There are also stories from Alan Baxter, Angie Rega, Sean Williams and others, and excellent summaries on the State of Australian Spec Fic from Tehani Wessely and G. N. Braun, so well worth the click!
SQ Magazine, Edition 14
One of the most delightful ways for me to refresh the wells is to go to a convention. This weekend, Conflux was held in my hometown. As special guest, I stayed in the con hotel and therefore had the bizarre yet wonderful experience of being away from home while not really being away from home.
The SteamPunk High Tea. The first costume event of the convention. Amazing stuff! I went for something metallic rather than the wonderful costumes the others came up with. We nibbled salmon sandwiches and ate scones, arguing about how to pronounce scones. Actually that was mostly Matthew Farrer, who says he waits to hear how the other person pronounces it, then corrects them with the other pronunciation, just to be annoying! The idea of Matthew Farrer being annoying is as funny as the joke itself.
Next came the launch of Cat Spark's first short story collection, The Bride Price. These books were delivered to my house during the week, so I had a sneak peek at them. Cat has been a dear friend for a long time and I'm a huge fan of her work. I also adore Russell Farr as a friend and as a publisher, so this event was one not to be missed. I politely waited till the end to buy a book (actually was chatting with so many people I got distracted) that by the time I got to the book table, they were sold out! How brilliant is that!
Opening ceremony next, run by Craig Cormack. I have never, ever been at a funnier opening ceremony. It was full of evil overloads, people with nasty-person face masks and all sorts of good stuff. I sat up the front with the other guests, and realised yet again how lucky I was to be on the bill with them. Nalo Hopkinson, Marc Gascoigne, Karen Miller and Rose Mitchell. Talented, delightful and funny, the lot of them!
Cocktail party; it was loud, but then I rather like loud. I caught up with Amanda Rainey (we coined a brilliant new phrase which I have since forgotten) before I had to sneak off to my panel on The Horror Spectrum with Kirstyn McDermott, Jason Nahrung, Terry Dowling and Alan Baxter. It became quite a philosophical panel, and it was great to hear Terry talk about some of his motivations and the things he considers important in his writing (basically don't bullshit on the page!).
Then to the bar. The wonderful Devin Jayathurai brought me something very special from Singapore.
It comes in a bag and I spent most of the night making people try it. I'm afraid I do have a list in my head now of those who said no (vegetarians get a free pass). It is not anywhere near as weird tasting as it sounds.
My official day started with the launch of three books. Joanne Anderton's The Bone Chime Song, Thoraiya Dyer's Assymetry, and One Small Step, edited by Tehani Wessely of Fablecroft Press. I was very proud to launch these books, but terrified I'd stuff it up. I was so nervous I had the wrong glasses on and couldn't read a thing, so had to remember it all. Luckily all three books are brilliant, so I could talk very honestly about what I thought of them! I believe all those books sold out as well. Conflux is clearly the place for book launches!
Am I Not Human panel, which we all called Body Horror because that's where it started about six months ago when a few of us gathered to discuss such things. I loved this panel, with Deb Biancotti as the chair, Martin Livings, Kirstyn McDermott and Angela Slatter. Good stuff from the audience, too. At all the audiences I sat looking out at or sat amongst, people were totally engaged and connected to what was being said. Loved this panel, and loved the directions we took it all in. We talked about the future of beauty, and the nature of attraction, and whether or not Frankenstein was sexy. All good!
Mass book signing where I signed four books, sitting next to Nalo Hopkinson. Best thing was that I facilitated a visit for her to an op shop. I couldn't do it, so I co-opted Ian McHugh and Rik Lagarto into it. I believe they had fun!
The terrifying (and terrifyingly nice) Rob Hood launched his book Fragments of a Broken Land next. I haven't read it, and can't yet, because this one sold out, too! I couldn't be at the launch because I had a reading for Nicole Murphy's anthology In Fabula Divino. Nicole (who co-organised the convention with Donna Hanson, an amazing job!) mentored 8 new writers, taking their stories from first draft to a publishable condition. Wonderful achievement! She asked a few of us (Trudi Canavan, Angela Slatter and Kevin J Anderson and Rebecca Moesta) to donate a short story for it, and I thought my first short story, White Bed, was the appropriate choice.
Rick Keuning did a great job of reading his story "Crossroads", then I read a small part of mine. It's a tough, confronting story to read aloud but you have to stand behind your work.
Russ Farr organised a Ticonderoga Author spot. There were so many of us we decided to go to the bar instead, and that was fun! I was snuggled into my seat, talking to Terry Dowling and Grant Stone, when I was called to the CSFG Next Anthology launch. Lots of wonderful authors, many of them at the convention, quite a number of them publishing their first short story. Very proud CSFG Member! I had to leave the very, very gentlemanly Phill Berrie with my copy, because the Banquet was about to begin and I had to frock up.
