Get These Motherfudgin’ Prams Off This Motherfrikkin’ Hallway!

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It’s been a while since my last post*. (*Perennial opening). Although I haven’t been idle, constant reader, oh no, but I have been slow. Work, you see, has taken one hell of a chunk of my time. This isn’t necessarily a Bad Thing. I love my new job, and I have the satisfaction that each day I leave I’ve done something good for the planet and the environment. But that doesn’t leave much time for writing.

Neither does child #3. See that link tot he title?

Yes, the old pram in the hallway. Well, h’es a toddler now, so it’s less a pram and more one of those weird laying down balance bike things without peddles, but you get the idea.

So, with work, kiddies and all the guff associated I have roughly -25% free time to write.

So, what do you do?

No, drinking comes later.

You grab what time you can. That minute while you’re waiting for the soup to warm, for you youngest to choose his favourite socks – keep the laptop handy, warmed up and ready to go.

Transient time, if you will. Liminal time. This is where you live. This is where you get your writing done.

I’ve been lucky enough that this period of my this current work coincides with editing rather than writing, but it’s still hard and slow and frustrating.

But it gets you there. Slowly. And now I can see light at the end of the tunnel, and it came from editing one paragraph at a time.

Also now the little one is toilet trained, so more time! Huzzar!

 

Michael

Making time to write

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Let’s run a little experiment – who here is an adult, raise your hand…. OK, that’s pretty much everyone.

Let’s try another – keep your hand up if you’re also a writer….. right, almost everyone again.

Now the kicker – keep your hand up if you have enough time to write.

There, see? Pretty much they all went down.

And that’s where this little adventure begins. Y’see, here’s the thing – I’m a father of three with a full time job. After the essentials of spending time with the kids, making sure they’re fed, their nappies are changed, their homework is done (different kids, don’t worry), they’re tucked in, all the housework is done, I’m up to date on my current work projects, the house maintenance is under control, and I’ve actually spent some quality time with the wife because, well, being married is nice, I’m pretty much exhausted.

And if you’re an adult writer with responsibilities I bet you feel pretty much the same way.

I still do get time to write. After a conversation with an editor last month I worked out I’d written over 200k words over the past two years, which isn’t bad, but they were spread over projects. And now I have a novel to deliver and I need the bugger finished.

Something, n short, had to be done if I was going to make this work.

So, in steps my wife.  Like I said, being married is nice. She’s prodded me into action by taking the kids one evening a week, allowing me to stay in the city after work, head to the library (see exhibit A) and get some solid writing in.

An actual picture of me not writing but taking a picture…. you get what I’m doing.

And the crazy thing is, it worked. I know – actually doing something proactive had positive results – who would have thought?

I’ll still be trying to fit what I can in on the train to work when I get a seat (ha!) or at work if I get a lunch break (double ha!), but for now one evening a week is mine to write and nothing else.

Tune in same time next week for further progress.

Michael

The importance of showing vs not showing a damn thing

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Superhero movies are crap.

There, now I have your attention. Although I will assure you that sentence has more purpose than to grab your attention, because by and large it’s true. Fight me. No, don’t, unless it’s at Street Fighter and I can pick e Honda. Super hero films are, mostly, shite. They fall back on the same characters who by the will of the studios, can’t grow, fight the same handful of well-known antagonists, and tell stories already told. Often multiple time.

Seriously, Uncle Ben and Bruce’s parents have been killed more times than Jack Harkness.

But, as usual, there are exceptions. Man of Steel (fight me again) is one, for reasons I won’t go into here, and the Avengers, for a particular reason I will.

There are a few reasons the Avengers is a standout. Joss Whedon is one, that it can forgo the character and scene setting most other films have to sink time into is another. But I want to talk about a particular shot.  This one, in fact. And more specifically, the last 8 seconds:

For those who haven’t seen the film (and there are many, because superhero films are crap, remember?) here we see Bruce Banner being convinced veeeeery gently to come join the fun. But it’s the last part which is telling. Throughout the scene the hut has been surrounded by a squad of heavily armed soldiers. But why? Nothing happened. We saw nowt. In and of itself, that scene isn’t great, but that eight second camera swap was the payoff that made.

