Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
  • September19th

    fantasyland5

    If you’ve ever looked at our world with discontent, unhappiness or a feeling of ‘I could do better than that!’ then fantasy writing is for you. In a lifetime of reading Fantasy and half a lifetime writing it, I’ve compiled a number of hints, tips and techniques for novice world-builders. And since I’m not loathe to offer advice, here’s a pick of the best of them.

    • Don’t place your Forest of Terror right next door to your Mountains of Doom alongside your Chasm of Eternal Fear. You can have too much of a good thing.
    • Remember: rivers flow from the mountains to the sea, not the other way around. Tempting though it may be to have water running uphill, the laws of hydrodynamics are fairly well understood and if broken, will have unfortunate consequences for urban sewerage and waste water disposal.
    • Weather happens.
    • Never try to have a capital of the Evil Empire of Doom without a Z, K or X in the name. It just doesn’t work.
    • The Web of Life is really tricky in imaginary worlds. Dragons as your top-level predator play hell with the food chain.
    • Never put anything interesting in the middle of your imaginary world. If your map goes to two pages, you can lose really interesting things in the gutter.
    • Cities are where they are for three reasons: protection, trade routes and ‘lost in the mists of time’. Always handy.
    • ‘Wetlands’ is a more congenial name for ‘swamp’.
    • There’s no reason why the north has to be cold and the south hot. Such an approach is Northern Hemisphere-centric.
    • Remember: you have to stop map-making sometime and start writing.
  • August13th

     

    One of the other hats I wear is as co-publisher of Aurealis, Australia’s longest-running magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In a recent editorial, I wanted to let the writers out there know what we’re looking for. It turned into a statement of principles, the criteria by which we select stories for inclusion.

    Here it is again, for your interest.

    At Aurealis, we want to see:

    1. Good writing. By this, we mean more than a simple facility with written English. Even though this is important, it should be a given, a basic expectation of any submission. Rather, we enjoy apposite language, sentences with flexibility and rhythm, dialogue that is alive with character and intonation, complexity of construction and stark simplicity used in the right times and places.
    2. This is hard to define, and has much to do with Point 1, above. Your story should sound individual and alive through its narrative point of view.
    3. Your main character should be engaging. That’s it in a nutshell. Of course, there are a million different ways to make your main character engaging. You just have to choose the right one and implement it deftly.
    4. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your central premise needs to be wildly new, although this is desirable. A fresh take on a well-established concept is good. Quirky, idiosyncratic characters are also useful in upping your originality quotient.
    5. Be economical with your story.
    6. Quick movement into the heart of the story. We are a short story journal, which means you don’t have unlimited space to work with. This can be a challenge in Fantasy and SF, where world-building and background detail is important, but do your best. Don’t linger too long in the set-up. You’ll lose us.
    7. Hard SF. We don’t get enough of these sort of stories.
    8. Humour – but it has to be really
    9. Think about your characters. Are you making unwarranted assumptions about dominant cultures? Are you overlooking possibilities?
    10. The X Factor. It could be freshness, it could be the unexpected, it could be something shocking, it could be something that makes us grin or wince or sit up straight after the first paragraph. We can’t tell you what the X factor is, exactly, but we know it when we see it. Including it is a good thing.
  • July26th

     

     

    Once upon a time, the job description for a writer was fairly straightforward: you sat down and wrote. After that, you worked with an editor and revised your work through to publication.

    Now, the requirements of the job are somewhat different, particularly if you are a writer for young people. It’s not enough just to do the writing – you have to be able to talk about it. Over my writing career I’ve presented to thousands of people, young and old, all over Australia. I’ve talked to cLECTERN smallrowds of hundreds of people. I’ve run intensive writing workshops. I’ve been a writer-in-residence. I’ve been on panels, I’ve chaired debates, I’ve even done the MC thing and hosted glittering occasions. So far this year, I’ve spent nearly forty days away from my desk doing that other part of the job, at schools, libraries and festivals. In the beginning, I was uncertain about this part of the job, but I’ve grown to enjoy it. I’ve learned about presenting and honed my skills by the time honoured method of trial and error followed by reflection. I thought I’d share a few things that work for me.

