It’s Aurealis season!

It’s time once again to get your entries in for Australia’s premier speculative fiction awards. The Aurealis Awards celebrate the year’s best in Australian (and Australian-adjacent) science fiction, fantasy and horror writing.

Winner!

And this year – I’m a judge! I’ve volunteered to be on the judging panel for the Anthologies/Collections category, which means I’ll be frantically ploughing through dozens of volumes of collected works before the end of the year. Whether it’s single-author collections or short story anthologies based around some unifying theme (which could be as broad as “in the science fiction genre” or as specific as “stories about dogs fighting ghosts”[1]), if it was published in Australia or by an Australian in 2020, I may well be reading it. (Check out the Aurealis rules for more information on eligibility and how to submit entries).

Best of luck to everyone in the running for this year’s awards!

[1] Needless to say, if anyone has published an anthology about dogs fighting ghosts, I am ethically obliged to disclose my extreme disposition to showering it with All The Awards. Luckily there are several other people on the panel, all of them likely more sensible than me.
(Image source: Image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/trophy-cup-winner-enter-champions-1008963/)

 

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Words in Oz: The 2020 Australian SF Snapshot

The Australian SF Snapshot is a biennial project to take the pulse of the Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction scene.

A snapshot of the 2020 Australian Speculative Fiction Snapshot

Every couple of years, the organisers conduct a series of very short interviews with active Australian and New Zealand authors, as a quick health check on the state of the spec fic writing community, and a permanent record of its growth and wellbeing. What began in 2005 with a few dozen authors has blown up to more than a hundred names.

Ironically, despite this being a very fallow writing year for me, it’s also my first time participating in the snapshot. You can read my entry right here (none of the information is new to anyone reading this, but I do make a couple of book/author recommendations you might like to check out).

While you’re there, do have a browse. Go and check in on the writers you love, or discover someone you never knew about. At the time of writing, the interview count has passed the hundred mark and the project still has about a week to run.

(To get you started, here’s the links to the people in the picture above. By the time you see this, there will already be new ones above these…)

Top Row: Trent JamiesonK H CanobiMarty YoungGillian PolackDonna Hanson
Middle Row: Matthew R DavisAmanda BridgemanGrant Stone Suzanne J WillisNicole Lenoir-Jourdan
Bottom Row: Cary LenehanSarah EpsteinAdam BrowneAmie KaufmanMelanie Harding-Shaw

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Review – The Obituarist 3: Delete Your Account by Patrick O’Duffy

Kendall Barber, the digital-life “obituarist” who cleans up and closes the online accounts of the recently-departed, is a real piece of crap human being, as amply demonstrated in the first two volumes of this series, The Obituarist and The Obituarist II: Dead Men’s Data.

The Obituarist 3.0: Delete Your Account

But he’s trying to be better, and in the third and final instalment of Patrick O’Duffy’s humorous modern noir series, Barber’s almost – almost – getting his life together. Well, at least he’s in a sound relationship and he has the grudging respect of one or two acquaintances, even if everyone else he knows hates his guts.

But his adopted home of Port Virtue can’t abide prolonged periods of peace and stability, especially not where Kendall Barber is concerned, and things head south quickly. Before long Barber’s executing a will and investigating a murder, while being threatened, run over, tortured and blown up. And while he sets fire to every human connection with an endless stream of smartarse commentary and reflexive lying, Barber’s wondering if maybe it’s not time to give it all away and skip town for good. But Port Virtue isn’t having that either, and Barber’s many enemies are not planning to let him walk away when they could be kneecapping both legs instead.

First of all, DYA is probably the best entry in the Obituarist series. It’s funny as hell, with a reckless pace, an energetic cast of (mostly egregiously awful) characters, and Barber’s breathlessly hilarious narration all in service of a solid crime story. The action is deeply rooted in Barber’s skeletons coming back to bite him, so this final entry in the series might not be the place to start, but it’s enough to know that he’s an unlikeable garbage fire with a razor wit, computer skills, and an unerring gift for antagonising dangerous people. The history of broken relationships and hospital visits is self-explanatory.

I am a fan of Patrick O’Duffy’s off-kilter, quippy writing and this long-awaited conclusion to the Obituarist series doesn’t disappoint. Its violent mayhem and touching humanity put a very satisfying endcap on what has been a fun series. You’d be forgiven for thinking that I would say that, seeing as the author has named one of the villains after me (offered to the highest bidder in support of a fundraiser for the Victorian fire services during the summer). But take it from me – I would love this book even if it were not dragging my name through the mud.

The Obituarist 3.0: Delete Your Account by Patrick O’Duffy is available now from Amazon, Amazon Australia and Smashwords (and maybe the other usual venues by now). Recommended by me, obviously.

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My ducks require alignment

My father passed away on the 7th of January, a few months shy of his 80th birthday and nearly two decades after his diagnosis for multiple myeloma gave him a prognosis of between three and six months to live.

One of our favourite photos of Dad, even if you can’t see his face!

The last few years were very hard on both my parents, as Dad’s condition deteriorated and it became increasingly difficult for Mum to look after him. My brother and his family worked tirelessly to help them move to where they could access better support services and took care of the endless hospital visits, medical consultations and paperwork, while I couldn’t do much more than watch anxiously from afar. I’m going to miss my father terribly, but I’m grateful that his suffering is now done with and that the lives that revolved around caring from him can now move forward.

This post isn’t really about losing a loved one. At some point I’ll post something in Facebook for the family and friends, but for now I’m talking about myself.

As I mentioned in my last post, I didn’t have a great year in 2019. There’s no doubt that  starting therapy for my anxiety was the best thing I could have done for myself. There’s no doubt the medication I’m on is working. I’m nowhere near my dire emotional state of this time last year. I’m much, much better.

