inspiration

A walk along Surf Beach – with shell

I’ve been enjoying another relaxing few days at Phillip Island, where beauty and inspiration abound.

This morning I took a walk at low tide along the south coast section of the island known as “Surf Beach” to Forrest Caves. With this week’s WordPress photo challenge theme of SCALE in mind, I picked up a shell and experimented a little with the different beach backdrops. These are taken on an iPhone 4S, so the depth of focus isn’t so good unfortunately.

Then I came across the following rocky formation, which reminded me of a miniature version of those ancient villages that exist in some parts of the world. I rather wished I had one of my D&D miniatures to place into the scene…

village

The caves themselves were beautiful too. Maybe a bit damp at high tide, though, so I don’t suppose they’d be any good for camping.

forrest caves

Forrest Caves – Phillip Island

It was fun to explore a new part of the island — after 8 years, I still had not made it down to Surf Beach and Forrest Caves. There’s always something new to discover.

Songweaving on retreat

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: my creativity well needs refilling on a regular basis. Sometimes it’s easy to focus on producing all the time — more words, more efficiency, more discipline, more more more. It’s easy to forget to stop and reflect and breathe in life, embrace experiences, learn new things. It’s easy to drain that creativity well dry.

This was one of the reasons I joined the SoulSong community choir just over a year and half ago. I wanted an activity to fuel my creative fires and keep them crackling.

Yet (and I think I’ve said this elsewhere too) I rather underestimated the level of joy and inspiration found in singing and making music with others. And I completely underestimated the new community discovered among the SoulSong family.

I’ve just spent the weekend on a two-day singing retreat with SoulSong — an annual tradition for the choir, but the first for me. Normally I’m heading off for weekend writing retreats, often with fellow writers; but again such weekends are all about producing.

It was fabulous to experience the reverse — a weekend all about feeding the muse.

It was a relaxed weekend at an old house called Amberley, with lots of group singing and talking and other activities designed to harness and foster creativity. One of the traditions (and highlights) is the Saturday night concert, which is when SoulSongsters perform to each other, either individually or in groups.

There’s a lot of talent among SoulSong members, with more than a few instrumentalists to accompany each other singing, and more than enough eager backing vocalists. Oh, the harmonies! The result was an amazing concert that was almost as good as a gig at the Port Fairy folk festival… I believe there were nearly 30 acts over the evening, with most people on stage at least once.

There were so many fabulous performances, but particularly memorable for me was a rendition of Wailin’ Jennys’ song, Beautiful Dawn, complete with three-part harmonies and instrumentation. Brilliant stuff. (Canadian band, The Wailin’ Jennys are one of my favourite folk bands evah.)

I was totally wishing I was up there on that stage with them. How do I get to be a part of that?

Performing in small groups was not something I ever anticipated when I joined SoulSong last year. I wrote a little about this back in April (Songweaving solo and not solo); but since that post I have sung (not solo) in front of a small SoulSong audience on three occasions.

Before this past weekend, the choir has held a couple of ‘soirees’ which run similarly to the Amberley concert. And then there was Saturday’s concert, at which I sang “The ballad of the shape of things” (as part of a trio), a duet of Jewell’s ‘Foolish Games’, and backing vocals for “Tell him” by The Extremes. Oh yeah, and it was my first time singing with a microphone, which was a revelatory experience. Fun!

After the concert there was informal group singing with guitars and songbooks and wine and chocolate. More fun.

Sunday’s activities included a songwriting workshop. Now… songwriting is not something I’ve ever had any interest in either (like singing solo). I had never even considered it. But there’s a definite movement within SoulSong towards song composition, and the group holds periodic ‘open mic’ nights for performing original works only. The original songs I’ve seen so far have been amazing. Nonetheless, I’ve been holding out on the whole songwriting thing. (Like I need anything else to focus on.)

But the workshop was interesting. I don’t usually fare very well in workshop environments, because my mind freezes and I can’t think and the pressure to produce something in a timeframe freaks me out.

But, on Sunday, once I hit upon the angle I wanted to pursue, I completed some of the songwriting activities with moderate success.

Because I had a wild idea.

