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14 January 2006

Well, as this sudden jump in the dateline suggests, things got so busy I didn't get time to maintain an update here. The first week of Clarion South is over now, I have departed as tutor and that role has been taken over by eminent WA horror writer Lee Battersby.

I thoroughly enjoyed the week I spent with the Clarionites, despite the tight schedules and late nights, and hopefully left them well acclimatised with a few things to think about during the weeks ahead.

Non-critiquing highlights included:

  • an excellent "progressive" dinner hosted by the Clarionites, which featured good food and great company
  • a reading (of several nasty sequential shorts dealing with the end of the world) at Avid Reader in Westend. This was attended by as many of the Clarionites as could afford to take time away from their busy writing schedules, as well as a few (very few) of the general public. (I was unable to resist buying The Undead and Philosophy: Chicken Soup for the Soulless, edited by Richard Greens and K. Silem Mohammad while I was there -- a book that takes a philosophical approach to zombie films.) The reading was followed by indian food at a nearby restaurant and some very distracting Bollywood MTV clips.
  • More food at a local Asian restaurant, through the generosity of the Clarion South organisers, disguised as a "wrap-up" and general natter session on Friday night.
  • An excellent Saturday night in the Common Room, playing endless games of "Mafia" -- a mindgame of psychological deceit and mayhem, hosted largely by Dan Braum -- and eating pizza.

As an expression of appreciation, the Clarionites presented me with an excellent gift: a "Shaun of the Dead" action figure (see picture below). Superb, guys, and much appreciated!

I had a great time and would like to thank all the Clarionites for their enthusiasm and good work, as well as the organisers: Kate, Robert, Heather and Robert. These latter four stalwarts did a sterling job of organisation and looked after me extremely well.

Oh, yeah, I should also thank the Australian cricket team for their typically stunning performances...

Now I'm back home, oppressed by writing deadlines and an imminent return to work. I look forward to seeing everyone again at the Aurealis Award ceremonies at the end of the month. Hopefully they will still retain some vestige of their essential humanity...

Main Critiquing Theme: In general, avoid passive resolutions. Let your protagonist DO SOMETHING, not just serve as a conduit for information.

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9 January 2006

I woke early and wrote four pages of notes towards some possible "teaching" from me, should the opportunity arise. What are the needs of specfic as a genre? What should we as writers be concentrating on? What issues trip up beginning writers most frequently? That sort of thing. As it happened there was no time for it, not as a discrete entity.

Received an email telling me a novel manuscript had been rejected by a big OS publisher, albeit with positive remarks attached. Bugger.

Four stories critted today. Confidence levels were higher and the discussion provoked was wide-ranging, insightful and raised so many of the issues I was planning to rave on about in the abstract, it was best to address them on the spot and in context. An excellent morning. I felt invigorated. Even those whose stories were fairly thoroughly shredded seemed well able to handle it without undue distress. The critting is incisive, but still polite. There is clearly some trepidation in some as to what the future might hold for them.

Four individual sessions followed. Each student asked about markets and other industry-related matters, often showing great interest in my personal (and particular) career development and "business plan" (yikes!). OK, I can talk about that.

A long day. And tonight there are three stories to read and evaluate. I watched the 20/20 cricket match between Australia and Britain on-and-off while eating and getting around to reading.

Meanwhile, back home, Cat is struggling to keep the boys -- Smersh, Pazuzu and Nemo -- in line. Lots of feline antics going on. Sounds like they're getting away with murder!

Started reading late.

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8 January 2006 (Part 2)

I started the day with a dramatic gesture. It was about 6:30 am and I stuck some toast in the toaster. It burnt. (The toaster was set on 4.5 on a scale of 7. Who would have expected the bread to burn so thoroughly?) The smoke alarms went off. Screaming sirens reverberated throughout the building. I evaculated, feeling very embarrassed. Uni security came. The fire brigade came. The alarms were turned off. I went back inside. The room smelt of burnt toast. Still does, very subtly, hours later. Everyone was very kind about my impromptu wake-up call. However, none-too-subtle references to it kept creeping into the crit-room banter...

This morning the first crit session happened: three stories, producing tentative but insightful comments. I felt for Laura Goodin, whose story was first up. The comments and criticisms were balanced and on the whole reflected a strong interest in her story, but as first in the spotlight Laura clearly felt a bit insecure. No need. Everyone here can write; it's just a matter of exploring the skills and possibilities for improvement.