    1. Introduce yourself. Part of the success of your presentation hinges on your credibility, so you need to establish this straight away. Even if you get an introduction, it’s worth spending a bit of time expanding on it, establishing why the audience should bother listening to you. You have some expertise, but tell the audience what it is!
    2. Outline the presentation. This is a simple way of connecting with the audience. Let them know, broadly, what you’re going to cover. Let them know that there will be time for questions at end – or that you’re happy to take questions along the way. Tell them at the beginning that you’re going to cover the Top 5 Ways to Write a Detective Novel (and then tick them off along the way). Tell them that you’ll spend time on the Life of a Writer, then you’ll read an excerpt from your latest book, and at the end you’ll show them something from your Work in Progress. These signposts help your audience’s expectations, and get them ready for your presentation.
    3. Engage. Easier said than done, of course, but try to connect with the audience near the beginning of your talk. Some suggestions: tell a short anecdote about your school days or your reading; tell how you got to the venue (a funny thing happened to me on the way …); ask a leading question that most of them will answer in the affirmative (‘How many of you saw [insert name of latest popular movie here]?); thank them for having you as a speaker – because it’s important market research for you …
    4. Keep an eye on the audience. Try to judge from their expressions and posture how your talk is going. Speed it up, if necessary. Slow down and explain more if they’re looking puzzled.
    5. Audio visual is helpful, but not to be relied on. No matter how well you’ve prepared your PowerPoint or images of book covers, there’s no guarantee it will work on the equipment at whatever venue you’ve arrive at. I have multimedia presentations but I use them very judiciously, usually at places I’ve been before. If I take them to an untried venue, I arrive early and I have a complete alternative, low-tech presentation ready to go, just in case.
    6. Mention your website at the end, and it can be worth mentioning if you have a Facebook and Twitter presence.
    7. As you finish thank the audience and repeat your name. It never hurts.

    I enjoy the talking side of the writing job. It’s refreshing, challenging and it gives me a chance to meet my audience face to face – or my potential audience, anyway.

     

  • July19th

    reading3

  • July1st

    jfk

    I’ve nominated a bunch of top Alternative History books here. But how does one go about writing in this challenging, but alluring, sub-genre?

    Alternative Histories are where the writer changes something in our past and imagines what difference it would make t0 the now divergent timeline. For example, because of the gold rush, Australia in the 1880s was the richest country in the world. But the gold ran out. What if it didn’t? What if today Australia was the richest, most powerful country in the world, dominating politically, economically, technologically, and in the media? What sort of a world would it be?

    It’s like dropping a stone into a pond and watching the ripples spread. With Alternative  Histories, the longer ago the event was, the further the ripples spread and the more impact they have. Imagine, for instance, if Cleopatra’s navy had defeated the Romans at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC? We could be living in a world where Egypt is the superpower! What would living in an Egyptian world be like?

    A good Alternative  History looks at the implications of a historical change, but without sacrificing narrative and character. In fact, the changed circumstances can provide a fertile ground for exploring such aspects of story. How would a person behave in a world where the Reformation and Enlightenment didn’t happen, and where religious conformity is paramount? What would be the large-scale, society wide differences? What would be the more intimate, personal differences? In such, narrative grows.

    Here are a few scenarios for you to play around with. What would today’s world be like if these changes had happened?

    1. The east coast of Australia isn’t settled by the British. It’s settled/invaded by the French. Or Chinese. Or a variety of settlers/invaders.
    2. Early in European settlement, a treaty was signed with the indigenous people.
    3. A major Australian political or social figure was assassinated.
    4. Massive Saudi sized oilfields are discovered in Central Australia.
    5. Rabbits weren’t liberated near Geelong in 1859.

    Have fun!

    Bonus: here are a few more top notch Alternative History books. Click on the covers for Wikipedia descriptions.

    Wikipedia descriptions here: The Peshawar Lancers, Romanitas, Without Warning.
    Bonus bonus: Alternative History or Alternate History? Both abound out there in netland, but I’ve gone with Alternative as, strictly, Alternate is used to describe two things taking turn about. Alternative History suggests more than two options, which I like.

     

  • June17th

    My first novel was published in 1996. I was publishing short stories for four or five years before that, which means that I’ve been in the writing game for about twenty-five years. Time to reflect, perhaps, and this is what I came up with.writing

    1. It’s useful if writers can talk
    2. There is no magic formula
    3. The gap between readers and writers is narrower than ever
    4. Publishing is a business
    5. The future is uncertain.
  • May28th

     

     

    1. Force 10 from Westminster
    2. The Disraeli Identity
    3. Mary Shelley, Princess of Power
    4. Gilbert and Sullivan and International Domination
    5. Have Pith Helmet, Will Travel
    6. The Revenge of the Colonies
    7. Dirigibles, Digging Machines and Great Big Tanks
    8. The Tea-time Ultimatum
    9. Giant Cats Destroy London via the Underground (some work needed on that one)
    10. Manners, Morals and the Exploitation of the Working Class

     

     

  • May10th

    violette in the forest

    Lesson 1:  Never Trust a Wolf.

    People like David Attenborough would have you believe that wolves are harmless creatures, wonderful examples of nature at its finest – strong, noble, dignified.  Well, he’s wrong.  Fairy Tales have taught me that wolves are evil, nasty and cunning beasts who will stop at nothing to devour you whole.  Not only will they give you false directions while you’re wandering in the woods, they will even dress up in women’s clothes in order to deceive you.  If there isn’t a brave woodcutter nearby, you’re history.Henry on the wolf's back

    And, needless to say, you don’t want to be a harmless old grandmother when a wolf needs your nightie…  According to fairy tales, senior citizens the world over must be shaking in their beds dreading the knock that signals the wolf at the door.  Fairy tales show us again and again the sheer cunning of these canines as they manage to get inside and then, it’s goodnight Granny.

