Happy for the small inventions

The power went off last night.

I wake at 1:18am to a flash of blue and a bang. I check the house. Power in the back half is out but the rest is okay. The house isn’t burning down or anything. I’ll worry about it in the morning, I decide, and go back to bed.

Thirty minutes later I’m woken by a cacophony of beeps and other noises. All the bots and electrical devices are going crazy, as they do when their power supply goes off. We have so many of them, and each one makes a different noise. I get up again (the clock is off this time, I check time by the phone). The whole house is black. No lights, no power. Half the street is dark, too.

I go back to bed.

The power comes on at 2:44. Yes, all the bots and other devices tell me they’re starting up again. The radio clock, with its internal battery, comes back set on the right time. Hallelujah.

It used to be when the power went out all the clocks would go, too, and you’d spend time in the middle of the night trying to reset the alarm. Or wake up next morning having overslept–after all, you’d spent part of the night awake, hadn’t you.

“Such a simple thing,” I tell Sherylyn the next day. “But so smart. Batteries in clocks that store the time and alarm information. Inventions like that are amazing.”

I mean, sure, clock radios are great too, but someone (probably like me, who’d had to reset their clock in the middle of the night) came up the idea of putting a battery into that clock radio so that when the power went out, it retained all its settings. It’s so convenient.

So here’s a nod to those people who take great inventions and make them just that little bit better. Thank you.


Watching the weather again

A foggy Melbourne morning. Needless to say, not great for commuting

On Friday, I checked the rain radar for the first time in 13 months.

Weather watching is something I do as a commuter, and at work. What’s the weather going to be like today? Do I need my umbrella? What about a coat? How hot will it be? What type of shoes should I wear?

Then, when I got to work, at lunchtime I’d look up the rain radar. Will I stay in the office? Go for a walk? If I walk to my favourite lunch place will I get wet? Have I got time before the rain holds off? Is it too hot to walk far?

I checked the temperature for the first month of lockdown, and then stopped. I never checked the rain radar at all? Why would I? We had a three kilometre limit on where we could go, and limited time to go anywhere. I wore similar clothes all year working from home. Loose, comfortable trousers, a loose, comfortable shirt. If it got cold I added socks and a cardigan, and if it got colder still, I turned the heater on (and sometimes even the other way around). It’s only now that I’m working back in the office two days a week that I’m thinking about weather again.

Hmm. Interesting statistic. I wonder if the hits on the Bureau of Meteorology website went down last year?


Is this a trend?

Lately I have binge read a few longer series and I’m noticing a trend.

The narrative is linear for the first three, maybe four, novels. That is, the reader knows everything that happens because they’re reading the books. Then suddenly there’s a jump. Between book, say, four and five, something important to the story happens off-scene. A new character integral to the story is introduced, or an important sub-plot that provides valuable information takes place off-scene. In the next series book there’s a fleeting reference to what happened off-scene and we go merrily along with the story.

And I go, “Huh? What happened there? Where did that come from?”

As the series continues, we get more and more jumps like this.

If I do my research, I can find these missing stories. They are available, usually as novellas or short stories, separate to the main series. Often with different protagonists.

I confess, as a technique, I find it annoying. I don’t want to have to go hunting for the whole story. Sure, I like my sideline stories to give me new insights into main characters in the series. Acquard’s War, for example, will certainly give you a different insight into Jordan Rossi, but it doesn’t tell the story of what happens in the Linesman books, (hmm. Better make sure of that, hadn’t we) and it won’t tell the story of what happens next to Ean Lambert.

If you’re an author who does this why do you do it?

Is it because in a long series you get tired of writing about the protagonists in the main story? I mean, eight plus books straight and I’d be getting tired of it too. (We’ve always said we’d like to do it like Robin Hobb does. Three books, then write something else and come back to that series—in our case Linesman—refreshed and ready to go. By the end of three novels you need a break.)

Is it a marketing tool? Most of the series I have read that do this are in Kindle Direct. Is writing the shorter stories a way of keeping readers interested while you write the next book in the series?

Or is there another reason altogether?


Aurealis 2020 shortlist

Congratulations to authors and producers on the Aurealis 2020 shortlist.

