Celebrating the community

The Aurealis Awards are coming up soon.

The icon of the Aurealis Awards

Aurealis Awards 2022

I don’t bring that up just to immodestly mention the fact that I am a three-time nominee for Australia’s premiere awards for speculative fiction, nominated by the wider community of writers, readers and fans, and selected by a judging panel of heroic and dedicated volunteers who winnow sometimes hundreds of entries down to a shortlist of the finest examples of the cutting edge of the art, engaging in agonising and sometimes bruising debates until finally a winner emerges.

(Why would I? I’ve never won!)

No, in this case I bring it up because for my sins, I’m helping to organise the award ceremony this year. The awards move around from one community organisation to the next, and for the next few years the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild will be playing host. So save the date – Saturday 28 May – because the awards will be streamed out from a live event in Canberra where, we hope, luminaries from across the Oz spec fic scene will gather for the first time in…well, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Depending on how things go in the Federal election the weekend before, people may be feeling understandably reticent to come to the national capital, so to entice visitors, we’ll be putting on a bit of a show. In addition to the ceremony, the Aurealis committee are hosting a writers’ development afternoon. There’ll be a few panels, some workshops, and the first opportunity after a long break for people to get together with friends and colleagues to network (by which I obviously mean eat, chat and be merry).

The details are still to be worked out, but it’s definitely happening. So if you have the means and the will to travel to Canberra and be in a big room with actual live people, make your plans accordingly. The end of May fast approaches.

(It approaches too fast, now that I think about it. I’ve no idea what I’ll wear).

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A statement from the management

Yeah, I’m not dead, just resting. Ineffectually.

Image by athree23 from Pixabay

I’ve had “Update the blog” on my to-do list pretty much every week since the last post in (checks notes, faints in embarrassment)  August last year. And every week I’ve not gotten around to it, and then felt bad, and put it back on the to-do list for the next week. And so on.

It’s a self-defeating cycle of shame and despair, tending inexorably to entropy and collapse. But hey, that’s pretty true of everything in these days of the slow-but-accelerating apocalypse. The constant exhausting state of the world – with pandemics, wars and gross political negligence – has flattened stronger-willed people than me. In my social circles, barely anyone seems to operating at the same energy levels they were a couple of years ago.

I should probably stop beating myself up about it.

You might imagine that with all this time off from writing blog posts that I would have plenty of time to get some writing done. And you’d be right, but that doesn’t mean I’ve actually done any writing.

Reader, I have not. Oh, the ideas still flow regularly enough, and once in a while I am seized with the impulse to scratch out the odd paragraph here and there. So far, that creative spark hasn’t expanded into the compulsion to finish an actual story.

It’s not that the well is dry so much as I just can’t find the enthusiasm to crank the bucket up to take a drink.

But if I can’t quite there with the fiction writing yet, I think I can still summon the energy for blog writing. Reportage takes a different energy to fiction, at least for me. So for the near future, I’ll be reviving my blogging habit. Not daily, but hopefully not once every six to eight months either.

There’s a fair bit going on, after all. I’m reading again, for one thing, and there’s always good stuff to recommend. And I’m involved with the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild again, and the organising committee for the Aurealis Awards, and I’m gearing up to support the next CSFG anthology. Plates are spinning, is what I’m saying here.

I’ll try not to let them fall where anyone will step on the pieces.

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Creative ways to avoid creativity

Long time readers will be familiar with my perennial writing humblebrag, to whit: I am an Olympic-standard procrastinator. All false modesty aside, I could stall for my country. My whole planet, even. If  the aliens invading Earth turn out to be vulnerable to weapons powered by unmitigated dithering, then stand aside Flash Gordon. I’ll save every one of us.

Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/giant-tortoises-animals-water-3315069/

Oh, wait a minute, that’s a bad thing, isn’t it?

