The novel as jigsaw


, ,

At Conflux, one of my personal highlights was hearing Justine Larbalestier interview the GOH Nalo Hopkinson. In an interview filled with interesting topics, Nalo touched upon how differently she perceived a novel when writing–differently to the usual linear progression from Beginning through Middle to End, that is.
That got me a-thinking. In my current project I am stuck a bit. Groan–a lot. I’ve got a reasonable beginning, a few scenes in the middle, and a vague idea of the end (corresponding to books 1-3). It’s like I have most of the pieces for one area of the puzzle, but in other areas I only have a few, and I’m not even sure if I’ve put those few pieces in the right place on the board. There’s no completed picture to compare with, you see, so I’ve been trying to build the puzzle by adding to the coherent area that I have.
Nalo’s comments caused me to think that maybe I don’t have to work from the area I have; maybe I can build on those other pieces and add to the puzzle from there. That is, start writing those lone scenes at the end of book two or halfway through book three without trying to get a logical progression from the scenes already written.
I don’t know if this will work. It sounds like a method that involves a hell of a lot of rewriting. On the other hand, at this point in time, I don’t care, as long as I have something TO rewrite.

Addendum: a result from jigsawing–just had one of those 180-degree turnaround ideas that change the shape of the puzzle. One of those ideas that make you go away and do something else, like clean the shower or write a blog entry, because it’s too huge to face yet…but I think that’s another post.

What a weekend at Conflux!

Two days later, and I’m still recovering from the amazing long weekend spent at Conflux 9. ‘Recovering’ in a good sense, meaning that I’m still processing all the inspiration and new ideas that I found there; still remembering with pleasure the conversations I had with people I haven’t seen in one or more years. (And yes, still recovering from the head cold that visited so inopportunely on the day the con started.)
Donna and Nicole, the Con Goddesses, did a magnificent job, backed up by the hard-working committee. Craig Cormick’s MC-ing was of its usual high standard, and the guests were wonderful, as were all the panellists, readers and artists. The Regency Banquet costumes were amazing–I so admire those clever people who can sew.

I always find cons to be a real inspiration–they kick-start my writing if it’s been in the doldrums a bit (as it has).
Thank you everyone, for being part of a very special tribe.

Lots more con reflections at the main website.

Good-byes now, and then



I just saw son Ray off at the bus station to travel to Sydney, from where he’ll take a flight to Southeast Asia. He’s going to be there from 4-6 months, studying, traveling and volunteering.

4.15am in the deserted centre of Canberra. It’s still and not very cool, promising a hot day ahead. The bus station itself isn’t even open–we have to walk around to the back of the building where the bus bays are. The driver has to rearrange all the suitcases and a surfboard to get Ray’s boxed bicycle into the luggage compartment. The box and two panniers are all Ray’s luggage. We’re both sleepy so we don’t say much–the usual maternal ‘take care’, ‘remember not to drink the water’ and the usual ‘yeah yeah’ replies. We hug, Ray gets on the bus and sits second from the front. I wait for the bus to leave, giving him a wave. He waves back. The bus disappears down Northbourne Avenue, north-borne in solitary splendour on a road that in four hours will be packed with cars.

It’s so hard for me to say good-bye to my son when I know he’s likely to come home safely. What must it have been like for those mothers in the war years–any war–to know that their sons might not return? “We don’t want to lose you but we think you ought to go,” went the song. I find it difficult to believe any mother ever thought that.

Survival plans



We had an Extreme Fire Danger day on Tuesday in Canberra, and the surrounding regions were declared Catastrophic (that’s the highest you can go). Basically, any fire that starts will be uncontrollable; if you’re in a fire-prone area, get out early.

At our paddocks we have a fire survival plan for ourselves and the horses. I won’t go into the details, but it means moving the horses to the safest part of the property. Canberra has had a couple of years of relatively cool summers, so this is an unfamiliar exercise for me.

I was surprised at how comforting it was to have a plan, and to implement it. Of course, if a fire starts, we are dependent on the wonderful firefighters, but a plan to minimise the damage is important.

That got me to thinking about planning my novel. I’ve always found it difficult to plot in detail in advance–it has always felt better to me to write and see what happens next. Yes, it means I do a lot more editing in subsequent drafts, but I accepted that because it’s the price I pay for being ‘creative’. If I don’t know what’s going to happen next, the reader won’t either–right? Hmm.

