Twiceborn cover reveal

I’m very excited to be able to show you the cover for Twiceborn at last. It was done by Yoly at Cormar Covers several months ago, but I didn’t want to reveal it till I was almost ready to publish.

Guess what? I’m nearly there! Twiceborn is buffed and polished as shiny as I could make it, and it’s now off at the formatters getting a fresh lick of paint. It’s almost a Real Book!

Are you ready?

Here it is in all its glory:

Twiceborn small

Isn’t it gorgeous? I feel like a proud parent showing off baby photos, only this baby doesn’t have forcep marks on its face, or a weird pointy head. Or jaundice. Or any of the other not-so-photogenic features my real babies had. And unlike Baby Duck, the insides of this baby are all present and correct too.

Let me remind you what the story’s about:

 “Still grieving her beloved son, Kate O’Connor’s just going through the motions. She doesn’t care that strangers often shadow her on the unorthodox courier jobs she does for a friend. She doesn’t even care what’s in the packages till the day she returns from a special rush job with no memory of the event. But it must have been pretty wild, because now there’s a werewolf in her kitchen trying to kill her – and he’s just the first in line.

Dragged into a supernatural war of succession between the daughters of the dragon queen, Kate discovers a Sydney she never knew existed, peopled by all kinds of strange half-human creatures. To have any hope of surviving she must uncover the explosive secret hidden in her memory – but first she has to live through the night.”

Can’t wait to share it with you!

Giving a hoot for charity

Some hospitals have programs where quilters donate quilts for children with cancer. When a new patient is admitted they get to choose a quilt to keep, to have something personal to brighten up their often long and arduous hospital stays.

My quilting group decided to make such a quilt, and gave me the job of designing it and choosing fabrics. Knowing my weakness for owls, they cunningly suggested an owl theme to make the job more appealing.

How could I resist? I turned, of course, to the internet, and good old Google did not disappoint. There are so many generous quilters out there offering patterns and tutorials for free. I found the cutest little owl applique here. Originally intended for a bib, it made a perfect quilt block once it was enlarged.

Look at this little guy! Isn’t he gorgeous?

 

That’s the one I made. I found a great stripey fabric in bright bold colours to go between the owls. I gave everyone a plain background piece and asked them to make their owls in colours to go with the stripey fabric. Here are a few of the gorgeous little owls I got back:
 Putting it all together was nice and simple. Baby Duck and I had a lovely time rearranging owls to get the most pleasing design. (Taking a picture was tricky, though. Apologies for the less-than-stellar photography here. One of the lovely ladies in the group is quilting it at the moment. Hopefully I can get a better photo when it’s finished.)
 
 I’m very pleased with how it turned out, and I hope that it’ll brighten some sick kid’s day. It certainly made me smile. Those owls are so adorable!

From character flaw to superpower in one easy lesson

 It’s November, which means it’s National Novel Writing Month, that crazy, stressful, sometimes blissful time of year when hundreds of thousands of people all over the world decide to write a 50,000-word novel in just one month.

Did I mention crazy and stressful?

And yet, every year I do it again. Which means that it’s also that time of year when I feel an urgent desire to quilt. Or crochet. Or even garden (and I hate gardening). Basically, when I have to write, I desperately want to do something – anything – else!

I mean, sure, I like writing (or else this wouldn’t be my seventh Nano, right?). Yet I have this odd character flaw, that I’m a real grass-is-always-greener kind of person. If I’m writing, I’d rather be quilting. If I’m quilting I’d rather be scrapbooking. And if I’m scrapbooking … you get the picture.

Yet I always force myself through the wordmines of Nano each year, because I’m basically lazy, and the added pressure of the Nano deadline really works to make me finish a first draft in just one month. Any other time of year it takes me at least two.

This year, case in point, I was working on the first draft of another novel (the third in the Twiceborn series), which was meant to be finished before November, but I just hadn’t been able to push myself to get it done. I only had about eight scenes to go, but I had to set it aside in order to begin my new Nano novel. (And yes, I did consider skipping Nano in favour of just finishing the damn book already, but since Nano is my big chance to get a whole first draft in one month, I didn’t want to give up that opportunity.)