I decided that IF I wrote a song, it would be a story ballad in the traditional folk style. For one thing, they don’t need elaborate melodies, and I think the style of singing suits my voice. Also, I really like listening to them.

And then I thought I could write a ballad that reflected the story of the novel I’m working on… Cool, huh? Totally fits with the fact I’m writing fantasy, aaaaand it would be a cool marketing thing. (You, know… down the track when I have something to market. The song could provide the backdrop for the book trailer. Buy the book, download the song! Yeah, okay, I’m getting ahead of myself…)

It’s just a wild idea at this stage, but it’s Monday already and I haven’t yet abandoned it… heh. Will keep you posted.

There you go. Inspiration strikes in unexpected ways!

To finish off, here is some inspiration for you. I give you the Wailin’ Jennys singing Beautiful Dawn. Gorgeous.

Sunday journal ~ time out at Phillip Island

Winter sun. Wind. Waves.

Words.

beach near watt pt

Beach near Watt Point, Phillip Island

Phillip Island in winter is quiet, serene, beautiful. With the blessing of a clear weekend, I hightailed down to the island this past weekend for some much-needed R&R and time alone with my WIP. It turned out to be one of the most relaxing and joyous weekends I’ve ever spent down there.

One of the lovely things about my current self-employment status is the flexibility. So I headed down on Thursday night and spent Friday morning working from the island, tethered to my phone. (Gotta love modern technology.) Somehow even working down at the island seemed relaxing.

After that, the rest of Friday and the weekend was mine to do with as I wished. I hung out in the cafe for brunch with the WIP (Rumbles Cafe and Bar), kept the fire roaring, and maintained a steady intake of coffee, wine and chocolate. And some healthy food as well.

speke4

Wreck of SS Speke (1906), Watt Point, Phillip Island

On Saturday morning I revisited the wreck of the SS Speke (1906). As I mentioned in a recent photo challenge post (Relic), I first visited the Speke years ago and I hadn’t been back — but WHY? I’m now asking myself. The rusting fragments of hull are washed up on the rocks in a fairly secluded cove… at this time of year, I did not see one soul as I trekked over the headland, down onto the beach and clambered all over the wreck.

Then I wandered along the deserted beach to the next cove, all pristine sand and crystal blue water, and saw nary a soul there either.

Writing-wise, I got a fair bit done — although I also managed some downtime as well. I think I tend to get a bit obsessed with being ‘productive’ all the time, needing to feel as though I’m making every hour count for something.

Yet it’s good sometimes to do nothing at all. On Saturday afternoon I let two hours slide by, and I have no idea at all what I was doing. Just sitting on the couch. Mulling. Dreaming. Relaxing.

It really was such a lovely weekend.

***

In other events of the past couple of weeks, I took my niece and nephew to see he movie How to train your dragon 2, which was a lot of fun. I really like some of the incidental dialogue in those movies — in this one, there’s a lovely scene between Hiccup and Astrid near the beginning, which illustrates their relationship brilliantly.

Another small thing that stood out for me was the way they deal with Hiccup’s — the hero — prosthetic foot. It’s not over-dramatised; it simply is. A great acknowledgement of disability and diversity.

And the animation of Toothless, Hiccup’s dragon. He is so adorable and totally the star of the show. Really reminds me of my devilcat.

I was intending to write a full post about the movie, it being fantasy and all, but it doesn’t look I’m going to get to it. Suffice to say I enjoyed it a lot. The story is much bigger and more serious than in the first movie, and I think they did a pretty good job.

Sunday journal ~ Infinite possibilities (Oh, my!)

Inspired. Energised. A wee bit daunted.

That’s how I feel right now. It’s been one of those weekends. A fabulous weekend — don’t mistake me. But my mind is now spinning like a wind wheel.

Colorful wind wheelBright and shiny? Yes. But spinning oh so very fast.

The weekend started with a most satisfactory cafe writing session, with company, eggs, coffee and words. I progressed sedately with my revision. All going to plan, thank you very much.

On Saturday afternoon I celebrated at the launch party for my dear friend Lisa Ireland‘s debut novel — Breaking the Drought (Escape Publishing). I hope to have Lisa visit here in the near future to talk about her book; I am so incredibly pleased for her! It is of course a reminder of what I’m striving for… onwards, onwards.