Life is starting to look too short to write twenty drafts of every novel. I think that for this book, I might spend some time on the survival plan.

novel writing and endurance riding


, , , ,

It’s a stinking hot day here in Canberra. In a lazy kind of way, I was thinking about the two activities in my life that have brought me great pleasure and taught me a lot–writing and endurance riding–and wondered if there were any similarities. It helps to explain why I have an ‘Equus’ page on the blog.
Why endurance riding and novel writing are similar:
  • Don’t whinge; nobody is listening, and you won’t finish any sooner.
  • It’s a long way to the finish, so don’t use up your energy in the first leg/chapter. Slow and steady will get you there in the end.
  • The start is the hardest part.
  • Pay attention to details, as they can soon grow to be a real problem.
  • Plan your ride, but be prepared to adapt to circumstances.
  • Take time to enjoy the views/play with your characters. You do this for fun, right? (well, you wouldn’t do it for the money…)
  • Don’t get so focused on other things that you miss a course marking.
  • Always stop to investigate a problem, because if you just keep going, ten to one it will get worse.
  • In the end, it comes down to just you and the horse/ms. No one else is going to do it for you.
  • Most importantly…to complete is to win—it’s the process that is its own reward. Anything else is just icing on the cake.


My Next Big Thing…


, , , ,

Over on Donna Hanson’s blog she talked about her Next Big Thing and tagged me so this is my turn.

Q: What is the working title of your next book?

Well, I had what I thought was a really neat title, but my critiquing group ROR kindly suggested I go back to the drawing board. At present I’m calling it ‘A Cup to the Dead Already’, from an Royal Flying Corps drinking song.

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?

I said to my brother one day as we had coffee—hey, wouldn’t it be fun to read a story that was a cross between Life on Mars and Biggles?
Hah, he scoffed. Bet you couldn’t write that.
After that, the first scene wouldn’t get out of my head. I wrote it down to get rid of it—then couldn’t stop.

Q: What genre does the book fall under?

Alternate history, timeslip dieselpunk, paranormal adventure.

Q: What actors would you choose to play the parts of your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh gosh, that’s a hard one, as I don’t get to the movies very much. One actor will have to be wiry and quick and very British, and one will have to be tall, dark and handsome and very American. I could give a couple of outdated names, but really don’t want to flaunt how old I am.

Troubled British WW1 Flying Ace and Modern US Pliot

Troubled British WW1 Flying Ace and Modern US Pliot

Q: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Jet fighter pilot Jim Miller is lost in the past, and has to survive flying biplanes in World War One while fighting a supernatural plot to prolong the war and change history.

Q: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I will submit it to my agent, Tara Wynne, at Curtis Brown Australia.

Q: How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first draft took less than a year to write, and it was over 200,000 words. This is a personal record for me! The second draft slimmed down to a mere 170,000 words, and took another nine months or so. I’m working on the third and definitive draft of the first book of three now—it will be around 100,000 words, my usual length, and it has taken over a year. However, this is due to me having a big break from writing in the middle of the year—earning a living sucks.

Q: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My goal is to make it as rollicking and historically interesting and as weird as The Anubis Gates.

Q:  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

An old and abiding love for World War One poetry; a fascination with early flying machines; a desire for a ‘simpler’ hero. I think this book has been waiting for me to write it for a long time.

Q: What else about the book might pique a reader’s interest?

It has lots of very cool aeroplanes.

Maxine McArthur writer of Diesel Punk..


, ,

What’s Diesel Punk I hear you say?

Quoting from the web site:

Dieselpunks logo

‘Dieselpunk is a style that blends the art and culture of the 1920s – 1950s with today.

The era we look to for inspiration was defined by movement and revolution: jazz, modern art, world wars, streamlined technology, and an evolution from stilted, Victorian-era hypocrisy. Our goal is to shape a better future for ourselves by merging the zeitgeist of the past with today’s technology and attitudes.’

This is very serendipitous because Maxine and I have been scratching our heads trying to come up with a term for the book she’s been writing for the last 4 years. Although this book mainly centers around WW one, Maxine has a series planned which takes the characters into the 20s and 30s. This time period is one I’ve always found interesting. Art Deco is one of my favourite looks.  (See the Diesel Punk Fashions here). And I’ve been a fan of Leyendecker since I discovered him over 30 years ago.

First some Background on Maxine. She had her first big break writing a time travel science fiction book which won the George Turner $10,000 Fiction Prize. (I met her in person at the World SF Convention 1999, where I tried to introduce her to her agent – yes, I tend to put my foot in it, but I mean well).

Maxine’s new series also plays with time, but in this case she delves back approximately a hundred years to World War One.



She brings us ‘Tacs’ (aged 17) the WW1 flying ace who went into the sky to battle the enemy with only 7 hours of flight training, and survived.



She brings us ‘Jim’, a modern fight pilot sent on his deployment, suddenly thrown back through time to a brutal world where pilots don’t wear parachutes because their superior offices fear they might abandon expensive fighter planes .



Lucky for Jim, Tacs take him under his wing. When Jim uncovers a sinister organisation, whose members appear human, but have powers that make him question everything he knows, or thought he knew, he turns to Tacs to help make sense of it. And he realises this is a new past, which may lead to a very different future….