Monday, January 29, 2007

Forget Working: Check Out the Birds

Today's the first time in three days that the temperature's not been absoultely ludicrous, making it the first time I've been able to sit in my unventilated office for longer than five minutes without melting into an puddle of undiluted annoyance.

It's been impossible to work, the heat conferring a lethargic apathy not even the promise of a much-needed pay cheque could penetrate. That may be the reason why no one's made any attempt to get back to me about the magazine story I submitted last week, even though it's supposed to tie in with a radio piece due for broadcast in the next few days. Of course, it may be that there's simply nothing wrong with the copy, and that they can't bear to change a word of my flawless prose, but somehow I don't think so.

So with nothing else on for today I've forged ahead with an off-the-books project, aided by an extremely helpful email from a Mysterious Benefactor.

[I'm only referring to him as a Mysterious Benefactor because I know he's reading this *waggles fingers* and I know how much he loves Secret Identities on blogs.]

Oh, and there's been a new addition to our family:

Meet Flappy, who alighted in our garden at the start of the Big Heat and was swiftly adopted by my wife and children. Now, despite the subsidence in temperature and his bearing no sign of injury, he's around for the foreseeable future.

Well, if you had people constantly bringing you drinks and strawberries to eat, you'd stick around too.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

Had my wife not lost her job last year, we'd be in England now, visiting relatives and taking part in the celebrations for my grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary (they got a telegram from the Queen and everything).

The anniversary being in January, we'd decided to travel over in the new year instead of at Christmas. A January trip also held a greater chance of my daughter getting to see the one thing she really missed seeing last time we went over: snow.

So it was a shade disappointing that my mum emailed me the other day with pictures of her street covered in a layer of the newly fallen white stuff - if we'd been able to stick to the plan, my girl would have had her wish.

Knowing that the UK and Europe are suffering such a cold snap also makes it seem rather ungracious to bitch about the weather here.

But I'm going to.

Today's temperature: 41 degrees.

Unless your house has air conditioning (ours doesn't), there's not a vast amount you can do in temperatures like these - work included. So it's fortunate that today's Australia Day (a public holiday). Here are some top tips for beating the heat on a day when everyone capable of motion is flocking to the beach to fight for a postage-stamp-sized square of sand:
  • Tie feathers to your dog's tail. Take it in turns to sit behind her while someone shows her dog biscuits.
  • Find a sports ground that has exemption from watering restrictions and wait for them to turn their sprinklers on. Dance under sprinklers (if you can roll in the mud, benefitting from its cooling effects, so much the better).
  • Empty the freezer and curl up really small. Think like a chicken nugget.
  • Run a cold bath. Sit in it. Remain there for several hours.
Have tried all but one of these.

The sun's just gone down. It's 39.3 degrees. I really wish we'd made it to England.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Gongs, But Not Forgotten

I've been out of Sydney for seven months now, but I'm still on the mailing lists for all the film companies I used to visit in the course of my old job. As a result, my inbox has been deluged today with studios trumpeting whichever of their films grabbed Oscar noms overnight.

I've not actually watched the Oscars for years - not since Gwyneth Paltrow proved beyond any doubt that marketing is more important than talent when she beat Cate Blanchett to the Best Actress baldy. But this is the first time in years that I'm in a position of not having seen all the nominated films already, with just Little Miss Sunshine and An Inconvenient Truth under my belt.

I'm a bit sad about that - even though I hate the Oscars, I'll miss people asking my advice as they fill in their office Oscars competition forms.

Interestingly, if anyone wants a pointer for the Razzies, I've seen all but one of the films up for Worst Picture: Basic Instinct 2, Lady in the Water, Little Man and The Wicker Man ('Oh God! Oh Jesus Christ!' And that was just me ...). The only one to elude me is BloodRayne.

That actually tells you a bit too much about me, doesn't it?


Monday, January 22, 2007

New Word of Old Friends

The first review of Old Friends has just appeared (well, the first one I've seen, anyway). Pleased to say it's mostly positive, although I would question some of the points made - to acknowledge that the book works better as a single novel written by three authors, then to criticise one of the novellas for not standing up on its own seems a little odd.

Still, as I said, it's mostly positive, and it's good to get some feedback from a reader - so often these books don't get reviewed at all.

You can check out what the reviewer had to say here.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Borders Patrol

This one's for lovers of the amusingly appropriate ...

I was browsing in a bookshop this morning when I overheard a customer in conversation with a helpful shop assistant. Seems the lady was after a particular volume, but while the store computer showed that there was a copy in stock, it wasn't on the shelf where it should have been.

'It must have "walked out on its own",' the staff member opined. 'We actually get quite a lot of that in this section.'

And the section of the store where sticky-fingered bibliophiles apparently prefer to hang out?