Well, not always. Lately I’ve been doing a tiny bit of prose writing, though not as much as I’d like. But in lieu of wordcount on my (count ’em) five current works in progress, lately I’ve channelled my creative urges in unexpected artistic directions. 

As my writer bio mentions, I’ve been laboriously teaching myself to play the bass guitar for the last five years. In that time there’s been no agenda other than to get a little better as time goes by.  My level of technical accomplishment now sits broadly around the”more or less okay” level. (Let’s just say Bootsy Collins and John Entwhistle are probably safe for now).

Recent developments have put a bit of pressure on that agenda. For secret reasons I can’t reveal until the time is right, there’s some urgency to the project. I need to get better. I need to learn how to play specific musical pieces.  Worse than that, I’ll need to get comfortable standing up to play my instrument, rather than hunching over it while sitting on an office chair. And I definitely need to get over my anxiety about other people being present while I play. 

In other words, I need to practice with intent. Something I’m never comfortable with, and also the exact habit I’ve been shirking for the last couple of years when it comes to writing. 

Speaking of writing, I haven’t totally stopped. What I’ve done instead is branch off in a new direction, at least for a little while.

I’m writing songs.

Well, to be clear, I’m writing lyrics, which I then hand over to my musical buddy Evan. It’s his job to turn my sometimes-erratic scansion and inconsistent rhymes into actual songs. Luckily he’s great at that, so overall it’s a pretty good partnership. One of these days we might even get together to record them, though obviously we don’t really know when that will be. The future’s uncertain and all that. I’ll let you know when it happens.

What I’ve I’ve enjoyed about songwriting is that it seems to be easy for me to get into the zone. I can sit down for a writing session, think about it for a couple of minutes, and half an hour later I’ll be done. Are they always great songs? No, of course not. But they are fun, and more importantly, they feel to me like a pathway back into regular prose writing.

I hope so. I have a lot of stories I need to get out of my system.

Edit: Just to be clear about what I’m up against here, I started writing this blog post on the 26th of July. Today as I’ve finishing this up, it’s the 25th of August. This process is going to be slow. (But I have written three more songs in the interim!)

Followup edit: Also, the “secret reason” for me to redouble my guitar playing has fallen through for a while, but I’m still working at it. As of right now I am in the ballpark of Dee Dee Ramone, who usually played a maximum of four or five notes per song (but played them more often in two and a half minutes than I ever will!)

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This morning I am enjoying the so-far-nonexistent after-effects of my first COVID-19 vaccination jab, and the last few days of my holidays. For one reason or the other, or because of the double-shot espresso I just knocked back, I’m feeling a little light-headed. Fair warning, this is going to be a rambling one (but since nobody has heard a peep out of me heard for ages, I figure I can get away with it).

Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/syringe-medical-needle-health-3908157/

It’s been a little over two years since I finished a short story (that was Centennial, the final entry in my hundred-week run of Friday flash fiction posts). Since then, I’ve started a handful of stories, but not a single one has made it even to the scrappy-but-complete first draft stage. The entirety of my output for all that time has been lyrics for a handful of songs and an embarrassing number of blog posts about how I’m almost feeling up to writing again.

Now that I’m thinking about it, those posts are interesting milestones. Each one marks an occasion when I was sufficiently engaged with the idea of writing fiction that I immediately decided to not do that and write a blog post instead.

Or maybe I cranked out a couple of hundred words on one of my five or six works-in-progress, and, flushed with the thrill of a bit of the old momentum, I had to get online to make a public declaration of progress in order to hold myself to account.

In retrospect, that was a bad idea, or at least an idea that was doomed to failure. The irony that I am right now doing exactly the same thing is not lost on me. Hey, idiot, what was that old saying about repeating behaviours and expecting different results? Yeah, that.

