Tuesday 18 August 2020

More Than a Change of Scenery

Hi Reader

If you have found your way here through various outlets, such as search engines or my previous marketing efforts, please be aware I no longer will be posting new blog posts using Blogger. Although this site served me well for a number of years, I realised many months ago that I needed a fresher and more comprehensive way of showcasing my work and services. So, after some time and effort with a talented developer, I have a new website.

I appreciate your interest in my work and would love you to pop over for a visit and maybe sign up to receive newsletters and blog posts. You may even find what you were looking for when you were first directed here.

Best of luck in all your endeavours.

Cofion Cynnes (Warm Wishes)


Saturday 15 December 2018

The Successful Launch of My New Poetry Collection

Hi Everyone

Last Sunday (9 Dec 2018), the wonderful poet and mentor of Melbourne poets, Alex Skovron, launched my second poetry collection, Libation. Elly Varrenti, friend and colleague from my teaching time at Box Hill Institute, kept things on schedule for the almost 70 people gathered for the celebration.
Elly Varrenti welcoming everyone
Alex Skovron launching the book
My Thank You speech/Reading my poems (photo by Pheroza Rustomjee)
The order of events included a Welcome to Country, a welcome to all those gathered in the room, Alex’s speech, my Thank You speech, and my reading of poems from the collection. Below are some comments from messages sent to me after the launch:
  •  ‘a lovely festive atmosphere…’
  • ‘all your friends and supporters seemed to enjoy the afternoon immensely…’
  •  ‘so much goodwill in the room…’
  • ‘Everything just went absolutely perfectly. It was flawless…’
And here are more photos from the launch (in no particular order):

People listening to the speeches
A tercet of Melbourne poets: Susan Fealy, Alex Skovron, Tony Page (left to right)
The nibbles
A triplanetary of Spec Fic writers: Sean McMullen, Joel Martin, Luke Manly (left to right)
Jan Dumbrell and Belinda Wells at the sales table (L to R)
Celebrating with my oldest friend, Michael (from primary school, 1961)
Chatting with fellow poet/writer Kevin Bonnett, with KEEN member Nadine in the background
There are a number of people I want to thank again for their help in the preparation and publication of Libation and for organising and running the event:
  • Elly for her excellent MC work
  • Alex for his insightful, humorous and comprehensive launch speech
  • Catherine Bateson and John Jenkins for their back cover blurbs and also their feedback during the preparation of the manuscript, along with Nick Engelmann, Ray Liversidge, Robin Rowland, and the late Max Richards
  • Veronica Calarco (introduced to me by my ex-student and fellow Welsh practitioner Elizabeth Corbett) and her artist residency at Stiwdio Maelor in Wales, a quiet and inspirational place for working on my various writing projects
  • Stephen Matthews of Ginninderra Press for publishing the book
  • City of Boroondara Libraries for allowing me to use the community room at Balwyn Library
  • Joel Martin for acting as the usher
  • Phil Maas for being the official photographer (unless stated, all photos in this post are by him)
  • Belinda Wells and Jan Dumbrell for running the sales table
  • Astrid, Bill and Jason Bahr, Joe Roberts, the Diegmanns, the Farrars and many others for setting up, running the drinks table, and cleaning up afterwards
  • Anne’s Pantry and Nina Farrar for supplying the delicious and bountiful food
  • All my friends, colleagues, ex-students, members of my various writing groups (especially KEEN: Catherine, Elly, and Nadine Cresswell-Myatt), and family members for helping make the book the best it can be and the launch a great success
  • And my wife, Jo, for her unstinting support, encouragement, and love.
And still more photos:
Ray Liversidge, fellow poet and friend, and I debating something or other (photo by Terri Redpath)
Philip Oakes and Bill Bahr (my brothers-in-law) ready to serve drinks (L to R)
The queue for getting copies signed 
The festivities in full swing
Jo and me (photo by Terri Redpath)

People enjoying themselves after the speeches
For those who were unable to come to the launch and wish to buy a copy of Libation, various procedures are set out below:
  • For a printed copy from the publisher, see here.
  • For those who prefer their books in digital form, a Kindle version is available from Amazon (Australia) here.
  • For international buyers, the Kindle edition is available here.
  • For those who would like a signed copy, contact me at elivings@optusnet.com.au and I’ll send it to you. The price is $20, with postage around $3 for Australian addresses. 
Photo by Elizabeth Corbett
My thanks also to all of you who have been sharing my creative journey in various guises.