I didn't frock up like most people did! Wow wow wow. Look at these pics! There was dancing, there was fabulous food (so fabulous Donna brought the chef out so we could cheer him and his staff). I had the best table, I think, with Lily Mulholland, Graham Storr, Abigail Nathan, Richard and Aileen Harland, Mark Timmony and Helen Stubbs. Helen had a body double who was dancing professionally for us, which was a bit of a spin out! We had lots of fun talking, laughing, joking and eating. My favourite dish I think was chicken forced with caper sauce.
Dare I say the bar was next? Well, it was.
By this stage, Justin Acroyd, bookseller, coffee lover, food lover, jokester and all round good blokester and I had settled into our routine of breakfasting each morning of a Natcon, joined by all and sundry. It's a lovely way to start the day, feeding your face with as much food as you can shove into it, and talking books, sport and whatever else comes up.
Then to my reading. I chose The Pickwick Syndrome, from Pandemonium, Stories of the Smoke, Pandemonium Press. It is the right length, and I do like to have a complete story at a reading if possible. It's actually quite a nice story, which left the audience stunned, but I think they still enjoyed it!
I wanted to attend Sean Williams' talk based on his Phd work, but the room was so full I couldn't fit in. He did the talk again on Sunday, but sadly I couldn't make that one. This meant, however, that I could take a horde of people off to one of my favourite restaurants, Kopi Tiam in Manuka. My first chance to hang with my dear friend Kimberley Gaal, who was my mentee last year but has shifted up a notch! In fact she is my mentor as far as computery stuff goes, and I co-opted her into helping me out with my Guest of Honour speech, more of which soon. Marc Gascoigne came with, as did Amanda Rainey, Nick Evans, Ben Payne and Jane Routely and we all fought each other bloody over the alcoholic ginger beer, which was fun. I won, of course, because I am ruthless in such things.
Kim and I raced back to sort out the equipment for my talk, because I was terrified of stuffing it up.First, the interview of Nalo Hopkinson by Justine Larbalestier. What a wonderful hour that was! If the whole audience wasn't in love with Nalo at the end of it, I'll be very surprised.
She talked about her childhood, and her motivations, and Clarion and was so funny and delightful and inspiring.
My talk next. I spoke about the Geography of my fiction; all the places I've lived, and how the landscape has affected my stories. I had lots of pics and told stories about them all. Here are a couple to whet your appetite. I'll probably give the talk again at some stage because it was a lot of fun and people seemed to enjoy it.
I finished a few minutes early to give the Ditmar Committee time to set up. This involved a throne, and a box of lego I brought from home! Here is a Twitter summary of the whole thing from Sean the Blogonaut.
It was a really fun ceremony. I'm proud of all the winners, and got to hand David McDonald his award for next new talent, which made me very happy indeed.
Then of course there were the two awards I won! Best Novella, for Sky, and Best Collected Work, for Through Splintered Walls! Seriously, I was so shocked and excited I could barely stand up straight on stage. Marc Gascoigne had teased me earlier, saying he'd call my name no matter what the note said, so I thought perhaps he was having a lend! The awards are absolutely beautiful, made by Lewis Morley.
Such a brilliant artist.
Masquerade time next! Again, some gorgeous costumes. Emma Kate, the Fan guest brought up from Tasmania as part of a fan fund and I got to judges this one, and it was so tough. In the end, the damaged bride was the winner. Well done, Emma Wearmouth! I didn't go out for dinner that night. I ate fried prawns and drank champagne and sent a message to Martin Livings at 3am inviting him to breakfast!
Editing to add: Disco! Was so much fun. Sean Williams the genius DJ as ever assisted by Marc Gascoigne and Dave Cake, all of us dancing our little geeky arses off!
Sunday started with breakfast with Martin and Justin. Very pleasant way to start the day, then onto the mentoring panel with Kimberley Gaal, Valerie Parv, Satima Flavell, Jodi Cleghorn and Joanne Anderton. It was feelgood panel, and also, I hope, informative. Kim did such a good job herding us all.
The launch of In Fabula Divino next, and I signed a couple of books, confusing one poor reader, who, when I said "This is my first published story" looked so stunned I realised she thought it was published for the first time that day, rather than 20 years ago.
I saw Karen Miller's Guest of Honour speech and it was fantastic. She actually did a similar thing to me; showing pictures of things that inspired her. Hers was very deliberate, the result of a long and amazing European trip. So inspirational.
We had some crazy plans for Angry Robot Hour (including a Robot pinata) but in the end realised that really what people wanted was to find out about the company and figure out how they can get published. So Marc Gascoigne, Joanne Anderton, Ingrid Jonach and I chatted about processes and the pub and all that. Marc is so generous with his time and with his information, so warm and honest. He's also a sharp businessman, with an uncanny ability to see the future.
People drifted and wandered and Kim and I sat down for a talk and ended up in a circle of 20 or more people. I love that about conventions; I love the way people join in and two become twenty within minutes. I also know that this is exactly what makes it hard for some con-goers. If you see someone you know standing alone, looking as if they'd quite like to join in but they don't know anyone, I think you should wander over, say hello, and see if they'd like to join the vortex. They may not want to, but they will probably appreciate being asked.
