Monday, October 30, 2006

Sink or ... Sink

Following the advice of my physio (and she's been on the money so far - no headaches for a week now) I hit the pool at the weekend to work on my back.

Believe it or not (less of the smirking at the back there) I used to swim a fair bit - every day in the year before I went to university and two or three times a week before our second kid entered the picture. So a few lengths of the local pool shouldn't have been a problem.

After two, I was starting to feel tired.

After four, it felt like someone had strapped a baby elephant to each arm.

All the while, I could see my children off to the side, laughing. I'd like to think that was because they were enjoying whatever game they happened to be playing, rather than mocking their poor dad as he went under for the third time.

The good news is that it can only get better. And my physio was pleased, at least.

Meanwhile, the good Simon Guerrier mailed me the rough pencils for the front cover of Old Friends over the weekend. The work of series stalwart Adrian Salmon, the image offers the first look at a pair of characters all those involved with the book have been messing around with for a few months now.

But you'll just have to wait until you get to see for yourselves ...

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Horror, The Horror

Partly it's the rapid onset of Halloween, partly it's my unconscious steering me in the right direction to prepare for the short story I'm working on. Whatever, in the last few days I've exposed myself to more horror media than I have in the whole of the last six months.

Resisting the temptation to crack on with the last in David Bishop's Fiends of the Eastern Front trilogy (and that took a bit of doing - thoroughly enjoyed the second one. There's this very nasty bit in a kitchen ...), I've been dipping into Christopher Fowler's short story anthology Demonized. While you could argue that the collection's not out and out horror, Fowler excels at the subtly (and not so subtly) disturbing. Pick of the bunch so far (I'm halfway through) is The Green Man, a tale of jealous husbands and marauding monkeys that builds to one of those climaxes that'll come back to you for days after.

While the Masters of Horror discs arrived in time to make it onto my DVD review list for the magazine's Halloween issue, there were a couple of films that didn't. Watched 'em anyway, though. John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness is a film I have only the vaguest memories of having ever seen before. It's dated badly (the porn-star moustache on the lead actor is most distracting ...) but Carpenter's ability to create a sense of dread stands the test of time.

Finished Near Dark - written and directed by Point Break lenser Kathryn Bigelow - while the kids were out this afternoon. Not sure what to make of it. It's very well regarded, which may be why I felt a little disappointed by it - the weight of expectation was too great, perhaps. That said, a memorable scene in a bar and an innovative spin on beating vampirism won me over in the end.

Anyway, this saturation in suspense has evidently done the trick. I submitted my synopsis to editor Mark and got the go-ahead to move to a first draft this evening. There are still no guarantees it'll get into the final anthology, but it's always good to know you're on the right track at least.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Spring Forward, Fall Back ... Stand Still?

It's nearly that time of year when everybody's clocks change, backwards one hour up north and forwards an hour down here as summertime begins.

Well, I say everybody: not everybody here in Perth. Western Australia, for some bizarre reason, doesn't recognise daylight saving time, and plods on regardless no matter what the season, its clocks untouched by that sixty minute variation.

Quite why WA refuses to play ball isn't clear - at least not to me. My wife (a West Australian by birth) muttered something about the large number of farmers in the state, who are used to early starts having a problem with taking the system on board. Meanwhile
The West Australian newspaper says that:

'WA businesses have long claimed they are inconvenienced by daylight saving and are expected to become even more vocal in their push to have it adopted.'

Three times in the last 30 years there have been referenda to decide on whether or not daylight saving should be adopted. On each occasion the winning margin has been rather small, coming down in favour of the no-thank-you-very-muchs in the order of 54% to 46%.

But with moves to standardise daylight savings across the south and east of the country (don't forget, Australia's so big it crosses several time zones) WA could soon find itself up to three hours behind the eastern states.

A daylight saving 'trial run' is therefore being pushed through the state's law-making apparatus, one which could mean our clocks will go forward an hour come early December. For two years after that, the clocks will change in time with everyone else, from the end of October to early March. Then there'll be another referendum to see if the scheme sticks.