Cofion Cynnes (Warm Wishes)

Sunday 28 October 2018


Hi Everyone

Final book cover 
At long last, after several weeks of working out venue arrangements, I can now let you know the details of the launch party for my new poetry collection, Libation.

When:             Sunday, 9 December 2018
Time:              3.00pm for a 3.30pm start
Where:           Community Room 1, Balwyn Library, 336 Whitehorse Rd, Balwyn, Victoria

Although there is a small car park next to the library, this will likely be filled with patrons, as the library is open 1pm to 5pm on a Sunday. Parking is available on the streets around the library and in the various car parks behind the shopping strip on both sides of Whitehorse Road. For example, there is parking behind Woolworths, Coles Express, and Dominos Pizza, and near Heart Care Victoria (see diagram below).

The book will be launched by Alex Skovron. For those who don’t know him, Alex is the author of six collections of poetry, a prose novella, and a volume of short stories. He has been published widely, and the numerous readings he has given include appearances in China, Serbia, India, Ireland, Macedonia, and Portugal. Among awards for his poetry are the Wesley Michel Wright Prize, the John Shaw Neilson Award, the Australian Book Review Poetry Prize, and for his first book, The Rearrangement (1988), the Anne Elder and Mary Gilmore awards. His novella, The Poet, was joint winner of the FAW Christina Stead Award for fiction. His work has been translated into a number of languages, including French, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, Polish, Spanish and German.
(Source here)
(Source here)
You might like to check out this book teaser/trailer (https://youtu.be/64GJfnNewyk) I developed for the launch. I haven’t created one before, so it’s a little experiment. Let me know what you think.

Anyway, I hope you are able to come and help me celebrate the publication of Libation, which is the distillation of my poetic endeavours over a number of years.

Best Wishes

Monday 23 July 2018

A Successful Submission

Hi Everyone

A couple of weeks ago, I appeared on a panel for the Melbourne Chapter of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia(HNSA), as part of its 2018 Event series.  The event, held at the Prahran Mechanics Institute, was entitled ‘Evaluating a Successful Submission’ and explored the topic of what publishers, editors and competition judges might consider would be a successful manuscript. My other panellists were Chris BellLindy Cameron and we were ably marshalled by Elizabeth Jane Corbett. The event was a great success, with we panellists providing insights into their various specialities and fielding a variety of interesting and stimulating questions from the eager audience.
Elizabeth Corbett, Lindy Cameron, Me, Chris Bell (Photo by Geoff Stuart)
Part of the success of the session was our chair’s excellent preparation. Elizabeth sent each of us a set of questions that, in my case I’m sure, helped me focus on the best advice I could give to those attending. Although I prepared a set of answers, I didn’t actually read them out during the panel, just referred to them every now and then.

The format of the session was for each panellist to read some of their work, answer questions related to it, then deal with questions related to their industry expertise, after which the conversation was opened up to the audience. I read an extract from the second chapter of my work-in-progress, currently entitled The Song of Keeping

So, for the interest of completeness and because I’m sure others may be interested in the details, I’ve included my prepared answers below. Another perspective of the event, by the organiser, Chris Foley, can be read here.

Tell us about your initial inspiration? Where are you currently at with the project?

I have had a long-held interest in the Celtic world and its mythology and in what has been termed The Matter of Britain. However, I’ve been more intrigued by Merlin than by Arthur and a specific trigger for this project was Nikolai Tolstoy’s book The Quest for Merlin. What intrigues me most was the idea there was an historical person who formed the basis of the Merlin created by Geoffrey of Monmouth. I wanted to write that person’s story.

As for the stage of the project, I am in what I call the Interdraft stage before the actual writing of the fourth draft. I’m doing a structural and conceptual edit of the manuscript, to deal with identified gaps, plot and character problems, and the underlying theological issues of the struggle between Christianity and Celtic paganism.

Who do you see as your main readership?

