Saturday, February 24, 2007


The fortnight of the end of February and beginning of March are crowded with birthdays - Pisces, my father, my brother in law, one of my brothers, and two nephews. My father's was yesterday and we had a family dinner. Since Virgo and I decided to become vegetarian a little over a year ago the family have been having great difficulty in catering for us - or more specifically me because I have such a complicated diet for medical reasons - but last night, with a potluck meal, all but one turned up with a vegetarian dish, all delicious. Since yet another family member announced last night that he has given up meat I suspect this will be the norm from now on.

I had wanted to give up eating meat for a long time before we took the plunge. I was very unhappy about the treatment of food animals and felt a hypocrite for being prepared to eat meat but knowing if someone else didn't kill it I wouldn't do it myself. At the same time it seemed too difficult to cater for in a family of meat eaters especially when my diet already requires so many exclusions. I had compromised by making at least four main meals a week vegetarian but Virgo's decision meant it was easier to go to the next step. There have been side benefits apart from the moral ones. The past year has been one of my healthiest in a decade and while I can't be certain it's not eating meat I'm hoping it will continue. I caught far fewer viruses and consequently actually achieved much more. My only problem was iron deficiency and this has happened to me on a regular basis for years so I doubt it has anything to do with my diet.

Now we have more birthdays to look forward to. Pisces' is next weekend and since he's working the whole of the long weekend I'm not sure what we can do. Maybe Virgo and I will take him out for a meal if either of them aren't working at the same time. Shifts that involve all weekend work are a real pain. Most social lives are arranged around Saturday nights and Sundays and I can't remember the last time we were able to go on a picnic with friends or family or even visit for a Sunday lunch as a family unit. The government trumpets about full employment but so many people are working weird hours or cobbling together two or more part-time or casual jobs just to survive. I'd like to see governments caring a bit more about the social consequences of this life style where often married couples and families don't see each other for more than a few minutes a day let alone keeping in contact with their extended family.

I will now step down from my soap box.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Home safely

My box of crits has arrived. Why the Australia Post courier didn't use the door bell I'm not sure because, if it hadn't been for the door dog, (Jaz) I wouldn't have known they were there unless I had had to go out the front for some reason. I don't really care. I am just so happy they have arrived. Now I can get down to some serious work. So far I have just been fiddling with the stories I started but hadn't finished in the last week of Clarion.

What else have I done since I got home? Slept - a lot. It's almost impossible to describe to anyone who has not been part of the experience just how little sleep figured. I had a routine appointment with my GP and he took one look at me and put me on the scales. I have lost nearly eight kilos since Christmas. This was not deliberate. All the time I was at Clarion I was eating well balanced meals and having far less exercise than normal due to my back flaring up. All I can put it down to is the mental energy involved burning up the calories. I'm not unhappy about this you understand, and my doctor is positively cheering, but I don't want to lose much more.

Today I had coffee with a friend, Satima, also a speculative fiction writer who was passing through Perth on her way to England and that was my first social activity since I arrived home. I haven't so much as made a phone call to anyone outside the family. But tomorrow life will begin again. By then I will be awake enough to be coherent.

Friday, February 16, 2007

All packed up and tomorrow we're off.

Because we are leaving so early in the morning - 7:45 for me - everything had to be packed up today. My crits and manuscripts are posted (and I'll be biting my nails until they arrive in Perth). It was so hard to hand them over at the Post Office because this is all the work that I've done here and although the stories themselves are on the computer and backed up the crits are not. The only things left in my room are two suitcases, one locked and one holding what I'll need tonight and first thing in the morning. All that makes it even seem like my room any more is the throw rug on my bed and my pillow - and Teddy, of course. He's been my connection to family because he normally sits on my bed at home. The throw rug is staying out because it has been chilly the last few nights - yes I know it's summer in Queensland. It's just Queensland that doesn't know - and the doona is a bit too heavy. So in the morning I'll pack up my laptop, put my pillow and throw in my bag and I'll be away.

And there will be tears in the morning if not before bedtime.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Of Crits and Packing Up blues

Let's start with the happy stuff. I had the best crit ever this week. My little flash fiction works and the feedback was just what you want to hear. A few things to fix up and then it's out there to where it has to compete with the rest of the hordes. It's one of those times when I wrote without effort because I was in the zone and the joy of that experience is still lingering. And this makes the fact that it worked and people liked it even more exciting.

On to other things:

Everything is winding down now and we're starting to get organised to go home. You know the sort of thing - confirming flight bookings, working out just how much to post home (and trying not to think about the cost), presents, packing, cleaning out the fridge. The convenors have been worried that we might be in a state of denial, I think, but much as we would like it to be otherwise we do know that come Saturday this amazing experience will come to an end. As a result, although we're looking forward to seeing family and friends, we're all feeling a bit down at the same time because this is something we can never experience again.