Well, the system may be grinding slowly towards a decision, but me, I made my mind up weeks ago. My bloody son's waking up at 5.30 every morning ...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Let Them Entertain You ... Some Other Night

End of year's rolling round, which means the kindy Christmas concert's coming. It won't be long now before my daughter's walking round the house, practising songs and telling us that we're not allowed to tell anyone we've heard them because it'll spoil the surprise.

But it's not even November yet and there's already a spanner in the works for the organisers ...

The yuletide celebration has had to be moved to a different night - one that doesn't clash with the Robbie Williams concert. Apparently so many of the mothers have got tickets to see him singing Angels that no one's going to be coming to see their angels singing.

And yes, my wife's one of them ...

Rash Decision

Tough weekend at the ranch. The spots covering my wife grew so unbearably itchy for her that a second trip to the doctors was required. Turns out that she doesn't have chickenpox at all, rather has suffered a massive allergic reaction to something. Treating the symptoms as if they were chickenpox has, in actual fact, made that reaction worse.

A change in medication has got it under control but it still means time off work - essentially she's had to take drugs that weaken her immune system so that the allergic reaction lessens in severity. Not only is it going to take a few days for the symptoms to subside, it's also not a good idea for her to return to the office in the meantime, where she'd be exposed to all kinds of coughs and sneezes in her weakened state.

And we've still no idea what she's allergic to.

Both kids were packed off to school this morning, meaning the first whole day without one or both of them hanging around the house in almost a month. Used the time to rewrite a short story proposal and fire it away to a mate for a read-through. It was lacking in an area I couldn't quite put my finger on, and being useless at editing my own work, a second opinion was essential.

Fortunately the talented chappie casting an eye over it put his finger on the problem straight away. Tomorrow's for polishing it up and contacting the editor, then.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Itchy and Scratchy Show

I was 13 when I got chickenpox, a late bloomer compared to virtually everyone else in my class, who'd copped it years earlier. I vaguely remember it meaning a couple of days in a darkened room, trying very hard indeed not to scratch (and failing in some cases - my arms still bear a couple of scars to prove it), followed by a week off school to be on the safe side.

I've not really thought too much about it in the intervening 21 years, mostly, I suspect, because of the old 'once you've had it, you can't get it again' clause. Now, however, I have a family ...

I've already posted about the tendency of schools to act as breeding grounds for every virus under the sun, and chickenpox is this month's star prize for the afflicted. A brief flash of concern crossed my mind for the kids, until I checked and found that both of them have been vaccinated against it

(Why didn't we have vaccines for chickenpox in the 80s? Back then, it was almost a question of chucking the uninfected into a plague room with carriers of the disease so they'd just catch it and get it out of the way.)

So ... I've had it and my kids have had jabs to stop them getting it. No worries then.

My wife, however, has had neither the jabs nor the disease when younger, which is why she's covered in spots and housebound for the next fortnight.

Sounds like the Australian education system didn't have those plague rooms.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Feeling Manipulated

I've been suffering from intense headaches for the last few weeks, so at my good wife's insistence - she has had some experience of such things, it seems - I finally found a quiet moment to pop along to the local physiotherapist to get it sorted.

I've not had my neck and back seen to for ... oh, about six years. A chinese masseur freaked me out in Sydney way back when, twisting my head round with the alarming sort of cracking noise usually dubbed onto scenes in movies where the villain breaks someone's neck by twisting it round with an alarming sort of cracking noise. Apparently you can do that and it cures things. Like breathing, one assumes.

Anyway, after realising this could all be sorted by crunching my muscles, not my bones, I got along to the clinic for a session.

To her credit, the lady tasked with fixing the problem didn't shake her head and suck her breath in through her teeth, mechanic-style, when she learned I was a writer. It's safe to say, however, that my problems all stem from bad posture while sitting at the computer, typing. She ran through a list of criteria that had to be fulfilled while sitting in front of the monitor, if I wanted to prevent any further problems.

