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From the shore, they look like rubber, like shiny black bicycle tires bobbing in the waves. But then they spout, or roll a square-edged fin into the air. And you realise no, those are whales.

The size of them is joyous.

We spent three nights last week in Warrnambool for my birthday. Work has been grinding me down lately, so it was good to get away. We walked along the beach. We visited the historical maritime village. And we saw the whales. Even with binoculars they were mostly just rubbery black streaks in the waves. But they were still magnificent.

On the train down, I finished Keith Gray's The Fearful, and started reading Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House.

We stayed at the Lighthouse Lodge. At night, the house creaked and moaned in the wind, and I would wake up in the dark, unsure if someone was walking down the corridor outside our room.

I spent a lot of time thinking about ghost stories.

At the Melbourne Writer's Festival, American author Junot Díaz talked about writing short stories. If you don't know how to end your short story, he said, you need to read a thousand stories, and then you'll grow the heart for short stories, and you'll know how to end it.

There was a lot to love at the Writer's Festival: teen blogger Tavi Gevinson's keynote on the importance of being a fan, Magda Szubanski's story about her father, who at age 16 was an assassin for the Polish Resistance, a masterclass with Scott Westerfeld. And I felt proud for Lisa Dempster, the Festival's new director, whom I met through the Emerging Writer's Festival.

But afterwards I felt hollow and pointless. Because I'm not writing, and haven't written anything for months.

Writer's block is not the absence of ideas. Writer's block is the feeling that all your ideas are shit.

I'm trying to write a ghost story. It's not working. It floats dark and shapeless inside me.

I can't pull it to the surface yet. My heart is not yet grown.


May. 14th, 2013 08:18 am
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The Grunge Novel got its first rejection letter yesterday. (Well, rejection email.)

That's fine. Rejection is part of the process.

The bit that's depressing me is the reason for the rejection. The book alternates between teenagers starting a band in the early 90s, and the band reuniting in the present. And the editor felt teens wouldn't be interested in reading about old people.

Which is precisely my concern with the book. And I can't help feeling if I send it to any other YA publishers they'll say exactly the same thing. The only way to fix that is to write a completely different book.

Which I'm doing. But, after a breezy start, the new novel has hit a bad patch. I don't know what I'm doing, and I'm questioning whether its worth doing anyway. It's like I've been skipping along a sunny path, and suddenly I'm lost in a dark forest, it's raining, and I realised I forgot to pack toilet paper.

And my back pain flared up again last week, because I was writing in the State Library. I love writing in the State Library. I get more work done there in an hour that I do in two or three at home. But their desks are terrible for my back. So I've had to give up any hope of ever writing there again.

Moan grumble complain.

I know, I know: no one's making me do this. And there are people with much worse problems than these. I'm just venting. Yesterday knocks you down. Today you climb back back up and keep going. The alternative is lying in the mud feeling sorry for yourself.

A friend has offered to give the Grunge Novel to one of the editors at his publishers. That's something. Even if they turn it down, they might be interested in seeing the next thing I write.

Which means I better write it.

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I had my first ever interview about my writing last week, for the TaleTeller podcast. It's up now on their website, and subscribable through iTunes:

Listening to it is a bit weird - do I really sound like that? I also talk too fast, and repeat myself. I was nervous, and concerned that we wouldn't have enough to talk about. But actually, the hour flew past pretty quickly.

We talk about writing horror, zines, the Emerging Writers Festival, the Young Adult field, why I don't drink coffee, and the influence of the Rowden White Library on my work. I think I managed to say some interesting things, in amongst the blather.

So. First ever interview.

TaleTeller are also looking for other writers to interview. If you're interested, I can give you their details.

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Just finished watching the Doctor Who episode "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS".

This isn't really a review. It's just some thoughts, about environment and imagination. But be warned:

Spoilers Follow... )

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Today is A. and my 12th anniversary. To celebrate, I drew a sloth on her morning cup of coffee.

David drew me an anniversary card on my coffee cup

That's right, isn't it? Twelfth anniversary is sloths?

Meanwhile, in writing news:

Passed the 5000 word mark on my new novel this morning. It's another fantasy YA, about a bullied teenager who finds a wizard's tower hiding in the back streets of Box Hill. Think Narnia meets Summer Heights High.

My previous novel, the grunge thing, is currently sitting in big submission pile at Hardie Grant Egmont's Ampersand Project. If you think I've started a new novel to distract me from thinking too hard about the previous one then congratulations, you're exactly right, have a drawing of a sloth.