We're going to miss the type of bizarre conversation that only a group of speculative fiction writers can have. An example: last night we were sitting in our living area doing our crits. They are done individually without discussion but when we've written them down we sometimes have a general chat about things we might not have understood and so on. So three of us were going over a sex scene in one of the stories and how it fitted into the story structure when the fourth person in the room looked up from her crit and asked, "Are ship's doors made of metal or steel?" This had absolutely no connection to the stories any of us were critting or anything else but after a couple of puzzled looks we answered the question, she went back to her crit and we went on with our original discussion.

We will miss being able to wander into someone else's flat and sitting down to crit or chat with them. We will miss feeling free to bounce ideas, however weird, off 16 other minds. We will miss the hysterical laughter when an idea goes gonzo. We will miss each other.

We are trying to make arrangements to meet up or stay in contact in the future because we trust each other, both as writers and individuals, and we don't want to lose this.

So forgive us a few tears and hugs (or may be a lot) on Saturday morning and weave them in among the many happy memories.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Swords and...

I looked out my window yesterday afternoon and swords were flashing. One of the convenors belongs to a group who sword-fight and she was filling in a couple of the interested Clarionites on how to handle a weapon. I went out and watched as they went through their exercises. Fascinating. This is something I've always wanted to do but my body as always lets me down. I got to handle a couple of swords though. They are even heavier than I expected. I'd be hard pushed to lift them over my head even two handed and I now know why you don't wear a sword on your back too. It may look good but you can't actually draw the weapon. Hollywood, you have much to answer for.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Flash Fantasy

In a rush of madness I decided yesterday to write a flash fiction piece for Monday. I came back from the crit session - and did it. So between 1:15 pm and 10:15 pm (taking out time for an hour one on one with Margo Lanagan, this week's tutor, and three hours for eating and the trip into Avid Reader in the city for this week's reading) I completed a one thousand word piece and that included rewriting about three hundred words the computer ate. Maybe I'm really starting to tap into the Clarion creativity.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Time Flies

It's supposed to happen when you're having fun so I must be - having fun that is. My story is burned to disc so it's too late to change anything - like the title, the beginning, the ending. As a result of that and doing yesterday's four crits much later than my usual bedtime my eyes are like sandpaper this morning. The whole thing was exacerbated by not sleeping well. I kept waking up to what sounded like something enormous breathing wetly in the apartment above. Hmm. Does that sound like a story?

I've been reading too much M.R. Martin from the book of ghost stories given me by Kelly Link, our Week Three tutor. She generously presented us all with books she loves herself and thought we might too. I haven't really had much time to read for pleasure while I've been here because of the crit demands. I usually grab one of the tutor's short story collections and read a story or two while I'm eating - unless there's someone to chat to. But while I was ill I had such difficulty concentrating that a collection of well written Edwardian ghost stories was just what I needed. As an indication of how sick I was, a book like this, which is thick and dense with detail, would normally take me maybe four or five hours in total to read, and I still haven't finished it.

I had been playing with the idea of submitting two stories this week before I was laid low and obviously that won't happen now but I think I'll try to do it next week. This means no break for a couple of days before I get writing and because I have no ideas yet - although I have a killer final line that I've been trying to make a story to fit for the last two weeks - it may never happen. But these spurs are good for you - aren't they?

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Best Laid Plans...

I've spent most of the weekend tucked up in bed with "Clarion Flu." This is a nasty little bug that has just about wiped out our apartment. Kind souls have offered soup and sympathy but painkillers have been even more use. And sleep. The only thing you want to do is sleep and then the thumping headache wakes you up, you take more painkillers and go to sleep again. While I'm writing this I'm trying to decide if I can last out the crit session this morning and, as I feel worse by the minute, perhaps not.
At least I've done my crits so I can hand them on to the writers.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The End of Week Four

Friday afternoons there's always a sense of winding down. We come out of the crit session, have a class photo taken with this week's tutor and unless you have a one on one your time is your own until 5:00 pm on Sunday. Well you have to crit the stories for Monday 's session, work on your story for next week, shop, prepare your share of the Sunday night meal, not to mention washing etc but apart from that your time is your own. Hmm once you factor in sleeping that means you have about 30 minutes but that is all your own.

I spent mine today in the G Bar. This is a very popular place because it is air-conditioned. All parts of the campus are rated by us as to whether or not they are air-conditioned. Extras like food and alcohol are just that - extras. As well as alcohol the G Bar also serves coffee and light meals. In fact its only fault is that it closes around 4:00 pm because most of the university is still not operating - which makes you wonder just who all the busloads of people arriving every morning as we head to class are.

Crit sessions are improving all the time. We have a better idea of what things are important and what to concentrate on. Nitpicking is mostly left to line edits but we have more understanding of story arc, plot, voice, resolution, agency and pace to name a few so when we find something lacking we have useful suggestions to make. As well we all have our strengths in critting. One guy is great at making us realise what our characters need to be rounded and credible. Another analyses storyline and plot and succinctly points out the holes. We have people who have edited magazines or read slush piles and they brings another perspective. Every one takes their critting very seriously and puts a vast amount of work into them.

Having said that I'd better get on with my crits so I can, I hope, spend the rest of the weekend writing.