People interested in The Matter of Britain, the conflict between religions, and the pagan worldview. In a recent USA survey, up to 0.4% of respondents identified as ‘pagan’ or ‘wiccan’. There are about 336 million people who speak English as their first language, so 0.4% would represent 1.3 million potential readers. Then there are all those other readers who are interested in ‘pagan material’, about 10 million alone in the USA (said an executive from Barnes & Noble some years ago). So, a big market.

And finally, because I just have to ask, are those Middle Welsh words?

Many of the personal names in the novel I’ve taken from the Welsh Classical Dictionary. I’ve tried to stick to Old Welsh and Middle Welsh, but I have also derived personal and deity names and religious terms from Proto-Celtic and Indo-European, even Basque.
(Photo by Geoff Stuart)
How do you go about assessing a manuscript?

I look at craft issues and story issues, content and structure, what is told, how it is told:
  1. Can the author write a grammatical sentence, then another, and arrange them in a way that keeps me reading, or does the bad writing—grammar, spelling and punctuation lapses, non-sequiturs in sentence construction, too many sentence fragments, etc.—frustrate me, annoy me, bore me?
  2. Does the style of the narration fit the content?
  3. What is the balance of showing and telling? Does it work?
  4. Does the author know the genre in which she/he is working?
  5. Does the story engage me? Does it have traction? Do I want to know what happens next or why things have happened? Am I thrilled by elegant language usage or by insights into character or by the late-at-night-urge to keep turning pages?
  6. Are the events in the story logically presented and arranged in a logical sequence?
  7. Do scenes work to advance the story or are just filler? That is, if they give backstory or reveal something about a character, do they do double-duty and also push the story forward?
  8. Are characters consistent in their actions and behaviour?
  9. Is the storyworld adequately established for and during the unfolding story?
  10. Are there continuity problems in descriptions, time usages and intervals, etc.?
What are the common mistakes that writers make? 
  1. First of all, lack of reading. Writers need to read more, and not just in their chosen genre. Some manuscripts are just rehashes of favourite movies and TV shows. Or are thinly disguised autobiographies that assume the writer’s life is interesting to other people just because it’s been traumatic to themselves.
  2. Which leads to the second issue. Story and character arcs. Something needs to change and if you’re trying to write in a commercial genre, you need to be aware of the conventions and obligatory scenes of that genre, find ways to refresh the tropes you’re dealing with, and remember that story structure is not a formula but a form that has existed for millennia because it works.
  3. And, as I’ve said, there’s the matter of genre. What do audiences expect from the genre and are you giving it to them?
  4. Some stories start with long explanations of the history of the world but nothing about the current situation that is prompting the story. That is, the Inciting Incident is delayed far too long. Or isn’t clear. Such instances are authors indulging in the results of their research and/or worldbuilding and, basically, showing off.
  5. Or an author has too many characters and none of them astutely rendered.
  6. There is no story question, or it isn’t obvious, or it hasn’t been explored properly.
  7. Theme hasn’t been identified.
  8. Then there are the usual craft issues, as I indicated before: poor grammar, bad sentence and paragraph construction, weak scene construction, as well as improper manuscript layout, not knowing your audience, not knowing your genre through and through.
  9. Writers who think redrafting is just doing a copyedit pass through their manuscripts.
  10. To bring everything back to my reading comment: the more you read, inside and outside your genre, the more you understand what things have worked, how other writers have refreshed tropes, how language and story works, and what ideas and techniques you might be able to bring into your own genre from other ones. 
How has editing, assessing and mentoring helped inform your own writing process?

Everything I do—teaching, mentoring, assessing, editing—makes me more aware of the mistakes I myself make; how much is still to be learnt about story and writing, craft and content, the what and the how; and how hard it is to fight against resistance and the ‘it’s good enough’ syndrome. I realise how far I’ve come but how far I still have to go. I have learnt to stand back from my own work and analyse it more objectively than I could in the past. I’ve also learnt that at times one has to be stubborn and follow one’s vision for the work even in the face of self-doubt and of the advice from others.