I told myself I could work on both at once, but I’ve never been able to do that before. I have enough trouble coming up with one novel on the fly, without trying to cram a completely different story into my limited creative brainspace.

So I was plugging away on my Nano novel, but feeling more and more guilty about the unfinished one, when I decided, dammit, I was going to give it a go.

And lo and behold – what happened? Instead of being harder than writing them individually, it was actually easier! I wrote faster and with more dedication, knowing I had to make my wordcount on both of them each day.

But it was more than that – it was that whole grass-is-always-greener thing coming into play. Suddenly what had been a character flaw started working in my favour. When I was working on one, my subconscious would be mulling over the other one, getting excited about the next scene coming, and I’d happily switch. Then when I got tired of that one, or ran out of inspiration, the other would be calling to me.

Yesterday I wrote nearly 4,000 words on one and 2,500 on the other. (And yes, my shoulders are killing me, thank you for asking.) To quote the great Vizzini: “inconceivable!”

So I seem to have acquired writing superpowers. Just in the nick of time, too.  I hope they stick around for a while. As long as I don’t also find some writing kryptonite, November should be a very productive month.

What about you? Are you doing Nano? If so, have you found any ways to make yourself more productive?

Looking for something to read?

Looking for something to read? Here’s a few books I’ve read lately. And look – they’re not all fantasy novels!!

Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney

 I bet we’ve all received one of those Christmas letters that makes the writer’s life and family sound disgustingly perfect. The main character of this book, Angela Gillespie, has been writing them for 33 years, but this year she lets off steam. Instead of the usual picture-perfect image, she tells it like it is, complete with worries about all four of her children, her fears for her marriage, and her imaginings on what her life might have been like if she’d married someone else entirely.

She never means to send it, but of course fate intervenes and the damning email gets circulated to all the usual recipients. The whole family starts falling apart, and just when it seems things couldn’t possibly get worse — of course, they do.

The relationships between the characters are well done and feel very natural, although the three adult daughters act a lot more like teenagers than supposedly mature women. But their different problems and stories are all interesting, and once the tables are turned and they have to help Angela instead of the other way around they manage to pull together and create a happy ending for everybody.

An enjoyable read, and nice to have a woman in her fifties as the protagonist for a change. Young love is all very well, but it’s not the only flavour around.

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

 

If you haven’t read Book 1, it’s called Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot in some parts of the world), and I highly recommend it. It got this urban fantasy/police procedural series off to a flying start.

Broken Homes is the fourth book about the adventures of London police constables (and apprentice magicians) Peter Grant and Lesley Mai. I enjoyed the previous books in this series more than this one. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention as I read, but whole chunks of the plot didn’t seem to have much relevance to the story. There is a long section at a rather menacing night fair on the banks of the Thames, for instance. All sorts of magical types are wandering around, but nothing seems to come of it.

As usual, the worldbuilding is detailed and convincing but the story doesn’t pick up pace until about halfway through. The last section was tense and thrilling, and it ended on a truly shocking cliffhanger, one that I never saw coming. It makes me nervous about what will happen to Peter and Lesley in Book 5 …

Dead Famous by Ben Elton

 

I’ve read this one before, but it’s still fun to reread. It’s a highly entertaining comment on society’s current infatuation with reality TV, and features a “Big Brother”-type show with the addition of a real on-screen murder. At least half the housemates have a motive, so the curmudgeonly old detective assigned to the case has a tough job ahead of him. It’s a clever whodunnit, and the final scene where the detective reveals the murderer with some prime-time television theatrics of his own is great fun.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

 

And just to prove that I occasionally read Serious Fiction, we come to Burial Rites (my book club made me do it!). If you like a happy ending, this is not the book for you. This is the story of the final days of the last woman to be hanged in Iceland, and it doesn’t get much grimmer than that. Not only is the subject matter dark, but the hardscrabble lives of all the characters and the bitter climate of Iceland only add to the general feeling of misery that pervades the book.

However, it is beautifully written, and it’s worth reading just for that. Kent brings this harsh world alive in all its icy beauty, and she digs deep into the lives of her characters, illuminating both the flaws and the virtues that make them human. Not a cheerful read, but a good one.