They were scared. That’s tight storytelling. That tells the viewer, even if they don’t know who Bruce Banner, that there’s something terrifying just below the surface.

The same technique is used in Inglorious Basterds, where we first meet Donny Donowitz, AKA, the Bear Jew:

And if you want a longer build up of the same, Jaws, where an entire town is held in sway by a threat we know is there, but all we see are the after effects of what that threat is capable of.

Done right, this technique is effective as hell. It draws on the viewer / reader’s own imagination because they – and us writers often hate to admit it – can conjure up much more frightening sights than we ever could. It’s one reason why The Blair Witch project and Paranormal Activity were so bloody frightening.

We’re often told to show, don’t tell, but not showing can be even more effective. By purposefully not showing, but describing around the subject, we give it context, we amplify its meaning, its potential.

Perhaps the best use of this in fiction is my firm favourite Adam Nevill, especially in his novel Last Days. The first half of the novel is the usual scrabblings in the dark, the shuddering of cupboards from within, btu delivered with Nevill’s visceral style.

Another example would be Horus Rising by Dan Abnett. Even non-fans of Warhammer 40k (and there are many, because if anything can suck harder than superhero movies it’s IP fiction – fight me all over again) would do well to read this first novel in the Horus Heresy series. Abnett treats the Astartes (giant, power-armoured supersoldiers of the far futures) as a antural disaster, showing us the after affects of these soldiers’ actions on the regular humans who witness them and who – and here’s the thing – are on the same side. Shell shock by proxy. Before you even see them you’re in awe of what they can do. It’s effective.  Hell, it’s effecting.

Don’ describe the monster. Once it’s a monster, it’s a monster, and monsters can be beaten. But beating something that exists only in your head? Aye, give that a go.

Michael

 

The Horror of the Mundane

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This is something which I’ve been thinking about for a while now, and listening to the great Ramsay Campbell speak on the Best Seller Podcast recently brought it back to mind, so I thought I’d be a mind-splurge here.

When asked his tips for budding horror writers Ramsay said to write what made you scared, not what you think the reader would find scary. Makes sense.  As the saying goes, ‘no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader’. And he also name-checked Adam Nevill a few times on writers who manage to scare him now.

I’ve spoken about my love of Nevill’s work before, and he remains one of the authors whose books I preorder without waiting for reviews because I know they’re going to be good (not disappointed yet). What hits me most about his writing is how he manages to maintain tension throughout a novel, and his visceral prose (I read the second half of The Ritual with one hand clamped to the side of my head in sympathy with me main character).

But what I’ve been thining about most recently is his novel No One Gets Out Alive.

 

No One Gets Out Alive by Adam Nevill

NOGOA – to be short – nearly defeated me. I won’t go too much into the story as you really should read it, but the supernatural elements of the horror take a while to kick to in, which is fine. A writer as talented as Nevill knows the benefits of a maturing tension. But in this case it allowed a sceondary horror to creep in – that of the poverty trap.

And that’s what stopped me reading. I’ve been there, of living hand to mouth and that despair of seeing no way out, and Nevill portrayed it perfectly. I don’t know if he intended it that way and one day In intend to ask him, but it was so close to the mark of one of my very real fears that when the regular horror kicks in and people started dying that it was actually a relief.

And that’s what sticks out to me for this book. Nevill tapped into a very real fear of mine, and for a while it made me put the book down and walk away, because it was just that much too close to the mark. And at teh end of the day, it was far more frightening then an kind of supernatural haunting, and by a long margin.

I’ve tried to include that in my own writing. In Grind, my story in Fox Spirit’s Pacific Monsters, my horror wasn’t being trapped on a barren island by a half-seen ocean creature. It was that the humans there could let the tension break them in npredictable ways, it was that the main character may never see his child again.

We all see the monsters in our mind differently, but we all understand the terror of being separated from our children.

Image result for pacific monsters fox spirit

Anyway, now I’ve managed to frighten myself all over again, I’m off. Toodles.