The Emerging Writers Festival, my favourite festival in the world, is coming up. I've booked my ticket. I've also proposed another collaborative writing project for EWFdigital. But that's been spun off into a standalone festival this year, so I've yet to hear back about that one.

And finally, I've volunteered for a whole slew of panels at Melbourne's spec fic convention Continuum in June. My panels are: Reinventing the Fairy Tale; Plot 101; The heroines of YA; Marvellous Melbourne; and Misappropriations. Expect some blogging on those topics while I straighten out my thoughts.

I... I better go do some research.

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In March 2010, we went and saw The Paradise Motel play a reunion show. The next day, I was sick as a dog, and I wrote five thousand words of a new novel. It was about ghosts, and grunge music, and whether friendship is stronger than death.

I finished writing that novel last week.

Yesterday, I submitted it to the Ampersand Project.

People congratulate me, when I tell them that. They say it must feel great.

I smile wanly and nod. Because I have many feelings about finishing the book, and "great" is not how I'd sum them up.

I feel pleased, obviously. And relieved. And exhausted. And fretful -- it's an odd sort of book. I can imagine even if publishers like it, they might turn it down because it doesn't really fit properly into a marketable category.

And I can't stop thinking I could make the book so much better, if only I'd sit down and rewrite the whole damn thing from scratch.

Maybe I could. The book has certainly improved with every redraft. But there is a law of diminishing returns, and the amount of time and effort I'd need to improve the book significantly would be better spent writing something new.

So I'm not touching this manuscript again until a publisher pays me to do so.

It's time go write something new.

Thanks to everyone who's offered advice and encouragement along the way. I appreciate it. And special thanks to A., for putting up with a grumpy writer all these years.

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I wrote this on New Year's Day as an entry in Chuck Wendig's latest Flash Fiction Challenge. The rules were to pick two genres from a list, and write a 1,000 word or less story that mashes them together.

I chose "Dystopian Sci-Fi" and "Bodice Ripper".

It is, needless to say, a bit of fluff.


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The shortlist for the Text Prize has been announced. Congratulations to the five authors on it.

My name is not on the list. Which is fine. Re-reading my MS I can understand why not. The competition is stiff - over 300 entries - and my book  is a) kind of weird and b) really needs this third draft.

So. Back to it. I have other leads I can follow up. But first I need to get this draft done.

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I'm at that point in my novel redraft where I'm convinced the whole thing is shit, and the only way to fix it is with cleansing fire.

This is inevitable. I always feel like this about my work.

The Egyptian Book of the Dead describes how the jackal-headed god Anubis weighs the heart of the deceased to find out if they are worthy of entering the afterlife.

When people say writing is hard, they don't mean it's hard like carrying bricks all day, or working in a sweatshop. They mean it's hard like having your heart weighed to find out if you are worthy.

Writers write because we think writing is important. And by extension, the quality of our writing directly determines the quality of ourselves as human beings.

Sure, we get that it's not what you do that makes you special, it's who you are, who you love, how well you live your life, blah blah blah.

But in our heart of secret hearts we know the truth: the thing that makes our lives meaningful is our ability to write. And every word on the page is another rib peeled back, exposing our hearts for the world to reach in, squeeze, and judge our worthiness.

So there's no pressure or anything.

I wish I could be Zen about this. I wish I could be calm and diligent and serene. But I can't. Every time is the same: wild hope followed by crushing despair and back again.

And this, I suspect, is where true discipline lies. It is not in being a monk, unperturbed by all feeling. It is in feeling the ridiculous highs and the hadopelagic lows, and then continuing to work regardless.

The goal is not to walk through the fire without burning. The goal is to be burnt to ashes, and keep walking.

Okay. Whinge over. Back to it.

Draft Three

Jul. 1st, 2011 11:00 am
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Today's the first of July. Which means today I start Draft Three of the novel.

I wasted ten years trying to write my first novel. What actually happened was I wrote the first 20,000 words, got stuck, deleted everything, and started again from scratch.

And then I did that FIVE MORE TIMES.

That's ten years of my life as a writer I'll never get back.

So with this novel I had a plan. Three drafts. Each with a specific focus, and a list of things I wasn't going to worry about. And each with a specific end point: producing something that I can SHOW other people.