Self Help.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Pitch Dark

A few years ago, I was a finalist in the pitching competition at the Sydney Writers Festival. For the final, competitors had to stand in front of a crowd at a Festival event and, well, pitch their story. The pitch judged to be the best by the panel of respected literary types would land a small deal to help the writer get their story off the ground.

I'm a reasonably confident public speaker, so the delivery of the pitch in front of a crowd didn't bother me in the slightest. What did was that I get the content spot on - I had to make the very most of the yarn's best features in what amounted to a very short time indeed. (If you strayed over your time limit, you'd be cut off, no matter where you were in your spiel).

If I knew then what I know now, I'd probably have done a few things differently - stressing the 'high concept' more and the story less, for instance - but all the same it wasn't a bad effort, I believe.

Then came the judging. One of the esteemed panel opened with 'I switched off as soon as you said "thriller".'

Which had been about the second word I'd uttered.

So that was that.

I learned a few things from the experience, of course, the most important being to always know the person to whom you're pitching. Presumably, if Dan Brown had stood up and reeled off his pitch for The Da Vinci Code, he'd have been shit-canned too, simply because the judge didn't like thrillers.

(The Da Vinci Code isn't, as you've probably realised, all that good, but I can see how it would make for a blinding pitch.)

Still, a few minutes finding out who going to be presenting to and what they like would have been worth more than all the time I spent on the pitch itself.

The other thing I learned was pointed out to me by a spectator after the event. Australian publishing is a niche market. If you want to get anything published that isn't twee, worthy and Aussie-centric, take your stories abroad.

And you know what - I did, and they have been. Even if I'm still only starting out and have barely blipped on the literary radar, I'd never have got even this far if I'd not looked to Canada and the UK for my first pitches.

The reason this particular memory has bubbled to the surface is my New Year's Resolution to read a book a week. As a corollary to that, I'm trying to read books I've always wanted to read but that I've had sitting around gathering dust for months (or even years).

This week's book is What Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman, who penned films such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Marathon Man. It was recommended to me a couple of years ago by my mate James, a rising star in computer animation with all the attendant love of the movies.

The book is rather wonderful - a mixture of anecdotes from Goldman's career as a Hollywood writer and tips for the prospective scribe. It's his words on the pitching process that got me thinking about that old competition, especially his revelation of the origin of the word 'pitch':

"Hollywood, as we know, has zero sense of history and there is a feeling pitching is relatively new. Total nonsense. If you've read any history at all, you know it was invented by Torquemada to make his days pass more happily during the Spanish Inquisition. He would tell imprisoned playwrights that if they could interest him in an idea, he would let them live long enough to write it. If they didn't, he dropped the fellow into a large vat of boiling tar, which of course is where the term 'pitch' comes from."

Which Lie Did I Tell?, William Goldman, pg 269

He could, of course, be making that up, but really, it's such a great tale, who cares if he is?

By the way, the eventual winner of the competition, way back when, acted out an impassioned scene from her extremely worthy tale of aboriginal life.

Still haven't seen it on the shelves.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Three Little Words

My son has come up with the most infuriating sentence ever. He keeps saying it, and it gets more and more irritating with each go. The Sentence is just three words. Normal words, in a normal sentence - and they're the most annoying thing on the planet. Bar none.

Imagine you're busy. At the computer, washing up, or even, as on the last occasion he tried this one on, asleep at four in the morning. Your wife's similarly occupied, although not far away.

Then you hear it.

'Daaaaad! Daaaad! Daaaad!'

And so it goes on. And on. Louder and more insistent until you are forced to stop whatever it is you're doing, suddenly concerned that he's not just attention seeking, he's hurt himself, or dropped something or got stuck behind the sofa (again).

So you go to see what the problem is. There he sits, still calling, 'Daaaad! Daaad! Daaaaaaaaad!


'What's wrong, mate?' you ask, the picure of paternal concern. That's when he hits you with it. The three little words.

The Sentence.

'I want Mum.'

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Little Mermaid

My daughter's half-fish.

She's just had her first swimming lesson and it's like she was born with gills. It's weird to watch - I didn't learn to swim until I was about nine or ten, but here was my girl tearing up the pool at just five.

There wasn't the same pressure to learn to swim so early, back when I was a littlie. Even living on the south coast of England, beach culture wasn't that huge for me. Sure, we'd be searching for a sandy spot in amongst the rocks at Tidemills when the mercury dictated summer had arrived (somewhere around 15 degrees), but you were more likely to die from not taking antibiotics after swimming in the water there than you were from failing to stay afloat.

Down Under, with trips to the beach outnumbering trips to the supermarket, and the absolute certainty that someone you know has a backyard pool, the risks of water-related death for children seem much greater than they do in England (sorry - torrential rain doesn't count). As a result, all parents are encouraged to get their kids swimming as soon as possible.