 

Michael

A Miniature Christmas – the reviews begin

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I got my hot little hands on some contributor copies of A Miniature Christmas recently, and oh my is it pretty. Easily the best looking edition of the collection so far. But more importantly, the first review are coming in….

 

Kids’ Books Review posted a very nice review of the collection, and wouldn’t you know it, Straight on ‘Til Morning got a mention:

“I love Oliver Phommavanh’s story about the little elf in an app that comes to life to tell Nathan how much fun he can get out of each toy he wants for Christmas. George Ivanoff’s story about a Christmas fairy trap is magical and Michael Grey’s reimagining of a Peter Pan ‘chrimbas’ is fun and authentic.”

 

It’s so nice when that happens, and it’s really made my day.

Well, that’s enough self-congratulating out of the way. The edits to this novel won’t make themselves…..

 

 

Best of Horror 2017 Honourable Mention

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Well this was very nice news to wake up to. My story Grind (which you may remember is published in the Pacific Monsters anthology from Fox Spirit books) received an honourable mention in this year’s Best of Horror 2017 collection from Ellen Datlow.

This is officially a Big Thing. When I started writing I looked at Ellen’s collections and said, “That’s it. That’s where I’m aiming for.” And while I may not have quite gotten there this time….

To quote the man, “Next time, Gadget, next time.”

What I learned From…. Nemesis Games, by James S A Corey

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Long time readers (I know there are some of you, Analytics wouldn’t lie to me) may remember a while back I used to post about what I learned from each book I read. I thought with was a better take on reviewing books, especially coming from the “if you have nothing good to say, say nothing” school of being brought up and, well, there are some pretty bad books out there.

So, in the spirit of keeping things positive I decided to pick a few things I learned from a book as I’m old enough to be sure now that you will always learn something new if you pay enough attention.

So, let’s pick up this series again with Nemesis Games by James S A Corey…

Nemesis Games.jpg

 

For those who don’t know, Nemesis Games is the fifth book in the Expanse series of sci fi novels, which follow Captain James (why is it always James?) Holden and his merry around the inner solar system in a hard sci fi version of our nearish future.

To cut to the chase, you should read this series. The hard and realistic application of politics over long distances has me pushing The Expanse series as Game of Thrones in space, and I’ve managed to get misters (they’re a writing pair) Corey a few extra readers (No need to thank me, but a names character wouldn’t go amiss).

But, Nemesis Games in particular….. it’s often harder to learn something from a good piece of art then it is from a bad one. By definition, a good piece of art is good at more than one thing, so it can be difficult to pick exactly what was good about it. And that certainly is the case here. The pacing is steady where it needs to be, racing where appropriate. The action is mind blowing in its scope, without crossing that indistinct line into silly, and the characters are believable…. ah, there we go. Characters. Or, more specifically, the crew of the Rosy. Or even more specifically, the Captain, James (always James!) Holden.

Here’s a thing – one rule writers are always told is avoid the White Knight protagonist. They’re boring, they avoid conflict. Bad bad bad. And Holden is about as cookie cutter a White Knight as they come. He always does the Right Thing, will never do anything which could hurt someone else, even if they deserve it, plays by every single rule, and will go out of his way to be honest accommodating.

And yet, Holden manages to be the biggest conflict creator in the actual solar system.

Corey gets around this by making Holden’s decisions be the creator of conflict in others. Semi spoiler alert for the first book, but him insisting on following his moral code of being open and truthful almost sets of a civil war int he first book. Twice.

That neat little sidestep alone would make Holden a worthy main character, but Corey compounds the interest by giving him more complicated sides, in the form of his crew.

Image result for james holden the expanse

“What? We always casually hang around the table casually like this.”

We have Alex, the pilot acting as Holden’s regret, Naomi who gives him the awareness to question his own actions, and, my personal favourite, Amos, who ably embodies the amoral psychopath in us all. And without giving too much away, in Nemesis Games Holden is left on his own, bereft of his personality extensions he very much was left at the whim of the conflict he himself set in motion in earlier books.

So, what did I learn from Nemesis Games? That there are rules to writing, but if you have a plan, sometimes they’re more guidelines.