There was time for some lecturing by me, but I was weary and it didn't feel like the time. Maybe later.

In the afternoon I had 3 individual sessions. By the evening I was exhausted. I cooked some rice and mince (eaten with salad) without setting off any more alarms. Tried to write some of my own story. Failed. Watched "South Park" and "Drawn Together" instead.

Why could anyone do this for six weeks? They are all gods!

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8 January 2006

I arrived in Brisbane on Saturday 6 January, mid-afternoon and was whisked off to Gecko Central by Jason Nahrung and his partner Mil, the latter of whom has an abundance of cute reptilian house-buddies that she is prone to talk to and cuddle at all hours of the day and who make subtle clicking, purring noises that flitter out of the darkness as you sleep; I was introduced to many of them and summarily advised to work on a daikaiju story involving an overgrown representative of the species in order to celebrate their beauty and splendour.

That night we watched Dario Argento's 2001 return-to-giallo thriller, Sleepless -- which was stylish and intriguing, if not entirely successful, containing some great examples of the director's gruesome mayhem. Jason and Mil were, as always, utterly generous with their house and their time and, after a good night's sleep, I was delivered to the Nathan campus of Griffith University the next day at about 2:30 and placed in the care of the Clarion South heavies, Robert Dobson, Kate Eltham, Heather Gammage and Robert Hoge. Once I'd unloaded my luggage into the huge tutor's apartment, Heather took me shopping for food. The trip was uneventful, except for the fact that we were briefly kidnapped by aliens -- or at least I assumed so due to the classic "lost time" event that occurred. (No, I won't explain. Ask Heather if you want to know what it all means.)

That afternoon there was an information session; then, at about 6:30, a meet-and-greet BBQ, where I was introduced to the 17 sacrificial victims .... um, sorry, students. They seem like a splendid bunch, even those among them who are friends and acquaintances. Hopefully their time here will be fruitful and not too feral.

During spare time over the past 48 hours I've managed to start and half-finish a story (currently titled "Abandoned") that is supposed to be submitted, oh, about now. I even received a query email about it from the editor while I was sitting writing last night. Hopefully I can complete it soon, though the Clarion schedule seems rather full-on. Once things get underway this morning, I doubt there'll be time to breath.

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30 December 2006

As the year approaches its end, I'm acutely aware that my stint as a tutor at Clarion South has just accelerated over the horizon and is speeding toward me at full tilt. I feel a little like potential roadkill.

On the 5th of January I fly to Brisbane, with my trusty iBook, a non-digital notepad, assorted books and a pile of manuscripts from the poor, unsuspecting students, keen to undertake my role as the first of this year's brutal overseers. I've been honing my skills of sarcasm, exploring the intricacies of harsh inhuman cruelty and developing a slew of gut-wrenching put-downs, practicing them all on Pazuzu the cat. Or I would have been, except that he just bites me on the finger and gnaws on my knuckles whenever I attempt it. Then he goes all cute, purrs and licks at the wounds he's inflicted. I hope the students don't catch on to this technique.

For the record, this year's victims are:

    • Alessio Bresciani (VIC)
    • Helen Venn (QLD)
    • Chris Green (VIC)
    • Chris Lynch (QLD)
    • Daniel Braum (USA)
    • Ben Francisco (USA)
    • Jason Fischer (SA)
    • Jason Stokes (ACT)
    • Jess Irwin (NSW)
    • Jessica Vivien (WA)
    • Laura Gooden (NSW)
    • Lyn Battersby (WA)
    • Melaina Faranda (NSW)
    • Michael Greenhut (USA)
    • Michele Cashmore (QLD)
    • Peter Ball (QLD)
    • Richard Pitchforth (QLD)

Some familiar names there. A couple of Americans, I notice, and Aussies from every State. A personable and eager bunch, no doubt. Their true colours will be revealed once the "Lord of the Flies" re-enactment stage sets in. Still, that'll be Week 5 or 6, depending on their SQ (Sanity Quotient). I'll be safely back home. Right now I have to go read examples of their work. And deal with a story of my own -- one that is so far resisting all attempts to become a masterpiece.

The clock is ticking, guys. Have a great New Year. See you soon.

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