Rather than actual writing fiction, I’ve spent a fair amount of time over my last few weeks of vacation thinking about why I’m not writing fiction. The ideas haven’t dried up. The impulse to spin daft stories hasn’t subsided at all. But the urge to do the work – the “sit arse in chair, place fingers on keyboard” drive – is a guttering candle flame. Not extinguished, but not at its best in this weather.

It’s at least partly an issue of [waves vaguely in all directions] all this. The past couple of years have been an unbroken blur of cataclysms both minor and major, personal and universal. Given I was already on the ropes emotionally, the timing of a deadly global pandemic could have been better.

Then again, I’ve been lucky enough to have a relatively painless pandemic. If not having my head in a productively creative space is the price I have to pay, I’ll take it. And  if the climb out of the hole is slow, and full of slips and setbacks, I’ll take it.

But I know there’s an element of fear lurking in the basement, as well. It’s not quite a fear of failure – I’m reasonably sure (or arrogant enough to believe ) I’m as capable a writer as I ever was. I can tell a decent, or at least entertaining, or at least technically competent, story. I can turn a vague idea into a few minutes of satisfying escapism, assuming I put the work in.

The fear is “Do I still want to?” Do I have the force or will, or strength of character, or emotional energy, or whatever I need, to do the work? I don’t know.

It takes effort to write. To spend hours typing the right words in the right order to deliberately make a bunch of weird symbols activate hallucinations in other people’s brains? It’s an exhausting activity. You know what’s not as demanding? Playing video games and watching television. There’s a reason those things are popular.

Am I more caught up by resistance to the exhaustion than anticipation of the results? Does my aversion to the pain outweigh my desire for the gain? Maybe. My caffeine and sugar addictions and an extremely lackluster approach to physical exercise would all suggest a history of avoiding doing what’s good for me.

As a side note – I also need to start doing a bit more exercise and also cut back on the sugar. You’ll prize my coffee habit from my cold, dead fingers though…

(As you can probably work out for yourself, this whole post is my process for poking holes in my own internal arguments, and calling myself out on my tendency towards procrastination. I’ve been through these self-recriminatory slumps regularly over the years. Usually I can talk myself through them and emerge into the sunlight beyond, but do feel free to chime in with your own story or to administer the virtual slap upside the head that I my lazy indulgence so richly deserves).

Right. Enough of this nonsense. Time to go finish some fiction.


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Aurealis 2020 shortlist

The shortlists for the Aurealis Awards 2020 were announced last week. I’m a little late to share the news, but I figure this way I help to keep the announcement in circulation a little longer. And it’s a treat to celebrate the enormously prolific and imaginative Australian speculative fiction community.

AurealistAward finalist logo

Just to be clear, I am not a finalist. I didn’t produce a single eligible word last year!

This year I had the enormous privilege – and not inconsiderable responsibility – to sit on one of the judging panels, which looked at the Best Collection and Best Anthology categories.

(For anyone mystified as to the difference, collections are typically single-author volumes of short fiction which tends to showcase a range of their work, while anthologies are multiple-author volumes that are often editor-led and arranged around a theme ranging from broad topics such as “horror”  to more specific or narrow themes, like “creepy clown horror”. In practise the boundaries between the two categories are hazy and porous, so don’t worry about it too much).

The other panellists and I read nearly fifty books of short fiction and poetry between September and February, which believe it or not is one of the lighter reading loads for the judging panels. I shudder to think how much the fantasy novel team needs to get through.

Without giving any hints about the winners, I can say that the books on the shortlists are all  superb works that held out against stiff competition, and they are all worth your time. I’m sure the same is true in the other categories. If you’re at all interested in the state of Australian speculative fiction, the Aurealis lists are a great place to start.

Congratulations to all the finalists. It’s no mean feat making the cut, considering how much great work is out there. I’m gratified to see that several stories I admired have shown up on the other short story and novella lists as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing which ones take the trophy.

The Aurealis Awards are presented at a ceremony to be held sometime in the next few months (date and location yet to be announced). Good luck to everyone in the race.

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