Vested Interests

February 5, 2011 at 8:43 am (book reviews)

I’m still madly reading history books. If you’re a writer researching a period of Australian history (including the little that’s known about Aboriginal lives before 1788), you need to read Geoffrey Blainey’s “Black Kettle and Full Moon” (I’m also trying to find “Triumph of the Nomads”, which is just about Aborigines) and “Australian Lives” by Michael Bosworth. Both of these books focus on all the small, daily details that writers need most.

So here’s a wonderful section from “Australian Lives” (as World War 2 caused rationing of clothes):

The ‘Victory’ suit was cut to reduce the amount of fabric used – lapels were smaller, cuffs were discarded, buttons were reduced to a minimum, but worst of all, the government decreed that men could live and work without a waistcoat. This caused a tremendous outcry, which was so loud and so persistent, that eventully the government gave in and allowed the wearing of waistcoats to continue.

This random photo brought to you by the holiday CJ and I have just returned from. All the details and many pretty photos (including horseriding!) are happening for the next week or so at


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Being a twit

January 22, 2011 at 12:05 pm (Writing Ranting)

I’m currently planning a steampunk novel (and, shockingly, it’s already turned into a trilogy), but I don’t feel I know enough about the 1800s. So I’m not going to let myself start the writing until:

-I’ve read at least twenty books in full (so far I’ve read one on bushrangers, one on “History’s Worst Inventions” and one on early Australian manners, called “Savage or Civilised” – my story is set mainly in Victoria)

-I’ve written all my twittertales for this year, and twelve flash stories (I have an email list that gets a flash tale at the beginning of each month).

So far I have about 5000 words of notes, and every so often I have another brilliant idea for some scene or moment or invention – and I resist my urge to begin, and instead write it down for later. The suspense is fantastic. And my twittertales are happening much, much faster than usual.

I’m excited to be doing this book “properly” and I’ll have a good long (honest) look at the outline before I let myself rush into things that will be problematic later.

My main character is Emmeline, a convict from London.

*zips lip*

Here’s a random steampunk picture, from

You’re welcome.

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The good side of a bad dad

January 18, 2011 at 9:05 pm (general life, Mental illness)

I sometimes wonder if I should have kids. I’m pretty nuts, and I don’t know how children will influence my mental illness – or how my mental illness will influence them. But my mum has an anxiety disorder too, which is oddly encouraging – because I inherited it from her, but my life is pretty good (which means that my kids may well have anxiety issues too, but that’s not the worst thing in the world).

Even better, I get to instantly know my kids are, in one way, much better off than I was.

My biological dad is a bit useless. He’s in and out of jail for fraud, and he left my mum before I was a year old.

I have a fantastic stepfather – in fact, my earliest memory is preparing for their wedding. But I feel like I have an advantage in the realm of parenthood when I realise that CJ will be the father of my children – from the first instant of their life. That’s pretty encouraging.

Who knows? Maybe my kids will even turn out non-crazy. That’d be nice.

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Reviews of films I haven’t seen

January 11, 2011 at 2:39 pm (TV/movie review)

Here in Canberra, the ANU runs a brilliant film club. One of the cool things is that they release a book each semester filled with reviews. I helped them with reviews a little this year, but due to release dates there were two I had to – not to put too fine a point on it – make up. As is, perhaps, immediately obvious.

Gnomeo and Juliet

Okay. Try to stay calm. I know it’s hideously offensive that we’re now getting Shakespeare’s tragedies in animated comic form, but don’t worry – it’s really not anything to do with “Romeo and Juliet”. Sure, the tale involves two cute kids from feuding families, but other than the names, this is a completely original film. Oh, and as you’ve probably gathered from the posters, all the main characters are gnomes who only move when the humans aren’t watching. Mr Shakespeare didn’t come up with a great gimmick like that – more’s the pity.

It’s as funny as kids’ movies need to be to please the parents; Juliet gets a lot more action (not THAT kind you sickos); and the animation is what you’d expect from Touchstone. Gnomes are just like humans in terms of facial expressions, which is guaranteed to make a better film than trying to make cars or other objects interesting.

The voice cast is what you’d want in any film, which is to say James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart and. . . Ozzy Osbourne (why not?) Elton John features in the sound track, with at least one original song. He and Lady Gaga sing a duet, too.

