28 November, 2005

'You'll have to get used to this,'...

said Bob Finlayson, photographer for The Australian newspaper, arranging me against bits of picturesque fencing outside the Writing Room. I'll have to also learn to keep my eyes open when the camera clicks, and practise a non-wooden smile. Or just any kind of smile, really, when there's a camera around.

The profile, by Rosemary Neill for the Review section, will come out in mid-December.

Alex Miller's difficulties

In the SMH's Spectrum section on Saturday, Jane Sullivan interviewed Alex Miller (new book: Prochownik's Dream):
Writing has never been easy for Miller. Prochownik's Dream took three years. 'The first draft was done very quickly, in six months.[!] Then the hard work began. It takes me a while to quietly get to my people.'

He compares the process to that of the artist Giacometti, who kept scratching back his image and starting again. 'Each time he's starting from a more elaborate sense of failure.'
[Margo quietly adjusts expectations of self.]

Ernie Tucker and YA reactions to Black Juice

English in Australia is the journal of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE). Ernie Tucker has a regular column in it, "On Books", and Allen & Unwin (thanks, Julia!) have just sent me a copy of the one he wrote for the Spring issue.

Ernie edits the annual poster of student reviews of the books shortlisted for the CBCA awards. Ingrid Reynish's and D'Arcy Hipgrave's (hi, D'Arcy!) reviews of Black Juice were included on the poster this year, but Ernie's comments on the reviews in general make very interesting reading (for an author - bear with me):
Only one reviewer in Year 9 didn't like the book, while all the others, from formidable readers in Year 7 to very thoughtful readers in Year 11, responded with enthusiasm. And they didn't identify with the characters. Faced with one of a reviewer's most difficult tasks, writing about a collection of ten complex stories, they praised the writer for the difficulties she had placed in the way of their reading, and they enjoyed the challenge.

Kathleen Oliver of Casino High reckons:
The absence of time and place, a context, makes black juice a beautifully crafted global text. It is about more than one culture...it is about all of us...it is about human instinct and the sensations of friendship, love, kinship, loyalty, hope...Lanagan's language leaves gaps that you are enticed to fill...There is an excitement and satisfaction when you suddenly understand what is happening.
These and other quotations are treasure - because I haven't been out in schools this year, I haven't heard much in the way of reactions from YA readers. A lot of reviewers have had opinions on younger readers' behalf, but I haven't heard much directly. Very reassuring.

25 November, 2005


Greg van Eekhout, after discarding a chapter:
Sometimes writing is like being the director, cast, DP, grip, and greensman, and watching in horror as the entire production reveals itself to be a troop of rabid and incontinent dancing poodles.
aaronjv, in response:
In which case, you do the next logical thing: turn the cameras around to film the film crew.

Or you post about it on your blog, I guess.

18 November, 2005

'All novelists are heroes. Blessings on your efforts.'

From this interview (not fresh at all, but good) with Michael Cunningham:
I always work intuitively without much knowledge of where I'm going. I find that if I insist too strongly from the outset it won't take on the life that a novel needs to have. I find that by writing in the dark and coming up with a big messy first draft and reshape and rework I stand the best chance of coming up with a book that's a little smarter than I am. That may be useful to others struggling with novels. There's always a point during the writing when the book falls apart, which is a difficult period and no fun, but what actually happens is the novel is outgrowing my idea and taking on a life of its own. All novelists are heroes. Blessings on your efforts.

Are you feeling...doubtful?

Here is an article that might help you.

For example:
Doubt is like a divining rod; it begins to tug when it nears something fertile and fluid and underground.
I will forgive the author using the axe/frozen sea Kafka quote only because the Michael Cunningham quote was also in there. Only this once, though.

15 November, 2005

Gorgeous George

Fresh interview with George Saunders:
I’d like to write a novel, I suppose, but my approach so far is just to find something that interests me, and see how much weight it will bear. Generally, the answer is: Not much. The ideas that interest me are generally “fast-twitch” ideas — they are like those little wind-up toys, which, wound up, then quickly go right under the couch. That’s an aesthetic I understand.
(Via bookslut.)

Currently I'm sipping CivilWarLand in Bad Decline to make it last. Then I will pause. Then I will slowly sip Pastoralia.

Other reading:
Harriet Lerner, Fear and Other Uninvited Guests, very useful for someone in a blind panic about novels
Tim Moore, French Revolutions
Oakley (ed.), On the Edge

11 November, 2005


The hot weather yesterday frazzled my flowers, particularly the peonies and the irises, but Steven took a few pictures of their last gasps.

This second one has signs of celebration in it - the empty Veuve bottle, the bananas, the coffee tin full of biscuits, the ruler, the box of tissues. You know how it goes.

08 November, 2005

Other achievements...

See that circle, "NEW FLAT 54KM RIDE OPTION" up the top there? I rode that on Sunday. It's part of the MS Sydney to the Gong Ride.

And I didn't die. Amazing.

Oops, sorry, this is a writing blog, isn't it. Sheesh, better watch myself. There'll be a cat picture up before you know it. (Hi, Judy!)