3 ways to liven up your next dinner conversation

We are big believers in sitting down every night together for dinner and chatting. The ducklings are old enough now to be amusing dinner companions, and we have some good conversations, despite Baby Duck’s occasional derailments into Minecraft or Lego territory.

However, Baby Duck can sometimes take a loooooong time to eat dinner, and even the best conversations tend to trail off, leaving us all staring resentfully at him, waiting for him to finish. When that happens we have to get a little creative, and we have three tried-and-true methods for getting the party started.

Charades

An oldie but a goodie. Maybe it’s corny, but it sure can be fun and even quite young kids can join in. I have rarely laughed so much as watching the Carnivore try to get us to guess “The Bourne Identity”. What he was doing looked illegal in at least forty-three states.

“Three True Things”

I don’t know what this is really called, but I call it “three true things”. Everyone has to take it in turns to say three things that happened to them that day. Two of them must be true and one should be a lie. Everyone else then picks which thing they think is the lie.

The kids love this one! The trick is to make the lie believable enough that no one identifies it – or else pick a true thing that seems outrageous. The family gets quite creative trying to outsmart each other, but it’s also a good way to get some details of your children’s days, particularly if they’re the sort that says “all right” when you ask how school was.

The Sentence Game

I read about this on Joshilyn Jackson’s blog recently. You need a sheet of paper and a pen. The first player writes a sentence at the top of the page – the more oddball the better. Then they fold that sentence out of sight and pass the paper to the next player, who reads it then attempts to draw a picture representing the sentence. This gets passed to the next player, who can only see the drawing, not the original sentence. They then have to write a sentence that represents the drawing, and pass it to the next player who draws their sentence and so on.

So with our family of five, we get sentence-drawing-sentence-drawing-sentence. Depending on whose turn it is to draw, the final sentence can closely resemble the first one, or have nothing at all to do with it.

Let me give you an example.

Demon Duck wrote: “The Neanderthal came alive out of the painting” and passed it to Baby Duck.

He did a real cracker of a drawing, with lots of careful details:

So the sentence I wrote was quite close to the original: “The caveman jumped out of the painting and came to life.”

Then we came unstuck. It was the Carnivore’s turn to draw:

 Not too bad, but he lost Drama Duck completely. Her sentence?

“The cave painting of the goat and the sheep(?) and the early human sent an arrow of super powers to the caveman nearby.”

Okay, now it’s your turn. Baby Duck gave me a sentence and this is what I drew. What sentence would you write to describe this drawing?

 
 

3 great writing tips from Baby Duck

Baby Duck and I were chatting about writing on the walk to school this morning. I said I was hoping to get a fair bit done on book 3 of the Twiceborn trilogy today, since yesterday was the first day I’d worked on it since Friday, and I only got about 1100 words done.

“So are you going to start writing as soon as you get home?” he asked.

Low blow! This kid knows me too well.

“You should do that instead of spending all your time reading random websites on the internet, you know.”

Yes, I do know. In fact I tell myself so many times every day. I thought about telling him I was building up my presence on social media, but I knew he wouldn’t accept any such namby-pamby excuse. Writers write!

Except, you know, when they don’t …

“Sometimes it’s not so easy to just sit down and write,” I said. “You have to know whatyou’re going to write first, and I’m not too sure yet where the story is going.”

“Then why didn’t you spend time on the days you didn’t write thinking about the plot?” he asked.

This is why Baby Duck will probably be a better writer than me one day. This kid is organised. I mean, scary organised. He comes home every day and sits straight down and does his homework without being told. He starts his assignments weeks in advance. Weeks! It’s not natural!

I flailed around a bit more, put on the spot by my eleven-year-old son.

“Well, I know what’s going to happen in a general way. But it’s hard to plan, at the really detailed level you need for scene-writing, exactly what’s going to happen. Whenever I start thinking about it I usually get distracted by a million other things.”

“You should start at the end and work backwards,” he said. “Then you’ll know where you have to end up.”