 

Aurealis Awards

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Well, I didn’t win. I did say I didn’t expect to. The other finalists were spectacular each and every one. And as I said, just being among them is honour enough for me in one go. And Chris Mason’s story ‘The Stairwell’ was a standout.

So, congratulations to Chris and of course all the other winners and finalists, and I encourage you to go read The Stairwell, it really is worth your time.

Dreadball – Writing the story

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Regular readers (I have some, Google Analytics wouldn’t lie to me) will know I’ve done some regular writing for Mantic Games, creating the back story and fluff for a few of their games, including the sci fi  setting for Dreadball. It’s a tonne of fun, and the game is about to be released, and then this morning the below popped up on my feed….

 

It feels off hearing people talk about the background I wrote as if it were a real thing. Good, but odd.  Reading the Dreadball facebook pages its great to see the players picking up the fluff and running with it. I’m really happy it seems to be going down well.

And I’m especially happy that Elmer And Dobbs the commentators are particular favourites.

Image result for dreadball elmer and dobbs

Aurealis Awards – and me!

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https://aurealisawards.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/aurealis-awards-finalist-high-res.jpg

 

Y’see that image right there? That one, just above these words? That applies to me.  I know, I’m shocked too. So shocked it would seem I completely forgot to mention that my story Grind from the Pacific Monsters anthology was shortlisted for the horror novella category.

It is, of course, an honour as much as a surprise to be included among such talented work.  Looking through the other nominees you can’t help but see some of Australia’s best spec fic writers and artists. I feel like a complete imposter to be among them. I am told that everyone feels that way, but then again that’s exactly what I would say to someone else too.

The winners are announced at SwanCon in Perth next weekend. I’m doing my best not to think about it too much.  I don’t think I stand a shifty cat in hell’s chance of winning, but then again being included int he shortlist makes me feel as thought I’ve won already.

You better believe I’ll be posting about whoever won next week, but in the mind time, fingers, toes and other bits crossed.

 

Michael

 

2017 Aurealis Awards – Finalists

BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION

How to Bee, Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, Jaclyn Moriarty (Allen & Unwin)

The Shop at Hoopers Bend, Emily Rodda (HarperCollins Australia)

The Exile, Jo Sandhu (Penguin Random House Australia)

Accidental Heroes, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

Nevermoor, Jessica Townsend (Hachette Australia)

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL / ILLUSTRATED WORK

Action Tank, Mike Barry (Mike Barry Was Here)

Changing Ways book 3, Justin Randall (Gestalt)

Dungzilla, James Foley (Fremantle Press)

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts, Craig Phillips (Allen & Unwin)

Home Time, Campbell Whyte (Penguin Random House Australia)

Tintinnabula, Margo Lanagan & Rovina Cai (ill.) (Little Hare)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY

“One Small Step”, Amie Kaufman (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“I Can See the Ending”, Will Kostakis (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“Competition Entry #349”, Jaclyn Moriarty (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“First Casualty” Michael Pryor (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

Girl Reporter, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Book Smugglers)

“Oona Underground”, Lili Wilkinson (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY

“Reef”, Kat Clay (SQ Mag 31, IFWG Publishing Australia)

“Outside, a Drifter”, Lisa L Hannett (Looming Low, Dim Shores)

“Angel Hair”, Deborah Sheldon (Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, IFWG Publishing Australia)

“The Endless Below”, Alfie Simpson (Breach Issue #02)

“Old Growth”, J Ashley Smith (SQ Mag 31, IFWG Publishing Australia)

“On the Line”, J Ashley Smith (Midnight Echo 12, Australasian Horror Writers Association)

BEST HORROR NOVELLA

The Mailman, Jeremy Bates (Ghillinnein Books)

Hope and Walker, Andrew Cull (Vermillion Press)

“Grind”, Michael Grey (Pacific Monsters, Fox Spirit Books)

“The Stairwell”, Chris Mason (Below The Stairs – Tales from the Cellar, Things In The Well)

“No Good Deed”, Angela Slatter (New Fears 1, Titan Books)

“Furtherest”, Kaaron Warren (Dark Screams Volume 7, Cemetery Dance)

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY

“Hamelin’s Graves”, Freya Marske (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #69)

“The Curse is Come Upon Me, Cried”, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Please Look After This Angel & Other Winged Stories, self-published)

“The Little Mermaid, in Passing”, Angela Slatter (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 22 Issue 1)

“Duplicity”, J Ashley Smith (Dimension6 #11)

“The Rainmaker Goddess, Hallowed Shaz”, Marlee Jane Ward (Feminartsy)

“Oona Underground”, Lili Wilkinson (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia).