Then I hung out with another dear friend, fellow fantasy writer and critique partner Tracey Rolfe. Tracey is the one person I have permitted to read the messy first draft of my current WIP — which makes her the ideal person to thrash out ideas with.

And how did we thrash those ideas…

I’ve been working on this novel and the one that is supposed to come after it (but which I wrote first) for quite a while now. This means certain characters, events and plot points are ingrained in my mind. Like stone. Immovable.

Until I remember after a few glasses of wine and a dose of objectivity and cake that these are novels, out of my mind, and anything can happen.

What if X doesn’t die? (I never wanted him to anyway.)
What if Y does this instead of that?
What if… What if… What if… ????

And suddenly there are infinite possibilities as to what could happen after events in the current novel, whereas before it seemed like a foregone conclusion.

Suddenly you have a whole extra novel unfurling. Squeezing itself between novel A and B like an impetuous intruder and a whole lot of work.

Suddenly you feel like you’re at the steering wheel of a ship that can hightail across the ocean to any port you so desire.

But which one? And how exactly do I get there?

Told you! Spinning spinning spinning.

None of this is a foregone conclusion, I hasten to add. I might yet decide that X still has to die and there will be no extra novel between A and B. But it has been liberating and a bunch of fun to wildly brainstorm some alternatives — and wonder about what else these characters could get up to.

For the now the brainstorming and thrashing will continue for a bit, while I figure out whether any of these wild imaginings have merit, or whether they were the product of too much cake.

It’s good to shake things up a bit from time to time, I reckon. (And I console myself with the knowledge that we shook up Tracey’s current WIP as well!)

A few convention highlights – Continuum X

I spent the past long weekend at Continuum X — this year’s Australian national speculative fiction convention, where fans and writers and authors gather together to chat about science fiction, fantasy, horror and other related topics.

It was held at Melbourne’s Intercontinental Hotel at Rialto, a fairly classy venue as these things go. About the best thing about the venue was the bar, which was central and sunken, so you could look down and see whether your friends were there. The bar was probably the worst thing too, owing to the crazy drink prices, which saw me buying $14 glasses of wine…

Unusually for me, I didn’t attend many panels at this convention… nor did I take any notes at all. Which is just plain weird. Normally I’m bursting with new ideas and insights to share by now. But this con was mainly about meeting people — and I met heaps, which was awesome.

I did, however, hear two fabulous talks from the two professional guests of honour — Ambelin Kwaymullina and Jim C Hines.

Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Aboriginal writer and illustrator from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She gave an amazing presentation — raw, passionate, severe — about cultural appropriation, which made us all squirm in our seats. (Or at least it did me.)

I’ve heard many talks about the evils of cultural appropriation as writers, but none hit home like Ambelin’s did. A lot of it comes down to a completely different world view — and the world view of her people is nothing like the world view of “westerners”. She explained how she is “not a science fiction writer”, because science fiction is a construct that has no meaning among her people. And many other things besides.

Ambelin really made me look at other cultures — and not just indigenous cultures — in a whole new way. It was not comfortable to hear… there was so much passion (and bitterness) in that speech. But we needed to hear it. We ALL need to be beaten over the head with it, because it is so easy not to hear or understand, and be inadvertently disrespectful.

Jim C Hines is an American fantasy author and blogger who is quite vocal on subjects of gender equality and is also the guy who did the gender flipped poses for SF/Fantasy novels. He gave a great talk about embracing diversity within the community and beyond… the most memorable comment being something along the lines of how being the recipient of one act of discrimination is like getting a paper cut, but when there are many paper cuts it’s like being flayed alive…

Yes, some very sober and serious messages by our guests of honour.

Perfections

I went to a few book launches at the convention too — none more satisfying than the re-launch of Perfections by my very good friend, Kirstyn McDermott (who I recently interviewed about the book). Even though the copies at the launch were a unique breed, retitled IMPerfections, with a rather fatal flaw, Kirstyn still sold just about all copies that were available. Celebrations all round.

Aside from guest of honour talks and book launches, I went to one panel, one live podcast recording, and the Australian Ditmar Awards ceremony (kind of like the Hugos, but waaaaay less prestigious). The rest of the time I spent hanging out with friends in the bar.

