Aargh! I also learned that my publisher really had stopped caring about me by book 2 because oh my goodness, the errors that made it through to the printed version, they make my head hurt…

My advice to my younger self would simply be not to get ahead of yourself. Selling those books was a brilliant moment of my writing career, but it was not the gateway to a consistent or easy career and there were a few painful bumps and jolts along the way. Then again, if I’d told my younger self that it would be another decade before she had another year of Real Full Time Income from writing, then it probably wouldn’t have good consequences for either of us!

I would like to tell her to get more manuscripts under her belt before having children because OMG what did you do with your time before then?

I’m not sure if that younger self has much useful to offer me in return (though I would totally take any free babysitting she’s offering) but I’m glad her books are back in print. Every now and then I get an email, or meet someone who genuinely loved those books and it’s so nice to hear because I have a tendency to put down my early work, and I shouldn’t. You have to own your history, all of it, and those books were a really important stepping stone for me.

Coming back to them, I still love the characters and the world, even if I would write them differently now. It’s quite fun to think back to where I was when I wrote them, and what I was bouncing off. It’s not until the third book (written more recently) that it really felt like they were MINE, though, rather than that faraway twenty-year-old

What’s coming up next for Tansy and/or Livia?

Livia has to finish the second Cafe La Femme book and get it to the publishers by May, which is exciting. I do love me a deadline. Tansy, meanwhile, is writing a lot of shorter pieces right now, while gearing up for the Next Big Fantasy Series. I have stories due to appear in anthologies such as One Small Step (Fablecroft), Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe (Lethe Press) and Glitter and Mayhem. I’m also working on a bunch of non fiction commissions and will be announcing a new online creative writing course later in the year.

Plus, WORLD FANTASY OMG! I’m going to Brighton in October, and ridiculously excited about it.


Check out Tansy’s blog at, and follow her on Twitter as @tansyrr. You can hear her talking about the publishing industry on the Galactic Suburbia podcast, and about Doctor Who on the Verity! podcast.

  • Get A Trifle Dead by Livia Day, available from 28 March, from Twelfth Planet Press
  • Get Splashdance Silver by Tansy Rayner Roberts for Kindle or  Weightless Books
  • Get Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts and other books by Tansy Rayner Roberts on

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at

It Means What It Is

From ‘Van Gogh, les parodies et les geeks’ at La boite verte.

I’ll always be grateful for Matthew Collings’ 1999 TV series This is Modern Art. It taught me a lot about modern art, for a start, but more importantly it taught me that enjoying a piece of art is very subjective: and so is loathing one, or having no reaction to it at all.

I mean, either I respond to a piece or I don’t; and if I respond, it may be positive or negative – but in the end, I just feel how I feel. Maybe I can articulate the reasons for my reaction, maybe I can’t, but how I feel is no indicator of whether a piece is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. All I can say is how I respond to something, and then try to understand why I respond that way.

Once I let go of any idea of what kind of art I was supposed to think good or bad, I could just get on with either liking it or not as I saw fit.

And apparently, what I see fit to like (or not) in art revolves around humour and an appreciation of layers of meaning.

This appreciation of my own art appreciation came home to me as I visited MONA in Hobart on 21 February.

I first visited MONA in 2011. I love that gallery. I love the way it uses technology to make viewing art easy and more interesting. I love how texts on its O device help to break down those barriers of how art ‘should be’ received and instead opens visitors up the the excellent notion that all responses are valid.

This visit, my layers of appreciation revolved around:

  • thinking about artworks I was seeing for the first time.
  • enjoying rediscovering pieces I’d seen an loved in other exhibitions and didn’t know I’d find, like Zizi the Affectionate Couch and Korean video artist Junebum Park’s 3 Crossing.
  • rediscovering pieces that I enjoyed the first time around at MONA, like the two live goldfish swimming in a deep plate of water around a chopping knife, and the Pulse Room.
  • amusing myself with the way certain pieces and moments made me think of other things in pop culture.

That’s one of the fun things about seeing lots of art as well as seeing lots of pop culture that may mention art. Everything you see accumulates layers of meaning.

One evocative piece had two speakers in a darkened room, each emitting the voice of the artist singing two versions of a folk song.

The song is the story about two sisters in love with the same man. One sister pushes the other into the river so she can have the man to herself. The drowned sister dies, is washed ashore, and her bones and hair are made into a fiddle that will only play a lament.

One speaker is the song of the sister who pushed; the other is the song of the sister who drowned.

It’s a wonderful piece of sound sculpture, with two simple speakers standing in for those tragic sisters. It also is the latest layer in my relationship with that story, which I’ve heard in different folk songs and in different forms. One of my favourite versions is Loreena McKennitt’s The Bonny Swans, which adds another sister and incorporates at least two versions of the story in a single song.

Not all of my pop culture associations were so elegant. At various times I was reminded of Rimmer admiring Legion’s light switch [at 1:50], or John Cleese and Eleanor Bron admiring the TARDIS in Doctor Who’s City of Death, or Ben Miller’s crusty old historian saying ‘It is, of course, absolutely priceless’ just before he manages to destroy whatever fabulous historical artefact he’s looking at in the Miller and Armstrong sketch show.

So it may be that no-one else but Tim knew what I was giggling about at some of those exhibits, but it’s liberating to know that it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thought about either the art or my giggling.

I love the layers of perception I experience, without regard for ‘high’ or ‘low’ art. Art is just art. Creativity is just creativity. And whether I like it and the ways in which I do (or not), matter only to me. It’s enough to have an opportunity to see other people’s imaginations splashed out for the world to see, and to feel however I feel about it, and try to work out why I react the way I do.

That way, I don’t just learn about art. I learn about myself.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at