I'm failing to meet every single one of them as I type this.

Apart from some intensive massage and refurnishing my office, I have to do some exercises between now and next week and have also been advised to build up my upper back muscles by either swimming or weight-training.

The idea of me weight training has already provoked gales of laughter from an old Sydney mate, so swimming it is, just as soon as I can find a spare half-hour.

Oh, and playing XBox doesn't help, either. D'oh!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Idle Hands

Apologies for the larger than usual gap in posts - I fell off the wagon yesterday.

Nine months without, only to give in to temptation, just like that.

Easily done, when you think about it. Went to a party at the weekend where I saw a group of youngsters doing it, and it got me thinking about the good times I'd had before packing it in, ostensibly for good.

Then, finding myself with a bit of free time the next day and nothing to fill it, all it took was a trip to the city to buy some gear and that was that - a whole 24 hour period erased. Gone. Wife, kids, none of it mattered.

Rest assured, though, I'm coming out the other side again now. After tomorrow, no more shooting up. Finished. Done. Game over.

All assuming my wife doesn't simply smash the bloody XBox first.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Looking Like a Right Charlie

If I'm banging on about the school holidays a lot at the moment, it's only because having the kids on site 24/7 has meant no time to myself to do ... well, anything much. Writing's gone completely out the window, but as we head into the third week my wife took pity on me and arranged to drive the kids out to see their grandmother this afternoon. For the first time in days, I was going to have a couple of hours to work on some stories.

And therein lies a problem.

Anyone who's seen the truly superb film Adaptation will doubtless remember the scene where writer Charlie Kaufman (as played by Nicolas Cage) sits down and attempts to apply himself to his new script. Minutes tick by as he muses about getting a drink or a muffin or any number of other things before he can get himself comfortable enough to actually start writing - and all the while, no actual work's getting done.

Not knowing too much about how other writers work, I can't say for certain that the scene would have rung any bells for anyone else. For me, it was like a campanologists' convention. At the very least, I've got to have coffee to hand, if not munchies too. Then the mere fact that I'm sitting in front of the computer leads to an urge to surf the Net, just for a bit.

And an hour's gone.

With only two hours to play with today, I'd have to go from 0-60 in seconds rather than minutes if I wanted to get anything done.

Reckon I got up to about 35. Did it in fits and starts, but finally squeezed out an outline for a short story - enough to recognise where the real work's going to need doing, anyway. When my time's my own again (round about the middle of next week), that'll give me a good head start.

Now then ... time for some beer.

And maybe some crisps.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Sleeping with the Enemy

The end of the school holidays approaches with all the speed of a snail that's been superglued to the patio, and I've got to admit that the little ones are trying my patience. It's good, then, to suddenly have a little moment that gives you a warm glow, something that makes you proud of your offspring and gives you hope for the future ...

Walking past the local ABC shop (think BBC if you're from up north), my son was entranced by a certain item of stock that he had to own immediately.

For three days they've been inseparable, with my three-year-old lad proudly declaring to anyone who'll listen, 'Love cybman!'

They're asleep together now.

That's mah boy.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Business, New and Unfinished

With one project out of the way, I'm itching to start the next.

Have been engaged in an e-chat with a fellow scribe regarding a piece of unsolicited work we are hoping to start work on together, and I'm pleased to say that while it's early days it's looking promising. Having had a blast in the collaborative writing process for Old Friends, I'm keen to see how this one goes. The nature of unsolicited work is that more often than not it's politely refused, but whether it's eventually knocked back or not, the very process of creating it can only be beneficial to both of us.

Meanwhile, with Halloween approaching I've decided my last DVD review column for the mag this month shall be horror themed. So tonight it was dim the lights and perch on the edge of the seat for a squiz at some tales from the Masters of Horror anthology show.