So it was that I spent half an hour this morning watching my daughter being taught to dunk under the water and blow bubbles (I would have had no trouble with that either, aged five. Only I'd have called it 'drowning'). Her teacher was highly impressed. Didn't have the heart to tell her that my girl had spent the previous day body-surfing at Leighton Beach.

While we're on aquatic matters, it's around six months now since I started to write this blog, so I've been having a look at who's been reading in that time. There's the usual suspects, of course - my regulars - but there are also those who stumble across the site after googling something specific. The top google searches to ensnare the unwary has a watery theme: here, in reverse order are the top three.

3. A Night With Robbie Williams. Stick a superstar's name on your blog and watch the punters trickle in. Get someone to mention spending a night with said superstar and see what happens then ...

2. Show Me The Money. Tom Cruise fans, or people seeking cash-creation schemes? If you're the latter and you find a better one than the Perth Royal Show, stop back and let me know.

1. How Do You Kill A Shark? You'd be surprised how many people out there want to know this. More than care about Robbie and Tom, it seems. I don't believe this will have helped them too much, though.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Eternal Sunshine of the Befuddled Mind

Set aside this morning for a phone interview I'd been asked to do with an elderly lady. It was something I'd arranged with her a few days ago and had to schedule for today because yesterday she was going to the bank, then doing her shopping ...

With the kids out of the house, fresh coffee made and a new tape in my machine, I was ready to go. The interview went something like this:

'Hello, is that Mrs X?'
'Hello! Is that Mrs X?'
'It's Pete Kempshall from [publication]. We spoke the other day ...'
'When are you coming over?'
'It's OK, there's no need to come over, we can talk over the phone now.'
'No, we can't. I'm going to the bank. Then I'm going to the shops.'
'Alright then. When would be a good time to call you back?'
'When do you want to come over?'
'It's OK, we can talk over the phone and save you a bit of time. Are you available this afternoon?'
'I'm out this morning. I'm going to the bank. Then I'm going to the shops.'
'Not this morning then. How about this afternoon?'
'Yes, I'm free this afternoon. I'm going to my friend's house.'
'So you won't be there if I call this afternoon?'
'I'm going to my friend's house, yes.'
(Sound of phone receiver being smacked against journalist's forehead. Phone breaks.)

Maybe next week, then.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Collaboration, not resistance

Melbourne writer Mondy's in town on wedding business, and last night he popped over to work on the joint project we've been hatching for the last month or so.

Collaborative writing's not for everyone. Comics and novel scribe Gordon Rennie called it 'a mysterious black art, its secrets known only to a few master practitioners':
'My experiences did give me the following vital insights into the workings of the co-authoring process:
[1] Co-writing is basically twice the work for half the money.
[2] Thinking it'll be fun to write something with a mate is a disaster in the making.
[3] It's possible I might just be a really awkward git to work with.'
Judge Dredd Megazine, Issue 209, Aug 2003

For every writer that can work comfortably with others (and when you consider the prevalence of the Writers' Room style of TV script-writing in the US, there are no shortage of them), there are several more for whom it's anathema.

My first few stories were written in a metaphorical vacuum. Only the patience of friends willing to comment on my stories gave me any kind of sounding board for my ideas, and after a few times you can sense even their tolerance for critiquing starting to wane.

My experience on Old Friends, however, beaming ideas back and forth between writers via email in order to create an overarcing plot for the three stories, was a wholly positive one. Scenarios I'd never have thought of before would shoot up like weeds as a result of those communications, so the idea of working on a script with another writer didn't immediately fill me with terror.

That said, last night was the first time I've actually sat at the same table as another writer and attempted to thrash out a plot ...

I'm pleased to say that it went very well - it didn't hurt that Mondy's tastes for spectacle run close to my own. Four hours, several beers and a variety of trashed ideas later, we had the framework for two-thirds of our story. Once my magazine work eases off, I'll deal with the final third based on our conversations and I'll be ready for a first draft.

There have been communiques from Mark Deniz up north, meanwhile, that suggest an imminent announcement regarding the In Bad Dreams horror anthology. Keep watching for a full author list and running order in the not-too-distant future.

Sunday, January 07, 2007


My wife and I have been together for eleven years now, and I still can't identify all of her relations. Her family tree has more branches than Starbucks, and many's the time I've been re-introduced to a cousin/uncle/step-nephew eighteen times removed and been forced to smile brightly and bluff desperately until someone's been kind enough to fill in the blanks for me.

This weekend we were off down the coast again, this time for a wedding, an event that promised a sea of faces I'd be required to navigate. And at the end of the day, I'm happy to say I didn't do too badly. If I did stumble, there were far more pressing crises to distract people from any faux pas I might have made.