Closing ceremony, where Craig Cormack created magic for all of us and Donna was presented with a birthday present, and we all cheered Donna and Nicole for a wonderful, wonderful convention.
I arrived home to a "Congratulations Mum" sign, a delicious home-cooked meal, some non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice and family and cats very happy to see me.
Friday afternoon I caught the train to the Young and Jackson pub to meet with a friend. On discovering they had a cider bar on the roof, I almost called my family to pack their bags and move, but I remembered there is more to life than cider.
Friday night began in the dungeons of the Donkey Wheel House. This room was possibly used to store the gold and had a massive wooden door you needed to arms and a helper to close. Drank champagne with Kirstyn McDermott, Lucy Sussex, Chris Sequeira and Jan Scherpenhuizen before an insane photo shoot where Kirstyn and I tried to look like horror writers, which apparently involved me pointing at people. Afterwards, we met up with Jason Nahrung and wandered the glorious streets and laneways of Melbourne City until we found the restaurant that had the most powerful scent of garlic and we ate there.
On Saturday, I arrived at the convention at around 1pm. The Australian Horror Writers' Association shared a bright corner with the inspiring people of LegumeMan Books, who have recently published books from Brett McBean and G.N. Braun. We spent half an hour or so looking at their amazing covers; wonderful stuff! Braun's book, Hammered, is a seriously harsh memoir of his time as an addict. It captures the repetitive boredom, the emptiness, of that time very well.
We worked through the catacombs under the building, which were full of artists, booksellers, special effects experts, vampires, zombies and all manner of terrifying creatures to reach the panel room. Mark Smith-Briggs, Brett McBean, Stephen Dedman, Jason Franks and I talked about the AHWA, horror writing, mentorships and more. I hope it was informative; certainly I enjoyed hearing what the others had to say.
Then it was drinks over the road, after which I escaped to the real world for dinner with family, which was very nice indeed and involved a restaurant toilet which was upstairs, across a room, down stairs, across another room, through a hallway, up two stairs and there it was.
Sunday involved two panels on horror writing, which were well-attended and which I greatly enjoyed. I also attended a comics panel run by Chris Sequeira, Jan Scherpenhuizen and Jason Franks. It was fascinating to hear about the creation of characters and how the creative process works. Hilarious was the high pitched screams coming from the catacombs throughout the panel, and the fact that none of us reacted! I loved being in a place where people dressed like demons and monsters and there were hysterical screams and we all just carried on. Zombies in panels, Freddie Kruger buying fast food; love it.
It was an excellent bringing together of disparate parts of the horror industry, which I loved. Comics, art, film, writing, costumes. I've heard a rumour that the next one will be held over Halloween, which will be even better.
My story "Woman Train" appears online at Cosmos Magazine as of today, along with an interview about the story, and about my name, and about squatting, bird-obsessed men.
I'm using a recipe from The World of Jewish Cooking, by Gil Marks. The first time I made this soup, I was a doubter. I thought, "Surely just chucking it all in at the same time will work," but I followed the recipe, with variations, and my goodness. What I got was real chicken soup, not stock at all. I'm sure a chemist would be able to tell me why this is so.
Here's my variation of chicken soup:
To a large pot, add three chicken wings and two chicken legs. Cover with water, bring to the boil, then let simmer for 30 minutes.
Add two sliced onions and cook for an hour.
Add two carrots cut in half, three celery stalks cut in half, one turnip cut in quarters (the recipe asked for parsnip, but the first time I couldn't find any so I used turnip and it was yum, and the second time they were ten bucks a kilo as opposed to turnips being 3 bucks a kilo, and I do love to save the pennies), two teaspoons dried parsley (you can use fresh of course), 8 peppercorns or a couple of pinches of ground pepper and a bay leaf. Simmer for about an hour.
Chicken should be so tender it's almost dissolved by now.
Add some salt. The recipe said 2.5 teaspoons, which sounded like an insane amount, so I used 1.5 and that was plenty. In fact it was only just under too much.
Add two slices of fennel.
Cook ten minutes.
Strain the soup.
Serve with sippets.
I used the chicken to make spring rolls last time; tonight I'm going to use it to make ravioli with a creamy sun-dried tomato sauce. If you want to come for dinner you should bring a bottle of wine.
Here I am reading from my novella Sky at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. Terry Shepherd did a fantastic job putting this series together. I love Jason Nahrung’s reading from his novella Salvage, accompanied by Talie Helene on the keyboard.
When we launched Slights in Fiji, I read my story “The Gibbet Bell”, accompanied by a very talented friend on the violin. It was wonderful! I know there was a recording of it, but cannot find it or remember who had the footage. I really love readings with music, and think there should be more of it. I’m going to push for this at Conflux 9, so any musicians reading this, please let me know!