All in all, I had a fabulous time.

A-Z of fantasy: J is for Journey

photoOne of the things I’ve always loved about fantasy is the JOURNEY.

Journey: an act of travelling from one place to another.

This can be literal — epic fantasy is full of tremendous and inspiring journeys from A to B. None is more iconic of course than the journey of Frodo and his companions in The Lord of the Rings. Or Bilbo’s in The Hobbit, for that matter.

In fact, many of my favourite fantasy novels involve epic journeys: Thomas Covenant gets around the Land a great deal, Althea and Brashen sail around on their liveships, and as for poor Phedre and Joscelin… there are so many journeys as I skim my bookshelves, I can’t possibly name all the novels.

I’m trying to think of my favourite journey in fantasy, and I’m struggling. Top of mind at the moment is Phedre and Joscelin’s amazing journey on the trail of ten-year old Imriel, sold into slavery, followed by their expedition into the middle of nowhere to learn the name of god, in Kushiel’s Avatar. Incredible stuff.

Journeying alongside the characters in a fantasy novel is like travelling to another world. The ultimate adventure. It’s an opportunity to explore different cultures. (I often think fantasy authors inject so much travel into their books because they’ve gone to all the trouble to think up cool places — not that I’m complaining.)

But in addition to literal journeys, there are the metaphorical and spiritual journeys that exist in all good literature. Growth of character, development of relationships, progression of thought and understanding, change. The best fantasy can be just as deep and thought-provoking and mind-bending as the best literature.

And, since the canvass underpinning the story is often so enormous (think Middle Earth), the conflict so incredibly dire, the character journey is often correspondingly profound (think Frodo).

Yeah, OK. So in my series of A-Z of Fantasy, J is definitely for JOURNEY. It’s no accident that it’s also a key theme of this blog.

J can also be for JEWELLERY and JEWELS in fantasy. There’s often a magicked amulet or ring or diadem… (Or am I thinking of Dungeons and Dragons?)

J is also a popular letter for character/other names in fantasy:

  • Joscelin – The ultimate tortured hero. Consummate bladesman, protector, warrior priest, lover, the perfect companion in Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series.
  • Jehane – The intelligent and beautiful physician in Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan.
  • Jimmy the Hand – Raymond E Feist’s charismatic and enterprising street thief, beloved of millions of readers.
  • Jaran – A series of early novels by Kate Elliott, where the Jaran are the central people adjusting to the influence of technology. (These are great and recently re-released as e-books, I’ve noticed. I just wish she would finish the series!)

Finally a couple of fantasy authors worthy of mention:

  • Robert Jordan of Wheel of Time fame
  • N.K. Jemisin, whose novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms gained her recognition some years ago. It’s the only one of her novels I’ve read, but I keep meaning to go back and read more.

That’s all I can think of. Anybody else got any other suggestions and contributions for J? If not, I’d love to hear about your favourite epic fantasy journey.

 

Harnessing creativity at Conflux Writers Day

On Saturday I attended the inaugural Conflux Writers Day — a day of short talks and workshops on various aspects of writing, held in Canberra. Organised by the Conflux team, headed up by Australian SF author Nicole Murphy, the Conflux Writers Day was also the prelude to the annual Aurealis Awards, which are Australia’s premier speculative fiction awards.

The thing I love most about such days is hearing other authors talk about their process, their philosophies, their methods for keeping disciplined, fostering inspiration, staying positive.

One of the themes of the day was harnessing creativity — one of my favourite topics.

In her opening plenary session, Joanne Anderton talked about transforming ideas into story. Her process as it turns out is remarkably similar to mine (notebooks for each project, seeding a story with the world… I rather liked her concept of ‘world growing’).

She also emphasised how important it is to let yourself get bored, to give yourself the space to daydream and be creative.

“Just because a writer is looking out the window doesn’t mean she isn’t working.”

And then, in the second plenary session, Kaaron Warren (after putting us all to shame with her stern words on how to ‘use the minutes when you don’t have hours’) made a similar point when she said how ‘daily life’ is a key part of writing. It’s when one does one’s daydreaming, observing, listening…

Kaaron’s main point was that she believes

“We shouldn’t try to change the way we live, we should change the way we write.”