First there was the limo, booked by the bride and groom weeks ago and inexplicably cancelled just before the event. While the car did eventually turn up, the rings didn't, misplaced by the alleged Best Man and still AWOL twenty four hours after the ceremony.

While the wheels were falling off for the not-quite-so-happy couple, they were completely stuck for us. Finding that our directions to the wedding were hopelessly inadequate, we pulled our car over and ducked into an isolated general store for better ones. With the route now clear in our mind, we were ready to go ... except that the exact spot where we'd stopped our car has Western Australia's Softest Earth (tm). As my wife tried to pull out onto the road, the wheels simply just spun noisily and dug themselves deeply into the dirt.

A little while later a kind soul drove by and, spotting my wife and I in our finery, digging the car out of the earth with our hands, helped us get back on the road.

Still, telling the story kept some of the lesser-known faces at the reception busy while I struggled to remember their names.

Things got worse for the bride and groom, meanwhile, when it transpired that the caterers had forgotten to bring half the food. By the time the guests got around to actually eating, almost everyone under the age of ten was tired, half-starved and fractious. Almost everyone over ten was tired, half-starved and drunk.

Other highlights included:

  • The children getting to ride round the block in the newly rebooked limousine. Much excitement here, less for the experience of travelling in a big car than because they got to watch the TV in there.
  • The discovery by the kids that the next-door neighbours had decided that as pets, dogs were passe. Why keep mutts when you can have a pair of roos? They even had collars.
  • My son finally realising that bubble fluid is for blowing bubbles, not for drinking (he won't be making that mistake again: it was like the racist Women's Institute lady from Little Britain).
  • A snake whipping out of the undergrowth not three feet from one of the tables, fanging a mouse and dragging it off into the bushes to feed. My daughter was extremely distressed by this, not because she's a sensitive soul but because she missed seeing it.

And for me, one last ray of hope - I don't feel all that bad about forgetting names and faces now that my wife's mistaken the son of a distant relly for the neglected offspring of one of the caterers ...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Black Dog

Was toddling around after breakfast this morning when a black dog ran into the house, having somehow slipped in through the various doors and fences between us and the street. Physically it didn't stay long, bolting the second our own hound noticed it.

Metaphorically it's been hanging around all day ...

Travelled into Fremantle this afternoon to speak to an academic from the University of Notre Dame about this genocide piece I've been asked to write. In a final burst of research before the meeting, I read through some transcripts of genocide survivors the interviewee sent me last night, and the grimness has clung to me all day. These are tales of humanity broken down to its most basic, animal level, both on the parts of the persecutors and the persecuted - everything from senseless beatings and selling out your neighbours to settle old scores, to infanticide and cannibalism. How much of it I'm actually going to be able to use in the article itself is debatable. I suspect it'll be simply too unpalatable for the regular readers of the magazine I'm writing for.

The interview went well, filling both sides of my tape with details and filling me with respect for the woman who's made it her mission to get the information out there. How she manages to live with it all, day in, day out, is beyond me.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Talkin' 'Bout a Resolution

If you read a lot of blogs, you'll be sick of posts about people's New Year resolutions, so I'll make this one quick. Ish.

Decided there'll be three things I need to do this year: Professional, Mental and Physical.

Professionally, I'm aiming to get at least one story picked up for publication. That may seem like it's aiming a little low, but the opportunities are reasonably thin on the ground at the moment. I'm hoping the new round of commissioning for Big Finish's Bernice Summerfield range will provide some opportunities, and, if I can manage to pop up on the right peoples' radars from all the way down here in 'Straya, maybe I'll even get another shot at Who. I'm churning ideas around for my project with Mr Mond (who's over from Melbourne in a couple of weeks, which should speed up the collaborative process) but it'd be nice to pitch for some other things too.

Of course, there's a cheat clause here - I've already had a story picked up, for Mark Deniz's horror anthology, which may appear in the next 12 months. That's why I said at least one story. Ahem.

My mental resolution is also down to Mr Deniz, whose outgoing 2006 resoultions have inspired me to, well, pinch an idea from him directly (thanks, Mark!). He's been reading a book a week for 2006, deciding on his Book of the Year at the end. In Sydney, I used to get through a book a week easily, but since moving to Perth it's been a lot harder. This year I'll be making time to read more, and the one-a-week schedule is a decent target. Plus it's a chance to get through some of the tomes I've had hanging around and not even opened yet.

Week One: The Water Room by Christopher Fowler. It's been sitting on my shelf for two years now, time it got a run.

Physically ... those in the know know I like chocolate. A lot. And I've got the kind of metabolism that lets me get away with it, too. Well, I did have. Come February there'll be fewer days to 40 than there are back to 30, and in the last month or so the years have started to show.

So, I shouldn't cocoa.