Are you in a writing group?
  • Not at the moment, but I have been in the past. Several.
  • I have a writing buddy group that meets weekly.
  •  I also have some trusted beta readers, including my wife, Jo, who reads everything I write. 
What do you do when you lose direction?
  • If you’re talking about a story, I regroup by looking at the macro picture—intentions, structure, story arc—then go back to the micro. Hence my Interdraft work at the moment.
  • If you mean the writing life as a whole, same sort of thing: look at my intentions as well as my motivations, my habits, my commitments and obligations, my distractions, simplify what I can (for example, social media and TV), and then throw myself back into following my bliss as much as I can. 
What about on those days when you struggle to get words on the page? 
  •  Put anything down.
  • Start something else, even if just notes to a poem or story.
  • Go for a walk or spend time sitting in the garden. 
How do you pick yourself up after setbacks? 
  • Mope around for a few days.
  • Write about it in my journal.
  • Examine my intentions, my life, the piece itself.
  • Look for more appropriate outlets for the piece, if need be.
  • Send the piece out again.
  • Start something new.
  • Do more research.
  • Forget about outcomes and enjoy the process of writing, the excitement, again.
(Photo by Geoff Stuart)
If you are interested in Historical Fiction, check out HNSA here. For news about upcoming panel discussions, see here.

Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your comments. 

Best Wishes


Wednesday 16 May 2018

My SF Influences and Hopes: Part Three

Hi Everyone

Saturday, 28 April 2018, saw the running of the inaugural Victorian Speculative Writers Festival (www.specfic.com.au), held at the Gasworks Arts Park in Albert Park. The auditorium was packed (around 120 people) and the sessions themselves were interesting, informative and inspiring. I met up with old friends, made some new ones, and signed books for new readers. The venue itself reminded me of the Malthouse Theatre when it held the Melbourne Writers Festival, a great feeling of intimacy and excitement being a feature of both events (which the MWF has lost in its shift to Federation Square). All in all, Speculate was a fantastic success and the director, Joel Martin, and his team are to be congratulated on their organisational prowess, the range of topics, and the welcoming treatment of panelists and participants.

Image source here
I appeared as a panelist in the first session: The Once and Future Fantasy, alongside Alison Goodman, Trudi Canavan, and Jay Kristoff, with Joel as moderator. The issues we touched on were Fantasy & You, Fantasy Evolving, Fantasy & Morality and Fantasy Audiences, with thorough contributions by the panel and thoughtful questions from the audience. I even was asked a question about poetry in the speculative field, which was unexpected, yet in keeping with some comments made during the panel discussion. As always, such a session could have gone on for much longer, with deeper and more vigorous discourse, but there were books to be signed and other sessions to attend.

As most of you are aware, I have been doing a series on the interview questions used for the video that opened the festival. This post explains the background to the questions, while the next two posts (here and here) cover the first two:

1.    What science fiction/fantasy first made an impression on you?
2.    Why do you continue to write science fiction/fantasy?

The third was a three-part question (details below). I delayed writing a post answering this question because I wanted to see what came out of Speculate. So, my answers below will feature some of the notes I made during various sessions.

  i.        Where do you think science fiction/fantasy is heading?

Other than admitting that the fantasy field has broadened from its Tolkien beginnings in myth to include social issues and other concerns exemplified by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, my panel didn’t really make specific forecasts for the future of the field. However, the science fiction session, with Laura E Goodwin, Dirk Strasser, and Sean McMullen, identified four trends:

1.     Climate Fiction (CliFi)
2.     New Space Opera
3.     Generation Ship Fiction
4.     Gender-Focussed Science Fiction

Image source here
Another issue discussed was the sense that science is advancing so quickly that science fiction can’t keep up. Some solutions offered included jumping far enough ahead that the fiction isn’t compromised by scientific advances for some time and looking at retro-technology: ‘telling us things we don’t know we already can do’ with existing technology.

In regard to speculative fiction film and TV, I must admit I have been disappointed by some recent offerings. Do we really need reboots of old TV shows (Lost in Space) or a Star Trek movie reboot that just becomes an action series with no real exploration of science or culture or a TV version of The Lord of the Rings? And why can’t filmmakers give us something more than ‘colour and movement’, all style but no substance? Why can’t they write decent character arcs and stories without enormous plot-holes and superfluous digressions? (I’m looking at you, The Last Jedi.)