So there you have it, straight from the mouth of my tiny writing guru:

  1.        Resist the temptation to goof off on the internet. When it’s time to write, write.
  2.        In between writing sessions, plan what to write next.
  3.        If you get stuck with plotting forwards, work backwards from the end instead.

I should hire the kid out to writers’ conferences.

What about you? Do you have any good writing tips? Anything that works for you as motivation, or to get you past a blockage? Struggling writer wants to know!

The bathroom: most creative room in the house

I was going to say it was the “most productive” room in the house, but I didn’t want anyone leaping to the wrong conclusion.

Baby Duck came in as I started writing this post.

“Why is it the most creative room in the house? Oh, I guess because you spend so much time sitting there.” Then the most evil grin spread across his face. “Or should I say …”

I quickly cut him off. “Sitting is fine.”

Cheeky kid.

“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question writers hear a lot. My number one answer in general is “in the bath”. When I’m drafting a novel I hop into the bath nearly every night. Something about the relaxation of it – or maybe the sheer boredom of sitting there with nothing to do or look at – prompts the ideas to flow. I can almost always rely on a nice long bath to give me a breakthrough when I don’t know where the story is going next.

But that’s in general. Today I want to tell you about the time when a bathroom gave me a very specific idea, which became the genesis of my forthcoming novel Twiceborn.

It was on a visit to a Gold Class cinema. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re a very swish movie-going experience. There are only about forty seats in the whole theatre, and they’re big reclining armchairs grouped in pairs with a table between them. There’s a separate bar area where you can order meals and drinks to be brought to you during the movie. Obviously it’s more expensive than a regular trip to the cinema, but it’s a nice luxury for the occasional treat.

They also have separate toilets, which are a lot more upmarket than the ones for general movie-goers. Spacious and gleaming, they feature beautiful tiles, automatic taps – and the ones at our local Gold Class have the most enormousstalls. The first time I visited one I remember thinking, wow, these are like personal change rooms. You could do anything in here!

Which of course started the wheels in my little writer’s brain turning over. I pictured a pregnant woman entering such a stall, then stripping off her clothes to reveal the pregnancy was only a prosthesis, which she then removed. Then she dressed in a new outfit, complete with wig, and walked out of the bathroom a completely different woman to the one who walked in, deceiving the people who were watching for her.

Who was this woman? Who was following her and why? I knew she was in danger, but not what form the threat took.

I needed a lot more ideas to make a book, but that’s how books grow. You start with one little glimmering of an idea, then you hurl a whole bunch of other ideas at it, till something new and sparkly results from the collision.

That scene in the bathroom became part of the first scene of Twiceborn. A whole 90,000- word novel resulted from one moment of marvelling at the size of the Gold Class bathroom stalls.

Best bathroom visit ever.Where do you do your best thinking? Ever had a great idea in a really odd place?

“Cheese that’s whipped excites me” and other misheard song lyrics

When I was young, one of my brother’s favourite albums was “Band on the Run” by Paul McCartney and Wings. My dad happily sang along to the title track “Sand on the Rug”.

Of course, being the annoying person that he was, he continued to sing this just to be irritating even after it was pointed out to him that he’d misheard the lyrics.

Everyone’s probably done this at some stage (misheard song lyrics, that is, not intentionally set out to annoy their offspring). After all, pop singers don’t always have the best diction, even when they’re not purposely mangling words to fit a rhyme or rhythm. Yes, I’m looking at you, Mr Elton Extra-Syllable John. “No Sac-ar-i-fice” indeed!

I was guilty of it myself only this week. The girls and I were discussing current songs and “All About That Bass” came up. I’m busy singing “I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass, no trouble” when Drama Duck gives me a pitying look.

“You know it’s actually ‘no treble’, don’t you?” she says.

Hey, that makes so much more sense!! But honestly, have you heard that song? It still sounds like “trouble” to me!

It wouldn’t be the first time. I have a long history, dating back to my preschool days, of blithely singing something that’s completely wrong.

There used to be a show called “Romper Room” on TV back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Every day they did the same activities, sang the same songs, and I happily followed along. One song they sang began: “Bend and stretch, reach for the stars”, and I always sang the next line “Here comes Juicily, there goes Lars”. Despite my mother’s best efforts, she could never convince me that the words were actually “Here comes Jupiter, there goes Mars”.