But I’m not cured. I’m not expecting to shed my cares and surge forward into the future with a glad heart bursting with optimism. My therapist descibes me as being “vulnerable to anxiety”, and lord, I’ve never been nailed so accurately in my life. This is how I’ve been forever. I’m so used to feeling like I’m one minor setback away from going over a cliff that I don’t know how to respond to just feeling okay.

I let a lot of stuff slide last year. I got behind in a lot of personal commitments, and I wrote very little. I never stopped tinkering with story ideas. Sometimes I even got a few pages down on paper here and there. It was always just pottering. Nothing was ever finished.

Will I do better in 2020? I want to. I’m ready to, I think. I miss the slightly wobbly amateur magician’s flourish of the weekly flash fictions. I miss engaging with other storytellers and celebrating their victories. So help me Jebus, I even miss getting rejection letters from short story editors.

But first things first. All the other business, that fell by the wayside while I was getting stressed, then getting treatment, then learning to function without whole-body jitters, needs to take priority. If I don’t attend to my tedious grownup responsibilities, they’ll be hanging over me whenever I try to write – and I know from experience that when I try to write without having given myself “permission”, it tends to produce poor results, if any.

My ducks require alignment. So for now, I will focus on the ducks.

(Okay, so those birds Dad is looking at in the photo probably aren’t ducks, but it was too good a line to leave on the table)

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A Year of Two Halves

It’s been brought to my attention that, despite the scorching Australian summer conditions, I’ve developed a slightly blogfaded complexion. Which is to say – oh look, it appears I haven’t posted anything substantial here since August.

Forest fire

https://pixabay.com/photos/forest-fire-wildfire-blaze-smoke-2268729/

First of all, I’m not dead. Nor am I particularly unwell, notwithstanding the smoke inhalation issues most of us are contending with on this continent.

But I’ve been on a longer than anticipated break from Being a Writer. I want to talk about that, if only because writing about a problem tends to be the best way for me to process what I think about it. (It doesn’t always help point to solutions, but understanding is the essential first step, right?)

At the start of the year – and honestly through most of last year – I was in a near-constant state of crisis. I was tense, impatient, on the verge of panic, incapable of making sound decisions or even workable plans, and utterly miserable. Every small incident was a disaster. Every inconvenience was an insurmountable obstable

I never felt in any danger of self-harm, but I won’t pretend it’s impossible that I was on that path.

It wasn’t until April or so that I finally saw a doctor about it. The diagnosis of severe stress and anxiety wasn’t such a huge surprise, but being told I had moderate-to-severe depression caught me off guard. My assumptions about what depression actually looks and feels like were so hopelessly off-base that it didn’t really occur to me that was the problem. I just thought I was run-down, under the weather and tired all the time.

Yeah. In retrospect, it was a diagnosis about twenty years overdue. At least I got there in the end.

I won’t go into the details, first of all because they aren’t that interesting, but mainly because one of the key ways that my depression has expressed itself is that I cannot remember what I was thinking when it was at its worst. I know that my moods bounced between seething exasperation at everything in the world, and a numb certainty that everything was continuing to drift out of my control. I recall finding it next to impossible make quick decisions, or to decide things at all sometimes. I cared very much about making the wrong call, but I never gave myself much credit for doing the right thing

This might be self-mythologising after the fact – I really have no way of knowing – but I think what eventually pushed me to go talk to someone was the sudden insight that I was capable of feeling wildly emotional sadness and anger when circumstances warranted , but nothing resembling joy or contentment. Most of the time I was just “too tired to feel stuff”.

After I started on a course of anti-depressant medication, but before it took effect, I pushed through the last few weeks of my Friday Flash Fiction project, determined to get to the nice round figure of 100 stories.

And when I crossed the line and gave myself permission to rest, I crashed instead. I meant to give myself a few weeks off writing. I’m coming up on six months.

I have written a little. A page here and there on various projects. I have not, as I dramatically feared when I was at my worst, sacrificed my creative soul on the altar of pharmaceutical numbness. I haven’t stopped thinking about the stories I want to tell. But nor have I been filled with a nervous energy driving me to sit my arse in a chair and commit to the words. I haven’t felt that curious and mildly unpleasant cocktail of intellectual curiosity and self-recrimination that made me want to finish a story. I haven’t needed it.

This isn’t a note about quitting. This is a note about healing, about convalescence. How long is it going to take? I don’t know any other answer than “as long as it will take”.

Hopefully not too long though. I have several very antagonistic dragons waiting in the wings, and those guys will get really tetchy if I keep them waiting too long.

Update

I wrote this blog entry weeks ago, before the holiday break. Ever since I’ve been in two minds as to whether to publish it. I’m just not sure how much honesty is too much when it comes to talking about mental health issues (and just to reiterate, my issues aren’t that bad as these things go, but I still have to deal with them).

What changed my mind was this: as I type this, the city I live in officially has the worst air quality of anywhere on the planet. As it did yesterday, and likely will tomorrow. An area of Australia bigger than most countries has burned or is still on fire. Lives have been lost, homes destroyed and half a billion wild animals are believed dead. And the fires – and the climate change fuelling them – are only one of many, many problems facing the world.

Things aren’t fine, and there’s no sense in pretending they are. Whether it’s personal or global, one way or another, we’re all in a fight now. There are no longer sidelines to sit on, if there ever were. The only really choice is what battles you’ll fight: choose something from the smorgasbord and take up arms.

I don’t usually hold with New Year’s resolutions, but I think this is mine. I’ve been tired all year, too flat with emotional exhaustion to do anything but rest and heal.

It’s time to wake up. It’s time to stop feeling helpless. It’s time to turn that simmering frustration and anger into something useful.

It’s time to write again.

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