My breakdown was this:


Dig up the ideas, get them down on the page. Don't worry about style. Don't worry about plot. Just get the raw ideas down. This draft was like a painter's rough sketch -- all about the mood and the possibilities. The details would come later.

Draft One took about three months to write. Only one person ever read it.

Because it was a mess. But it was an interesting mess. A mess with possibility. Which is where Draft Two came in.


For Draft Two, I took all the rough, raw material from the first draft, and beat it with a sledgehammer until it formed a coherent plot.

This draft was all about the plot. If I had to write a clumsy sentence to get a scene moving, I'd write a clumsy sentence. Style can be fixed in draft three.

Draft Two took about 10 months to finish.

It was hard work. Mostly because I'm an overambitious idiot and decided to write a plot that alternates between the present and the past. Except I wrote all the past storyline first, then all the present storyline, then had to play chronological Tetris to make the two storylines fit together.

Hint: Don't do this. Save yourself the headache. Start at the beginning, and write forwards from there.

I gave Draft Three to lots of people. I wanted a wide sampling of feedback to see which reported problems were actual problems, and which where just the reader's personal preferences.

(I also wanted lots of people to tell me my book was wonderful and therefore I'm a worthwhile human being. But I'm a writer. We are inherently insecure like that.)

I received lots of great feedback. Two or three big problems were reported by pretty much all readers. And I learnt that everywhere I thought I was being subtle or understated, I was actually just being confusing. This is good to know. And so now I'm embarking on...


Draft Three is where I a) smooth off all the plot-bricks so they sit snugly together, b) polish the prose so that it's exciting to read and c) fix all the damn typos.

I'll get a friend or two to proofread it when it's done. But mostly, Draft Three is about producing the manuscript that I will send out to publishers.

I'm hoping it will take about a month.

I'm hoping it will take about a month because the Text Prize is announced at the end of July, and I entered the second draft of my novel into it.

I don't expect to win. Entering was more about having a big, immovable deadline that I had to meet, and the subsequent feeling of progress when I did. But the moment I know that I didn't win, I want to send my book out to other publishers.

And then I start writing the next one.
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Hi! I'm still alive. Just neck deep in the Emerging Writers' Festival and loving every second of it.

Too busy to blog, but I'm twittering like crazy. Half the EWF happens on Twitter.

Point form update:
  • Running Melbourne by Dusk for the Festival, a flash-fiction meets photography meets urban fantasy online storytelling project. Read! Comment! Submit! We had a story from Aurealis winner Kirstyn McDermott go up today. Very pleased.
  • EWF Town Hall conference was inspiring and thought provoking.
  • Jel got invited to TweetUp at the NGV Austrlia gallery, for a private tour of the new Indigenous art exhibition of Western Desert paintings.
  • We joined the NGV, meaning we're members now of the Zoo, the Museum and the Gallery.
  • I'm supposed to be on leave, but have to keep going back to work because of the organisational review.
  • Behind on both Doctor Who and Game of Thrones.
  • A drunken night at the festival club, and I end up starring on Straight Men Kissing.
And then there's this:

Proof it actually got sent #ewf11 on Twitpic

I mailed my novel off to the Text Prize yesterday.

I doubt it will win. It's too niche and too similar to the novel that won in 2009. But it's sent in. Complete strangers will be reading my novel. I have achieved at least that much.

Okay. Got to run.

If you're any kind of writer, you should seriously consider attending the Emerging Writers Festival. It is amazing. And for two years running they've had Scottish guests whose accents will make you swoon.
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The Emerging Writers Festival begins today.

Which means Melbourne by Dusk begins as well.

Melbourne by Dusk is a mixed-media story-telling project being run by Angelica and myself as part of the Festival.

It's urban photography meets urban fantasy, flash-fiction faerytales inspired by photos taken around Melbourne. The first few stories will start appearing over the course of the day.

And it's open for submissions. We're after photos, stories, and other Melbourne weirdness. Details are at that link.

We'd love your contributions. Come and play.

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Emailed the Second Draft of the novel out to readers for comments last night.

It's out there now. It's not just vapourware. I feel both pleased and drained.

To celebrate, I've been listening to Mick Harvey's Sketches from the Book of the Dead.

I posted previously about how we saw his excellent CD launch on Saturday night. The synchronicity between his album and my novel hasn't escaped me. Both are about memory. Both are about the dead.

The stand out track on the album for me so far is "The Ballard of Jay Givens", about the suicide of the best friend of Harvey's father.