Utilising all the ‘down time’ as thinking and daydreaming time is an important part of this, so when we do have that rare 20 minute or hour-long time window available to write, we’re ready to get right into it. We’ve done all our thinking and away we go…

“A writer’s place is inside our head. We are in control of what goes on inside our heads.”

I really wish I was better at this. I think best with a pen in my hand. But it would be good to better utilise walking or cleaning activities. Perhaps I need to train my brain…

Finally, in a short session called Wrangling the muse, presented by Craig Cormick, he made the point that the thinking:writing ratio is different for everybody.

This last I know to be true. I truly envy those authors who can churn out 8,000 words in a single day. The most I can handle at once is about 2,000 words… then I need to have a break and wait for the well-of-words to refill. (Or maybe it’s the well-of-ideas.) And usually it doesn’t refill until the next day…

Craig’s other main point was how important it is for us to eradicate negative belief systems and foster positive belief systems instead.

Doubt can intrude into reality. The brain tries to ensure that whatever one believes must be.

i.e. if we don’t think we can do it, we’ll sabotage ourselves.

I went to several other interesting sessions, which might find their way into a later post. But I think the points I’ve summarised here are my main take-aways from the day.

Embrace doing nothing — make the most of it. Accept the need for time and space to think and ruminate. But make the most of writing time as well!

As might have been expected, I’ve returned home from Canberra full of enthusiasm and determination. Inspiration too. There’s nothing quite like hanging around with a bunch of other writers to get those creative juices flowing.

 

Inspiration in silver

I didn’t realise until the past couple of weeks just how much I like silver. I’ve had some tucked away inside a display cabinet for about 10 years. Mostly silver plate, it came from my grandmother’s collection when she died, a few items I picked up after the more impressive pieces were selected by the elder generation.

More recently, my mother is downsizing and offloading a whole bunch of her collection of antiques and ornaments (many of which also came from my grandmother’s house). And so once more I found myself presented with a vast array of shiny pretties.

Silver 1

I have a very small house. Not a lot of storage. I don’t host dinner parties (don’t really have the space or aptitude in the kitchen), although rather enjoy entertaining on a small scale.

Despite this, I kept lifting pieces off my parents’ table and adding them to my pile… silver jugs, vases, a housekeeper’s chatelaine, a candlestick in Sheffield plate (which, to be honest, I think my mother was originally intending to keep).

Here’s why I think silver speaks to me:

  • I’m a metallurgist at heart.
  • My grandmother loved it. I remember her showing me some of these pieces time and again and I associate them with her.
  • Most of the pieces represent a time gone by — such as one might find in a fantasy world. Simply looking at them transports me somewhere else…

Anyway, the influx of ‘new’ silver pieces to my place prompted a thorough clean of my display cabinet and all the silver therein. Here’s what it looks like now.

Silver 3

 

As a result of my parents’ purging exercise, I have also acquired a retro dinner set and a delightfully mismatched set of cup-saucer-plates, such as they might use for ‘tea’ in Jane Austen movies.

And another entire display cabinet to put everything in.

Add to that some silver cake forks and teaspoons… and I’m now well kitted out to host a regency-style afternoon tea.

I haven’t declared an ‘inspiration of the week’ for quite a while, but I’m declaring my new and rediscovered silver to be one now.

Can anyone else relate to this?? In this day and age it seems a little crazy, but there you go. I can’t stop admiring it.

 

REFLECTION three ways

This week’s photo challenge theme is REFLECTION.

Phillip Island swamp

Phillip Island swamp

Sometimes I need to get away from the world in order to give myself the time and space to REFLECT and focus on writing. It may be because I’ve reached a tricky bit and I need to think, or it may be I’ve lost touch with the story and need to reconnect.

One of the places I escape to on a regular basis (as I’ve mentioned many times before) is Phillip Island, where my parents have a house. The above photo was taken on the fire track near Red Rocks Beach, which is near the house and part of a favourite walk of mine.

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The next two shots were taken on the same freezing cold day in Bruges, Belgium, a few years ago just before Christmas.

Bruges

Bruges with giant claw

I love the above photo, because the reflection of one of the trees looks like a giant claw reaching into the water.