On The Edge anthology out

The Five Mile Press just sent me my complimentary copies of the Barry Oakley-edited anthology On The Edge: 30 Modern Australian Short Stories. Which is surprising, as I only got asked for permission to use the story in it a few weeks ago, but here it is.

The story they used was not "Singing My Sister Down", for a change; it was "Earthly Uses" (the one about angels).

The anthology's organised into little groups of different edges: there's The Water's Edge, The Mortal Edge, The Edge of the World, Emotionally Edgy, etc. with 3-4 stories in each group. Terry Dowling and I are right at the end, in a section called The Far Edge of the Real. Says the Introduction:
To say Margo Lanagan's "Earthly Uses" belongs to the fantasy/horror genre doesn't do it justice...Terry Dowling's "One Thing About the Night" is likewise so powerfully imagined that it too resists categorising.

So this time it's the mainstream trying to haul us off the fence onto their side. It's nice to be wanted. :)

It's also nice to be one of 6 out of the 30 to be named on the cover, alongside Lily Brett, Peter Goldsworthy, Cate Kennedy, David Malouf and Peter Corris. That's new, for a mainstream anthology. I must have Made It or something.

Anyway, it's a very nice production and I'm looking forward to reading it. There are all sorts of treasures inside. From the cover:
Every one of these brilliant narratives focuses upon people living on life's edge in some way or another. All are facing a form of danger, whether it be physical, emotional, psychological or from beyond the world we understand. Acclaimed author and editor Barry Oakley has chosen each tale not only for its entertainment value but for the deep insights it offers into the minds of people coping with the greatest challenges their lives can produce. The result is a collection of work by some of Australia's foremost writers whose gifts, in many cases, are also recognised far beyond our shores.

07 November, 2005

World Fantasy Award flowers

From Allen & Unwin - thank you! They're beautiful! (Photo: Steven)


Via Cheryl Morgan's Emerald City Weblog, I've just learned that I'm now a World Fantasy Award-winning author. Not just once, but twice, for Best Collection and Best Short Story.

These are the shortlists:

Short Fiction:
Theodora Goss, "The Wings of Meister Wilhelm" (Polyphony 4, Wheatland Press)
Margo Lanagan, "Singing My Sister Down" (Black Juice, Allen & Unwin Australia)
Kelly Link, "The Faery Handbag" (The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm, Viking)
China Miéville, "Reports of Certain Events in London" (McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, Vintage)
Barbara Roden, "Northwest Passage" (Acquainted With The Night, Ash Tree Press)


Peter Crowther, Songs Of Leaving (Subterranean Press)
John M. Ford, Heat Of Fusion and Other Stories (Tor)
Eileen Gunn, Stable Strategies And Others (Tachyon Publications)
Margo Lanagan, Black Juice (Allen & Unwin Australia)
Joe R. Lansdale, Mad Dog Summer and Other Stories (Subterranean Press)
Ian R. MacLeod, Breathmoss and Other Exhalations (Golden Gryphon)
Lucius Shepard, Trujillo and Other Stories (PS Publishing)

Knocked over with two feathers.

03 November, 2005

Ha! Yes.

From Marsha Sisolak's blog:
My biggest problem with this story? It's moving too damn slow. I blame that on my subconsciousness' inability to communicate.
It's 10.15 a.m. Work avoidance? Moi?

Changeling story

Monday and Tuesday I piked on going back to the novel - or rather, I looked at it miserably for a couple of hours and then had a sudden, irresistible urge to write the changeling story.

Which I did. It's called 'Daughter of the Clay' (with apologies to Garth Nix) and I'm very happy with it, although the last scene, where she's back in Fairyland missing her earthly mother and father is a bit weak yet. Her clay-ey-ness is good, and the dragonfly-like fairies.

Here is the beginning:
Maybe it was the air-conditioning vents brought the words to me. Maybe it was the secretive softness of the women's voices, made my ears stretch to hear. I stopped trying to push the doll's arm through the narrow, spangled sleeve. I lifted my head.
     Were you not able to have other children? she asked my mother.
     Oh, I suppose I was able. I was afraid, though. I was afraid they would all turn out the same. Like Cerise.

Poor old Cerise. (Or Shorghch, in Clay language.)

Scene breakdown (or maybe just, Breakdown)

In an effort to see my way clear on this novel-thing I went through the MS and wrote down what happens, page by page. I'm in that state of mind where I think, 'Well, nothing much happens, does it? And what does happen is just silly.'

I won't go on and on, tempted as I am (my mind is full of wailing and whingeing). I will just give you some heartening words of Peter Carey's at the end of his interview with Kate Grenville and Sue Woolfe in Making stories: how ten Australian novels were written (Allen & Unwin, 1993):
I think that the one false signal that this discussion might give is that the whole journey was more straightforward than it really was. Some of the earlier notes were much more confused and less focused than this. The process is muddier than even this indicates, and I know that this is muddy. The confusions and the darkness...this seemed more focused and direct than I think the process is.

     There's this question people have, how should I really be doing this? Students always think when they're proper writers their self-doubt and their uncertainty will go away. I say to them, this is what you're choosing for your life. You think you feel bad now, you wait. Because that's the nature of writing.

Oh, oh, oh.