Here-- a little present for you, on this wet Melbourne morning:

Mick Harvey - The Ballad of Jay Givens by Mute UK

I keep thinking of changes I want to make to the novel. Finishing the second draft means I can finally see what it is, as opposed to what I thought it might be. This is good. This means I can strip away everything that doesn't belong, and strengthen everything that does.

I'll start the third draft in July. I have the Emerging Writers Festival and Continuum to get through first.

Hm. I really should post about them.

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We saw David Mitchell talk for the Melbourne Writers Festival tonight.

He was funny, and charming, and smart. His interviewer's Scottish accent was pretty charming, too. A. has never read any of his books, and she enjoyed it too.

He talked about his process for building a novel, comparing it building with Lego. His early novels were so crammed with ideas, he said, because he was afraid of being boring.

His take on difficulty of writing historical novels: if you write them in modern language, people say "hang on...". If you write them in the genuine language of the time, it sounds like Blackadder. So he had to develop what he called by-gone-ese.

An audience member asked him if he found writing a lonely task. After a simple "yes", Mitchell elaborated that any writer complains to you about his work, you should punch him.

Afterwards, I queued to get him to sign my book. "David," he said. "That's a good name." And my brain went Huh? Why's he saying that? Ohhh.

I was, admit, a bit star-struck.

I told him I found his first novel both inspiring and intimidatingly good, as someone who is attempting to write. He was generous enough to offer me some advice: if you have a problem, write what the problem is down on a piece of A4 paper. The solution will be there in the problem.
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I received my timetable for my panels at Continuum. They are:

Saturday 11th June
11.30am, 30 mins
Spooky Music - A Brief History of Horror in Popular Music

Reading, 20 mins

Sunday 12th June
Beyond LoLCATS - Writing and the Internet

The Spooky Music presentation was meant to be a bit of lighthearted fun, ideally in a late night timeslot. Instead, it's ended up sandwiched between the Opening Ceremony and the Guest of Honour's speech.

I better start writing.

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A quick sneak preview of the project A. and I will be working on for the Emerging Writer's Festival:

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My friend David Conyers just told me that two of my short stories (one of which is a collaboration with David) made Ellen Datlow's Full Honourable Mentions List for the Year's Best Horror 2010.

Ellen Datlow is a legend in the speculative fiction community. She's probably best known for co-editing the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthology series, and now the Year's Best Horror anthologies.

So this is a huge honour, and completely unexpected. My stories mentioned are:

Witteveen, David “Perfect Skin,” Cthulhu’s Dark Cults.
Witteveen, David and Conyers, David “Sweet as Decay,” Macabre.

Lots of other Australian authors on that list, too, thanks mostly to the Macabre anthology that Angela Slatter and Dr Marty Young put together.

The list was published back in March. Work was so stressful at the time I didn't even notice. I really should pay more attention.
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I'm not saying this will work for everyone.

But so far? Redrafting this book by rewriting large chunks of it from scratch is actually working very well for me. Certainly much better than editing the original text word by tedious word to fit into my revised plot structure.

...I just jinxed myself didn't I?

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My initial list of 5 Comedy Festival shows has blown out to about 13. I've lost count. Reviews to follow at some stage, long after they might have been useful to anyone. Hannah Gadsby has unexpectedly turned out to be one of my favourites this year. A lot of the other shows I've seen have felt like a solid 45 minutes of material stretched thin to fill an hour show.

A. and I finally managed to see the Bill Henson exhibition at Tolarno Galleries yesterday, on its final day. Very glad we did. Bodies, landscapes, and gallery patrons dissolving into the sublime. His use of light is exquisite: corpse-blue nudes hit with sparks of fire-red.

A. and I have had a project accepted as part of the Emerging Writer's Festival EWFdigital programme. I'll post more details closer to the launch, but the basic ideas is a series of urban fantasy micro-stories inspired by photographs of Melbourne.

We went to a wedding yesterday, for our dear friends Alex and Berni. It was a beautiful ceremony amongst the ferns in the Fitzroy Gardens Conservatory. Afterwards there was the reception at Deck Ten, looking down over the city. And after that, we went to the Festival Club.

Technically I woke up today at about 9:30. But I've spent most of the day staring blankly into the middle distance. I was going to go see some more late shows tonight, but I think I'd rather be a functional human being. An early night and a productive day tomorrow sounds lie a plan.


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