Bruges with fractured ice

Bruges with fractured ice

And in this one, the fractured ice renders the reflection jagged and confused. Or, looking at the other way, the presence of the reflection highlights the state of the ice on the water, which for me (living in Australia) is something I don’t see very often!

I like the fact that in these two Bruges photos the REFLECTION influences the mood and interpretation of each scene. They contribute to the photo, rather than just being an attractive appendage.

How do they make you feel?

World Fantasy Convention 2013 – a wrapup

So, last weekend was the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, UK. My second,  following the San Diego WFC in 2011. Once again, I had an excellent time, my activities largely divided between the official program and socialising, er, networking, in the bar. New friends were made and insights obtained… All very satisfying and definitely inspirational.

Why WFC?

I’ve been asked more than once what’s so good about WFC to warrant travelling halfway across the world to attend it. (Aside from justifying a two and a half week jaunt around regions of interest, that is – heh.)

One of the main reasons is undoubtedly the presence of global publishing industry professionals. It’s not all that common for agents, editors and the like to attend Australian speculative fiction conventions — partly because the events are often run by non-publishing ‘fans’, and partly because the Australian market (and also the conventions themselves) is small, compared with the UK and USA.

At WFC, which prides itself on being a professional convention, it’s more than half likely that a random stranger in the con bar will turn out to be an agent or an editor — not that I’m advocating stalker-like behaviour or forcing manuscripts onto unwilling recipients; but you can’t deny that if the stars align, such serendipitous meetings could change the course of a struggling writer’s future.

All roads lead to the bar

WFC is primarily a networking convention. There are no formal pitch sessions (that I’m aware of), but there are many open parties and opportunities to get to know people. And if I learnt anything at Conflux earlier this year, it’s that people actually want to hear about your work.

(Of course, networking in the guise of socialising can be hard work, and that’s where a little liquid lubrication can help… The key is not to get so lubricated one can’t talk coherently about one’s current project.)

It’s also fantastic to meet and chat with other writers from all over the world. The Australian speculative fiction community is tight-knit and somewhat insular. WFC provides insights into other writing communities — US, UK, Europe and even Africa.

The two WFCs I’ve visited have made me aware of how many pre-published counterparts I have in all parts of the world. Not to mention the vast numbers of published authors I’ve never previously heard of. Unsurprisingly, most attendees in San Diego were from the USA; while the Brighton event featured an enormous number of British authors.

A bunch of Australians attended WFC Brighton too. Many more than San Diego. And I also met European authors, some writing in their first language, seeking representation and contracts with English-language publishers. I talked to authors meeting their agents in the flesh for the first time, and agents meeting authors they’d signed and communicated with via email and phone. WFC is the meeting place. The hub.

Guests of Honour

Unluckily for the Brighton WFC, they lost three of their Guests of Honour in the lead up to the convention. Poor old Richard Matheson (I am Legend) died of old age, China Mieville (who was Toastmaster) had something unavoidable come up, and Alan Lee (artist GOH) couldn’t leave the set of The Hobbit in NZ. But they still had the incomparable Tanith Lee and Susan Cooper to receive life achievement awards and the charismatic and entertaining Neil Gaiman to effortlessly step in for China M.

I generally like attending GOH conversations. I enjoy hearing personal anecdotes and gaining insight into admired writers by listening to their (often funny) stories. Joe Hill was another entertaining GOH in Brighton.

In the end, I attended seven or eight panels across Friday and Saturday. In addition to the GOH conversations, it was good to hear from some other prominent fantasy authors on topics of general interest — such as ‘is classical fantasy dead?’ and the controversially titled ‘broads with swords’.

‘My people’

On the whole, though, I don’t attend WFC for the program. I fly halfway across the world to hang out with other authors and publishing industry professionals who are ‘my people’. I’ve come away with a host of new contacts and renewed enthusiasm for finishing my current WIP. Every time I front up to one of these events, I feel as though I’m getting another step closer to the end goal.

***

Addendum 9 Nov: I’ve been reminded that one of the best panels I’ve ever attended at a convention involved Neil Gaiman in conversation with Connie Willis two years ago at WFC in San Diego. If you’re interested, check out my post here, which summarises my key take-aways and also features an embedded YouTube clip of the conversation. Enjoy!