There looks to be some interesting stories here. Some I haven’t read yet. I’ve a lot of reading to do.


Back to normal (for now)

As of Friday night, 6pm, Victorians are fee to go about their business unmasked (except for on public transport, in hospitals and in aged-care facilities). We can go anywhere, do what we used to do (except we still, in many cases, have to sign into venues), and the government is free to call a state of emergency and put us into lockdown at any time.

I’m happy with this.

It’s been a long road, but I feel it has been worth it, with a relatively small number of people lost to Covid-19, or even waiting for the long-Covid to hit.

It’s a fragile peace, all the more precious because it can be pulled away so quickly by a single person not being careful.

As a writer, this past twelve months have felt as if we’re living in a science fiction future. A somewhat dystopic one, admittedly, but it’s there, and we’ve watched, real-time, how different governments have handled various crises, along with how people behave in emergencies.  Not to mention how we get information from the traditional media, social media, and a whole host of other information suppliers.  If we can’t get ideas out of all that, then we’re not looking.

I must say, as a writer, I’m looking forward to not having to put 2020 (and 2021) into our books. 

Science fiction and fantasy writers don’t have to stick to a set date or place. They can set their books whenever and wherever they feel like setting them. Not like the poor contemporary writer who now has to wonder, ‘Do I ignore the pandemic or don’t I?  Do I ignore the politics, or don’t I?  If I do, the book becomes potentially becomes dated very quickly. If I don’t, I’ll be accused of being unrealistic.”

It’s an interesting dilemma, and the trouble is, contemporary writers won’t know which way to jump (write) until the pandemic bottoms out. It will be interesting to see what comes out in contemporary fiction over the next couple of years.

Here in Victoria, Australia, it feels as if the pandemic has already bottomed out. A month with no cases, a vaccine coming. We’ll see, and not everyone in the world is as lucky as we are.


Reading at an impressionable age

Cover is from the 2010 Harper Collins Publishers (Australia) version.

When I was a child we had an illustrated copy of Noman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding, which is a story about a koala, Bunyip Bluegum, who while on on his travels meets up with Bill Barnacle (a sailor) and Sam Sawnoff (a penguin). Bill and Sam have a pudding with them. Albert. But Albert’s not just any pudding. No, he’s a magic pudding.

The pudding gets stolen a number of times, and our friends continue to rescue it. The book was written back in 1918, and I’m not sure how well it stands up to modern days, but as a kid I loved it.

I especially loved Albert, the grumpy pudding, and I loved the way he could change the type of pudding he was. All you had to do was whistle twice and turn the pudding around.

Different stories have an impact on readers at different ages. I don’t know how old I was when I realised that Bluegum and his friends were eating Albert. I mean, I knew they were, but one day I had an epiphany. Cannibalism. Albert’s friends were eating him!

I haven’t touched the book since.

Get a reader at the right age and a book can really make an impression.


The pace of change

Prior to COVID-19 I had to make an appointment and see my doctor every time I wanted a new prescription. The only time she ever gave me a prescription without a consultation first was when I’d been away, my mother was ill, and I was almost out of medication. That time she left the script with the clinic receptionist, and I had to go in and collect it.

Then came COVID-19.

My first prescription post the onset of COVID-19 was another pickup script. We were into stringent lockdown by then, so this time I had to make an appointment, mask up, go to the doctor’s surgery, call them when I got there and tell them what I was there for. They brought the script to the door for me.

The next time I had to get a prescription the doctor called me and consulted over the phone, while I provided some of the details she usually took like weight and blood pressure. She emailed a script through to my regular chemist. He lost it. I had to do some frantic phoning to get the clinic to resend, but we got there in the end.

Last time I needed a prescription we were in another mini-lockdown. I made an appointment, the doctor called me, we discussed blood pressure, etc. Then she sent QR codes to my phone for the prescriptions, which I took to the chemist and he filled.

He also sent the repeats as QR codes as well, which was a bit unnerving.

It’s lovely to see an industry respond to an issue like this (getting prescriptions through a pandemic) and do something about it that works for everyone involved.

Now, all I have to do is make sure I don’t accidentally delete my script repeats off the phone.