The show gathers some of the key figures in horror flicks to work on one-off short stories, and I decided to kick off with Cigarette Burns, helmed - but not penned - by John Carpenter.

It's a tale of a man hired to find the sole remaining print of a film that drives its audience into murderous insanity. So far, so Ring-y. But while it's not helped by the presence of more-famous-for-marrying-Helena-Christensen-than-for-his-acting Norman Reedus in the lead, Carpenter works hard to get the atmosphere spot on, and you're sucked in almost despite yourself.

45 minutes in, and our hero acquires the film. It must be mere moments before he - and we along with him - gets to see it ...

And the DVD freezes.

Spooky coincidence? The intervention of a higher power to prevent me seeing the nightmare movie and damning my soul for eternity? Or just a teeny-tiny crack that runs three-quarters of the radius of the disc, invisible unless you're really squinting to see it?

Shot off a quick email for a replacemet, but even by express delivery it won't get here from Sydney until Monday.

Three days until I get to know what happens ... gah!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Farewell, Old Friends

Signed off on the proofs for Old Friends last night. One minor change to correct another one of my blunders that would have had the Continuity Cops frothing madly, then away they went. Now it's just a matter of the book being printed and it's off in the public domain.

It's strange, realising that your involvement with a book is effectively over. Sure, I've been there with short stories, but they're usually done and dusted in a couple of months. This story has been around in one form or another since March. I imagine it's how parents feel when their children get to the age of 18 and fly the coop - you've done all you can do, now it's up to them. But you still can't resist the urge to interfere ...

Next time I see my story - in book form - I know I'll find any number of things I wish I'd have fiddled around with. Which is another reason why, ladies and gentlemen, we have editors: to stop people like me tweaking and polishing for decades and to get the things on the shelves.

So there you go - proud, excited, a little sad.

Something new, please.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fully Booked

Reading time's been at a premium for the last month or so - I'm struggling to get through a book at the moment, never mind that ever-increasing pile of comics tottering in the corner.

Back in Sydney, I'd be through one, maybe two books a week. It didn't hurt that my job meant a fair bit of train travel and the occasional free hour in between appointments. Since moving to Perth I'm down to a book every three weeks ...

Fortunately things are slackening off a little, and it's time to choose a new volume. I'm not the kind of person that finds they need a book, so goes out and buys one - I'm a stacker, buying whatever interests me regardless of what's on the go at any given moment and hoarding until slots free themselves up.

Today the choice consisted of:

Echo Park by Michael Connelly - Connelly's a big influence for me, as you'll be able to see from the conclusion to my novella in the Old Friends collection. This is the latest in his Harry Bosch series, out now but not yet in my possession. If I'd had money enough to scoot out and buy it today, it would have been top of my list, but ...

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler - second in his series of novels featuring his investigators of the unusual, Bryant and May. Fowler's books are pretty hard to come by over here, and this is the latest to arrive, although the UK are literally years ahead.

Life During Wartime - the third short story anthology in Big Finish's Bernice Summerfield series, and one I've got a renewed interest in after a chat with one of the writers recently. This is the tome that got him his start ...

Piece of My Heart by Peter Robinson - Along with Michael Connelly and Ian Rankin, Robinson's one of the few crime writers I follow religiously.

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming - read this years and years ago, but with the film out imminently thought it would be time to refresh my memory about it. Be interested to see whether the film keeps the infamous carpet-beater scene ...

But the winner is:

The Blood Red Army by David Bishop - another one of those books I've had to put on special order to acquire. Penned by an old mate, I read the first volume of this World War II vampires trilogy back in May - got to get back into the series before I lose the thread. Plus it's always fun seeing what DB's come up with this time ...

And I'll be starting it just as soon as I think of a way to finish this po-

Friday, October 06, 2006

Elevated Senses of Smell

It's a horror situation everyone will face at sometime in their life.

You're in a lift. It's hot and it's packed with people. And you just can't stop yourself. It sneaks out before you know what's happened, and within moments noses are wrinkling thoughout the car. And you know. You can feel it.