Come and see it for your kids, for the music, for the over-the-top animated action scenes, and for the laughs.

And for once, you don’t know how it’ll end.

I Am Number Four

The hero here knows he’s probably going to be killed, and he has to live with a reasonably uncool nickname – but it could have been the movie I Am Number Two which would be worse. So that’s a relief.

Alex Pettyfer plays an alien, AKA our hero. His planet has been blown up by a bunch of tougher aliens, and only he and his eight co-survivors are left. Make that seven. No, six. No, five. Since the aliens are teenagers (like puberty wasn’t bad enough by itself), they pretend to be ordinary humans going to high school (where, as you know, all the most imaginative super powers are conceived). Unfortunately, the bad aliens have already messily disposed of numbers One, Two (another reason being named after a euphemism is a bad idea), and Three. For some wacky reason, Number Four thinks perhaps his life is in danger. It is.

The movie is based on a young adult novel of the same name, written by Pittacus Lore. It’s high-action, with cool alien super powers and a good-looking alien hero who runs around a lot. The visual and special effects are just as shiny and dark as one could hope for, and the baddies are properly bad.

If that’s not enough for you to come and see it, I don’t know what is.

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January 7, 2011 at 9:00 am (Uncategorized)

Before I start, see if you can tell what’s wrong with this picture (of items that I gathered without thinking only moments ago):

Waking up, and moving on. . .

CJ and I plan to have kids one day. We’re in the perfect phase of parenthood – when your kids don’t exist, and are therefore perfect in every way (except that we’re pretty much assuming, based on strong tendencies in our genes, they’ll have ADD, some kind of mental disorder, and a lack of coordination bordering on the comical).

I see our “job” to be teaching our kids how to be good and functional adults. Last night, to clarify my thinking, I wrote a list of what skills or mind-sets ideal adulthood includes:

Awareness of how to maintain physical health, and prepare healthy meals.

Knowing how to run a household.

Being responsible with finances.

Able to hold down a job/s and/or contribute to society.

Human relationships (including holding a conversation, making new friends, accepting/adjusting to different people, and knowing manners and how to treat people with respect – and how to end friendships if necessary).

Romance – how to choose a good life partner and how to stick with them – and parenthood.

A sense of self-worth and contentment and psychological health (including management of illness).

God/spiritual health.

Some of these things, especially at the beginning, are quite easy to teach. Others are taught by example (particularly romance, I think). I think the last item may not be teachable at all.

What do you think?

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December 26, 2010 at 1:02 pm (general life)

*hoping I spelled the title right*

One of the best things about living in the Southern hemisphere is that my Christmas holidays ARE my Summer holidays. Which means that the school year ends just before Christmas and the New Year. Which is an excellent story device – maximum panic in school/work (for teachers such as myself) and personal life (Christmas) followed by a week of collapse and leftovers, followed by a new start.

Today I can barely move, but in a wonderfully lethargic way. Outside the occasional car passes, slow now after the stressed-out speeding and near deaths of the last month.

We’re living in the epilogue, and it’s a nice place to be. Threads get tied up; people spout the kind of things found in greeting cards; and there are no fight scenes.

2011 is just over the horizon, looking bright and shiny and hopeful.

It’s a good time of year.

I managed to eat a sensible amount of food yesterday (in fact it’s now lunch time and I’m genuinely hungry). And we sold another piece of jewellery, which means we are now officially out of debt, with money to spare.


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Do or Diet

December 24, 2010 at 11:09 am (general life)

Dieting is a strange thing. In a way, it’s tremendously easy. All one has to do is sit around (and exercise a bit) and one becomes magically thinner.

In another way, it’s almost impossible. Your body and mind need food, so it’s hard to judge what the right amount is. More importantly, both body and mind are designed to maintain whatever weight you’re at, so the instant you lose even 0.1 of a kilo your body and mind both scream at you that you’re dying.

If I’m very very good for the next eight days, I’ll end the year in the healthy weight range.

If I streeeeettch our food and petrol, and put off one of our Christmas presents, CJ and I will be able to make our savings goal for the year.

My two goals this year were to get in the healthy weight range (and stay there for twelve months), and to do better financially (which we sort of have, but there were a LOT of travel expenses).

If I don’t achieve the healthy weight range and get the last hundred dollars into our savings account in the next eight days, it will be as if everything I’ve worked so hard toward from day to day to week to month this year has been pointless. My greatest fear this year has been that I wouldn’t make those two goals.