Demon Duck cracked me up recently by confessing she’d made a mistake with the lyrics of Rihanna’s song S&M. There’s a line that goes “sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me”. One of her friends had heard her singing it and pointed out that Rihanna is not, in fact, excited by “cheese that’s whipped”, as she had thought.

What about you? Any misheard lyrics you’d like to ’fess up to? Don’t tell me it’s just my family!

Dr Who and the Disappointing Dinosaur

Well, the new season of Dr Who premiered last night, complete with new Doctor Peter Capaldi. The verdict at our house? Overall, a resounding “meh”.

Baby Duck thought it was great, but his logic works like this: I love Dr Who. This was Dr Who. Therefore I loved it.

The Carnivore, about halfway through the episode, said: “If this was my first ever episode of Dr Who, I’d never watch it again.” Ouch.

I’m keeping an open mind about Peter Capaldi. He spent a lot of this first episode dazed and demented from his regeneration, so we don’t have a clear handle yet on how he’s going to play the role. There were some amusing one-liners and a great rant that give me hope I may one day come to accept the loss of Matt Smith (sob).

But the writers did him no favours, with a pretty ho-hum episode. It started off quite promising, with the Tardis arriving in Victorian London inside a time-travelling T-rex, which then chucked it up into the Thames.

Cool! You can’t get a much more dramatic entry than that. Plus, what’s not to love about a dinosaur in Victorian London? I was intrigued to see where they were going with this.

Sadly, the answer was “nowhere”. The dinosaur played no more part in a story that dragged its way through many not-very-exciting conversations to arrive at last at a mildly interesting cyborg plot.

The whole dinosaur thing reminded me very much of how the advice to “start your story with action” is sometimes misinterpreted by beginning writers. It can’t just be action for its own sake, and it mustn’t be action that has nothing to do with the bulk of the story which follows. No high speed car chases that turn out to be dreams, or murder scenes which are actually something being watched on TV by the main character.

No dinosaurs which have nothing to do with the rest of the plot.

The writers of Dr Who are definitely not beginners, which makes it all the more surprising. Let’s hope the rest of the season only has surprises of the good kind.

 

Did you watch it? What did you think?

Even dragons have to cut their toenails

 

This is the very first dragon I ever bought myself, in those long-ago days BC (Before Children), so I guess you could say this little guy kicked off the collection. We were on a romantic weekend away at a very swish hotel in the Blue Mountains. It must have been winter, because it was snowing when we arrived late on Friday night, which is something we Sydney-siders rarely get to see, and a huge log fire burned in the massive fireplace in the foyer.

The Blue Mountains are only about an hour’s drive from where we live, but they feel like another world. They’re much higher and colder than Sydney, so they get the occasional snowfall in winter. They also feel about fifty years behind the rest of the world in terms of architecture and the pace of life there. Little towns are scattered among thousands of hectares of largely untouched bushland. There are no Macdonalds anywhere in the Blue Mountains, a fact of which the residents are very proud.

It was all very atmospheric, but so f-f-freezing outside that we spent nearly the whole weekend in the hotel. Browsing in the gift shop, we found some quirky little dragon statues. There’s a  big artist community in the Blue Mountains, so I’ve always assumed they were made by some talented local, though I don’t know for sure.

I couldn’t resist the absurdity of this one, sitting there cutting his toenails with such a look of concentration on his face. I guess dragons can’t spend all their lives terrorising castles and kidnapping princesses. At the end of the day, someone still has to do all those domestic duties, like cleaning the lair, bathing the baby dragons, and attending to matters of personal grooming.

This one looks so comical he always makes me smile. He also reminds me of a time when romantic weekend getaways for two were still an option.

The Blue Mountains feature in my forthcoming novel, Twiceborn – complete with dragon. Not the cute kind that sits around cutting its toenails, though! The beautiful Mountains take quite a beating – all that bushland plus dragonfire … not a good combination.

But if you think that’s bad, wait till you see what happens to the Sydney Harbour Bridge!