Everyone's looking at you.

Do you say something? Do you look at someone else and try to offload the weight of suspicion onto them? Or do you just ignore it and pray that the 28th floor rolls around that bit faster ... even though you've just stopped at three and the next 25 buttons are all lit?

Decisions, decisions ...

Well, now wrap your head around this one: same situation as before, except that you're holding the hand of your toddler son. And silently, as the lift moves off, he craps himself.

It's not something I get to say often, but I've changed enough of my son's nappies to know what kind of treat's in store without even looking. The smell gives it away, like a kind of olfactory fingerprint. Now a fart's one thing. This ... this was about as bad as it gets.

Your mind races - how do you cover up something like that? Soon the bodies are going to start hitting the floor, then no-one's going to be interested in excuses.

Suddenly I had it! Look at the underside of my boot, as if to enquire whether someone had trod in something. Yes, it might just work!

My eyes travel downwards, shoe starts tilting up ... Then my son looks up at me and announces proudly, 'Done poo!'

And still six floors to go ...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Show Me the Money

It's school holidays (again - I swear I never had so much time off so often when I was a nipper) so the days are once again all about entertaining the littlies.

This time around, however, parents have had the option of wheeling out one of the biggest guns in the Keep the Kiddies Occupied arsenal: the Perth Royal Show.

For northern-hemisphere types who don't know, the Show's a mixture of country fair and amusement park, and it routinely attracts thousands of people. Packing into the showgrounds, visitors can gorge on weird varieties of fast food (a couple of years ago at the Sydney Royal Easter Show I got to eat a crocodile sausage. Wisely, I feel, I didn't inquire as to its provenance), try the rides and aggravate the wide range of farm life on display in the large sheds.

Make no mistake, though, you'll leave the show with far, far fewer dollars than when you went in. On top of the not-insignificant entrance fee, just about everything inside the show itself costs. Still, you can't put a price on the looks of joy on your kids' faces as they spin round and round in extremely slow circles on weathered plastic elephants, can you?

Actually, you can - if my daughter had been old enough to appreciate it, I could have bought her a small iPod for what we laid out.

In all fairness though, going to the Show also means getting Showbags. And Showbags are cool.

Basically themed goodie bags, there are hundreds to choose from - the trick is getting the most for your money. Have a browse to see what you might have picked here.

The kids did reasonably well (even if half of the toy cars in my son's bag were smashed to bits within an hour of starting to play with them...), and I scored chocolate, but being the mad West Coast Eagles fan she is, my wife was gutted to find the WCE showbags were sold out.

Attempts to persuade her that she'd rather have the Hottie Lingerie bag instead fell on deaf ears.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Busted by the Fun Police

Looks like the sub responsible for the amusing headlines at Soccernet was enjoying him or herself althogether too much for the higher ups.

Since my last post, the first of the two headlines I mentioned has been toned down somewhat - to experience it in its original glory, just switch the new word 'examine' for the old 'to probe'.

See? That's better, isn't it?

Monday, October 02, 2006

There's an Obvious Joke to Be Made Here ...

Sub-editing for magazines and newspapers can be a thankless task - checking the words of others for factual correctness and then trimming those words to fit into the space allocated to them doesn't give you much chance to shine.

There are opportunities, however, if you're willing to take them. I worked as a sub at a national magazine for several years, and one of the things that made the job worthwhile was coming up with the headlines for the stories we were editing. The editor loved humourous heads and gave us the freedom to run wild coming up with them - one particular effort I penned led directly to interest from other magazines and my receiving a promotion. On a day to day basis, though, the chance to be creative in a job where you spend ninety per cent of your time enhancing the creativity of others is an unfettered joy.

Or you could just look at it like it's fun to come up with smutty jokes that many thousands of people will read.

Either way, it's good to see someone else loving their work in the same way I used to. Football website Soccernet had this gem today.

Got to wonder if it's down to the same person who did this a couple of years back ...