The almost-Mary Sue

I was telling Sherylyn about the fantasy I was reading the other day. “It’s not a great book,” I said.  “The main character starts at rock bottom. Twelve months later he’s equal second-in-charge of a secretive government department. Everyone respects him, he’s made friends with all the powerful people in town, and his magic is increasing fast.”  And then, because I was being honest, I added, “It’s not realistic, because his meteoric rise to fame and power (and his ability to defeat the bad guys) is way too fast, so you have to suspend belief to read it.”

“In other words,” she said. “He’s a Mary Sue.”  (Technically, he’s a Mary Stu, but let’s not quibble.)

“No.  Well … yes.  But I’m enjoying the story anyway.” 

So much so, in fact, that I went on to read the rest of the series.  I liked the characters; I liked the idea behind the book.

But it got me thinking about Mary Sues.  If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a Mary Sue is a story where the character is too perfect.  They have few weaknesses, if any, and they’re often the author putting an idealised version of themselves into a story as a kind of wish fulfilment.  They’re also usually written as a new character in an already-canon of work. A character in Star Trek, for example, who comes on board the Enterprise and saves the day while our regulars—Kirk, Spock, et al—all look on in awe.  Or a Sherlock Holmes rewrite, where Holmes and Watson look on admiringly from the sidelines while our Mary Sue solves the mystery.

Given that our ‘perfect hero’ in the novel I was reading was the protagonist, then technically the character wasn’t a Mary Sue in its purest form.  However, he was certainly too good to be true.

As a reader there’s a fine line as to when I’ll put a book down because the character is so unbelievable. I persevered with this one. I liked the character. I liked the idea behind the story.  I liked the secondary characters.  I was in the mood for a story like this.  A whole lot of things came together to keep me reading.  Another day, another mood, I might have thought ‘this character is too perfect. It wouldn’t happen that way,’ and put the book down.

I’ll leave you with a video from Terrible Writing Advice.



If you think about it, your average dragon hoard isn’t worth the value of its coins (plus the jewels), because most of those coins won’t be legal tender any more. Instead it will be worth the weight of the metal the coin is made of, or of each coin’s value to a collector.

Our 92 year-old neighbour came by last night to use the phone. (92 on Christmas day.)  We called her son for her, and he’s coming around tomorrow. After we hung up the phone she insisted on giving us two dollars.

“No, no, no,” we said. “We don’t need the money.”

“You must. Phone calls are expensive.”

“But we’re on a plan,” we say. “Calls are free.” Well, not free, because there is the plan, but, “Making a call for you doesn’t cost us any more than we were going to pay anyway.”

She doesn’t comprehend phone plans at all. To her, each call costs money.

It’s the same every time. She comes by every couple of months and asks us to call her son. (I think her son gave her a mobile, but she doesn’t like to use it.) She offers us money for the call. We refuse, she insists, and eventually we take it because it stresses her if we don’t.

As I added the latest $2 to the tiny pile of coins we’ve collected from calling our neighbour’s son, I realised that her phone calls are the only time I have touched physical money in the last eleven months.

It’s been tap and go on everything, and I mean everything, since Covid-19.

Contactless payments are the only way I have paid for anything. No one wants cash, because of the risk of spreading coronavirus. Of course, that means that any data harvester who pays for the information can now tell that I buy two regular-sized coffees a day from the 7-Eleven, and how much take-away I buy every week.

Actually, no. They always knew how much takeaway I bought.

I think there will always be a place for cash—even if it’s not physical coins, but for some kind of money that can’t be tracked through the system—it’ll be interesting to see what that turns out to be over the next fifty years. I’m not sure it will still be banknotes and coins.


Online conference fatigue

Beware: The video is a little bit flashy, for those for whom it matters, although not too bad.

GenreCon is a biennial writer’s conference run by Queensland Writers Centre. I have been to every single one of them so far, and really enjoyed them.

Like a lot of conferences, this year they moved online. I’d like to go, but I probably won’t.

The people who organise these online conferences do an amazing job. (As do those who do the in-person events.) But, I’ve got online fatigue.

Working from home I spend half of each day in online meetings. I get to the stage where I just need to switch off.

And that’s why I probably won’t go to GenreCon this year.