BEST FANTASY NOVELLA

The Book Club, Alan Baxter (PS Publishing)

“Remnants”, Nathan Burrage (Dimension6 #11, Coer de Lion)

“The Cunning Woman’s Daughter”, Kate Forsyth & Kim Wilkins (The Silver Well, Ticonderoga Publications)

In Shadows We Fall, Devin Madson (self-published)

“Braid”, Kirstyn McDermott (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 24 Issue 1)

Humanity for Beginners, Faith Mudge (Less Than Three Press)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY

“The Missing Years”, Lyn Battersby (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #66)

“A Little Faith”, Aiki Flinthart (Like a Woman, Mirren Hogan)

“Cards and Steel Hearts”, Pamela Jeffs (Lawless Lands: Tales from the Weird Frontier, Falstaff Books)

“One Small Step”, Amie Kaufman (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“Conversations with an Armoury” Garth Nix (Infinity Wars, Solaris)

“Hurk + Dav”, Arthur Robinson (Breach Issue #01)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELLA

“This Silent Sea”, Stephanie Gunn (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 24 Issue 6)

“I Can See the Ending”, Will Kostakis (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“The Wandering Library”, DK Mok (Ecopunk!, Ticonderoga Publications)

“Island Green”, Shauna O’Meara (Ecopunk!, Ticonderoga Publications)

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)

Girl Reporter, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Book Smugglers)

BEST COLLECTION

The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales, Peter M Ball (Brain Jar Press)

The Silver Well, Kate Forsyth & Kim Wilkins (Ticonderoga Publications)

Beneath the Floating City, Donna Maree Hanson (self-published)

Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)

Please Look After This Angel & Other Winged Stories, Tansy Rayner Roberts (self-published)

Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, Deborah Sheldon (IFWG Publishing Australia)

BEST ANTHOLOGY

Midnight Echo #12, Shane Jiraiya Cummings & Anthony Ferguson (eds.) (Australasian Horror Writers Association)

The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2015, Liz Grzyb & Talie Helene (eds.) (Ticonderoga Publications)

Dimension6: Annual Collection 2017, Keith Stevenson (ed.) (coeur de lion publishing)

Infinity Wars, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Rebellion/Solaris)

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 11, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Rebellion/Solaris)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

In The Dark Spaces, Cally Black (Hardie Grant Egmont)

Ida, Alison Evans (Echo, Bonnier Publishing Australia)

Frogkisser!, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)

This Mortal Coil, Emily Suvada (Puffin UK)

Psynode, Marlee Jane Ward (Seizure)

The Undercurrent, Paula Weston (Text Publishing)

BEST HORROR NOVEL

Aletheia, J S Breukelaar (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Who’s Afraid Too?, Maria Lewis (Hachette Australia)

Soon, Lois Murphy (Transit Lounge)

BEST FANTASY NOVEL

Crossroads of Canopy, Thoraiya Dyer (Tor Books)

Gwen, Goldie Goldbloom (Fremantle Press)

Cassandra, Kathryn Gossow (Odyssey Books)

Godsgrave, Jay Kristoff (HarperCollins Publishers)

Gap Year In Ghost Town, Michael Pryor (Allen & Unwin)

Wellside, Robin Shortt (Candlemark & Gleam)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

Closing Down, Sally Abbott (Hachette Australia)

Terra Nullius, Claire G Coleman (Hachette Australia)

Year of the Orphan, Daniel Findlay (Penguin Random House Australia)

An Uncertain Grace, Krissy Kneen (Text Publishing)

From the Wreck, Jane Rawson (Transit Lounge)

Lotus Blue, Cat Sparks (Skyhorse)