Image source here
One film I did enjoy on cable not long ago was Arrival (*), especially its depiction of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (the strong version, it seems), but such pickings are few and far between. Where is the thoughtful science fiction of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the dark humour of Dark Star, the ecological interest of Silent Running? While I have been a reader of Spider-Man and other superhero comics on and off since I was a teenager, the glut of superhero movies wears one down and to call them science fiction, as some commentators do, because there is new technology and spaceships and wormholes, shows a distinct lack of genre knowledge. They are fantasy, possibly even modern mythic storytelling, as is the Star Wars franchise, which again is often labelled science fiction.

 ii.        Where do you hope it would go?

As suggested above, one model I use for story analysis is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which comprises the following levels: Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualisation, plus the recently added Self-Transcendence. Stories, and creative texts in general, help people deal with issues in those regions, either by taking readers and viewers out of themselves for a time, so they forget the world, or into themselves, so they can learn about themselves and the world. They provide those old standbys: Entertainment, Education, and Enlightenment—Action, Thriller, Rom-Com, Rite of Passage, Love Story, Social Commentary, Political Exposure, Biographical, Spiritual, etc., plus all sorts of combinations of these.

Image source here
Recently, during a discussion with Joel about writing and publishing, we felt there should be another category below Entertainment: Amusement, those shows, incidents, texts, etc. that play on easy references, simple stereotypes, and obvious ‘pratfalls’ to provide a smattering of delight. No need for thought, shallow or deep. No need for self-examination. No need for any sort of sensitivity or sensibility. Bland. Quick. Easily digestible. Easily forgotten and thus requiring constant renewal. The difference between the clever, culturally-analysing-and-defining Entertainment of Seinfeld and the I’m-part-of-the-club, see-how-fashionable-I-am, instant fix Amusement of Gangnam Style and Party Boy Corey.

All this is my way of saying that I would hope our culture shifts away from its constant practice of Amusement (our obsession with celebrity being another example) and moves higher up the spectrum. Sure, Amusement is, well, amusing, in small doses and possibly needed as well, and, obviously, we need grimdark and paranormal regency romance, military SF and modern fairy tales—stories that imaginatively explore survival and connection in the personal, interpersonal, societal realms. But we also need stories that explore the higher reaches of the human condition, that search for Wisdom in ourselves and in the Universe seen and unseen, knowable and unknowable. 

  iii.        Where do you see your contribution to the genre(s) and where do you think that fits, in regards to the direction or as a response to it?

As might be obvious from the above answer, my interests are in those higher reaches. The fantasy verse novel I wrote for my PhD, which my supervisor called a metaphysical epic, delves into issues of spiritual levels of existence. The Silence Inside the World tells the story of a comatose young researcher, an immortal wizard, a dead painter and an unborn soul who all battle a shadow energy creature that threatens the archetypal realm they travel through, a world that may be the source of all possible worlds.

My poetry, both speculative and literary, explores science, nature, myths and the sacred. And my latest prose project, a historical fantasy novel set in the dark ages, examines the dynamic between Myth and History by exploring the life of the historical person who may have been the basis for the Merlin character created by Geoffrey of Monmouth. In other words, I am attempting to write, as Joel once said in a reference to our comic reading activities, the ‘origin story’ of the great and wise magician, counsellor, wonder-worker, mentor. Another dynamic that appears in the story is that between Will (Power), what Tolkien in his ground-breaking essay ‘On Fairy-stories’ calls Magic, and Wonder (Enchantment), what Tolkien terms Faërie.

Image source here
So, my work could be seen as a response to the current direction of ‘power’ speculative fiction (The Game of Thrones, etc.), though there are precursors, writers like Robert Holdstock, Roger Zelazny and Alan Garner, who have explored the relationship between myth and life, and others, like Tolkien, who have explored Wonder.

For more views on the three questions I have been exploring in this blog series, do have a look at the final video, which was shown at Speculate and is available here. And for those interested in attending Speculate 19, if you haven't already done so, go to the website and put yourself on the mailing list.

I hope you have enjoyed these posts. Given that my new poetry collection, Libation, will be coming out from Ginninderra Press in the second half of the year, I am planning to write some poetry-related posts that I hope will be Entertainment as well as Education.

As always, I welcome your comments. 

Best Wishes

(*) The movie is based on the 1998 short story 'Story of Your Life' by Ted Chiang.