It’s harsh, but that’s how I roll.

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Viktor Frankl, Garth Nix, and Yours Truly

December 17, 2010 at 9:28 am (book reviews, Mental illness)

Here’s a quote from Don Miller talking about Viktor Frankl: “Tested in the concentration camps, Frankl realized no amount of torture could keep a person from living a fulfilling life, if only they had three elements working for them: a project in which they could contribute, a person to love, and a worthy explanation for their suffering.”

Living a meaningful life is far more important to me than anything else. The year I finally gave up my twelve-year plan to go to Indonesia as a full-time aid worker was also the year my chocolate habit suddenly went from a cute foible to something that controlled my life. I’d never been out of the healthy weight range before then, and I’ve never stopped struggling with my weight since.

I am as certain as it’s possible to be that God doesn’t want me in Indonesia – I’d feel like Jonah disobeying God if I went there now (and I hear that didn’t work out). The other two main reasons for giving up Indonesia were that I love my writing more (when I’m in Indonesia I find I write non-fiction, which isn’t what I most love), and it was pretty clear that the main reason I wanted to go to Indonesia in the first place was to suffer.

One sure-fire way to feel special and close to God is by sacrificing a lot in a great cause. But throwing myself into increasingly painful situations in order to feel okay about myself isn’t the right way to go about it.

But I gotta tell you, switching destinies from, “Helping poor third-world children” to “sitting in my room typing up books that no-one reads” is crushing. Every day.

Writing books sort of counts as a “project in which I can contribute” except that I’m not contributing anything of worth – in my opinion.

 If I suffer, it’s because I’m doing a whole lot of work that no-one cares about (which is where publishing comes in – and it’ll probably happen eventually, which’ll mean, since I definitely have someone to love, that I’ll be scoring at least 2 out of 3).

This interpretation of the meaningful life at least justifies how much lack of publication hurts. Writing meaningless books that are paid for (and read by the public) is obviously more life-affirming that writing meaningless books that I have to pay someone to read.

Which brings me to Garth Nix. You all know I adore “Sabriel” with a passion verging on that of an internet stalker. I’ve read it about four times this year alone. But in some ways I love “Lirael” and “Abhorsen” (books 2 and 3 in the trilogy, but they’re really one massive story) more.

I admire “Sabriel” because it’s brilliantly written, but my stalker-love stems from the fact that Sabriel is such a hero. She has a great cause, and she sacrifices everything for it. In short, she’s exactly who I’d like to be – and metaphorically, a close match to my Indonesia-travelling self. Too bad my Indonesia-travelling self is dead.

Lirael’s story is much closer to my own. Throughout the 600-word book, she wants one thing: The psychic gift that every single person in her community has. Without that gift, she can’t contribute to her society, and she is still considered a child. At the end of the book, she finds out that she has a different gift – a gift which was (in part) perfectly obvious, but which never seemed important to Lirael. She will never get the destiny she wanted – but she does have another that no-one else in any of the three books possesses.

It’s not a triumphant ending. In some ways, Lirael’s discovery comes as a relief. In other ways, it’s devastating – the final realisation that she will never be what she’s wanted to be all her life. (It parallels a discovery by the other main character, Sameth.)

In the final book, “Abhorsen”, both of the main characters go through all kinds of pain – except one: they know and accept their real destinies. The whole book is infused with a sense of purpose, and reading it (especially after the long pain of “Lirael”) fills me with hope.

Like Lirael, I have a longed-for destiny shut off from me, and another one waiting for me to fully embrace it. I hope that one day I can believe that my second destiny really does matter as much as the first.

In the meantime, stuck as an unpublished writer, I am still a child – dependent on others, and unable to contribute something of worth to the wider society. That’s never going to stop hurting – but one day it’ll stop.

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December 16, 2010 at 3:10 pm (general life)

CJ and I are saving for a house. We put aside a certain amount each year. I just sat down and worked out our budget until the end of 2010. And we can make it. If we can put off getting presents for three close friends (who will be fine with it), we will end the year with $2.

Yay us.

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December 13, 2010 at 9:36 am (general life)

For those who hadn’t noticed, it’s next week.

Soon the pain will be over.

Oh look! A picture of gratuitous cuteness!

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