    And that’s not to mention the plight of those who choose to build their houses out of straw or sticks …  Fairy tales demonstrate over and over that these harmless home dwellers are persecuted not just by an ordinary wolf, but by a Big Bad Wolf.  And why?  Is it just because they construct their houses out of substandard building materials?  Is it because they don’t have the necessary council planning permits? No.  It’s simply because those inside these flimsy houses taste so good, especially roasted in a nice hot oven and served with plenty of apple sauce and crackling …

    But I digress.  Fairy tales have taught me: never trust a wolf.

     

    Lesson 2:  Learn to tell the difference between a wolf and your granny. 

    It might sound obvious, but this may be a vital survival step one day.

     

    Lesson 3:  Names are important.

    Fairy tales showed me just how important names really are.  For instance, if a character’s name happens to be something like Rumplestiltskin, you can bet your bottom dollar that he’s not going to be the romantic hero played by Leonardo di Caprio in a soon to be released big budget motion picture based on the fairy tale of the same name.  Or then again, he might, depending on what you think of Leonardo di Caprio.  Whatever, a name like Rumplestiltskin would be like someone today calling their baby SnortyBottomFartyBreath and expecting them to grow up a well adjusted and rounded human being.The forest

    In fairy tales if your name is Jack, forget about having a dull life.  I feel sorry for those males in fairy tales who happened to be called Jack, and all they wanted was to have a nice quiet life and grow up and become an accountant.  Fat chance.  Every Jack in a fairy tale is destined to become a Giant Killer, or to Be Nimble, or to grow enormous bean stalks and steal treasure, or to be Jack Frost, Jack Be Nimble or one half of Jack and Jill.

    Let’s face it.  If you’re a Jack in a fairy tale, you’re going to wind up an action hero whether you like it or not.  When there’s Careers Counselling at Fairy Tale School, they don’t even bother with Jacks.  They’re just pointed at the door marked Danger, Fame and Fortune and that’s that.  If you’re a Jack, don’t even think about doing a traineeship at Target.  Jack’s are glory bound, no questions asked.

    And you have to be lucky with names in fairy tales, too.  Look at Snow White and Rose Red.  A bit unimaginative, don’t you think?  It’s like calling your dog Mud Brown.  But anyway I’m glad they didn’t have any younger brothers and sisters.  What would they have ended up as?  Sky Blue?  Tree Green?  Butter Yellow?  Blush Pink?  They’d start to sound like they should be in a paint colour chart not a fairy tale.

    Whatever, Fairy Tales have shown me that names are important.

     

    Lesson 4.  Take Care of Your Feet.

    You never know.  They could be your ticket to marrying the Prince and living happily ever after, which sounds like a pretty good gig if you can get it, as long as he allows you your personal space with plenty of room to grow as a human being.

    A note: the glorious illustrations above are by Virginia Frances Sterrett who died tragically young and really deserves to be better known.

     

  • April16th

    Occasionally, one hears pundits and savants assert that Time Travel is dangerous. Moreover, the same gurus even go on to aver that the very idea of Time Travel is fraught with peril.

    Nothing could be further from the truth, which is that Time Travel is essential to our way of life.

    As is my wont, I went looking for a pithy quote to launch this searing exploration of temporal matters.

    I considered Stephen Hawking. No. I thought about Einstein. No. I wanted the best, the most thoughtful, the most penetrating intellect on my side. So I chose the esteemed Writer and Philosopher Mr William Shatner.

    He declared: ‘I find the whole time travel question very unsettling if you take it to its logical extension. I think it might eventually be possible, but then what happens?’

    And if the words of the man who played the immortal TJ Hooker aren’t enough for you, I have a case of my own to prosecute.

    Books, movies, TV – can you think of a time when Time Travel has ever turned out well? To writers, Time Travel can safely be put in the basket of items to insert when you need to have everything go horribly wrong. Time Travel is a mess. Time Travel is dangerous. Time Travel is a disaster.

    This might sound like a strange way to assert that Time Travel is something that should be undertaken as often as possible, but bear with me. My argument is subtle, it is complex, it is multi-faceted, but then again, I’m sure you can keep up. I have nothing but the highest regard for my readers.

    Why everyone should undertake Time Travel is because without it, writers everywhere would be driven to despair. Think about it, it’s such a rich and fertile area for plot thickeners. Take Time Travel out of Wells’ The Time Machine and you pretty much have a story about a man who doesn’t go anywhere. Take Time Travel out of The Edge of Tomorrow and Tom Cruise would miss out on his only good role in the last ten years. Take Time Travel out of the Star Trek: Enterprise TV series and you have a program that would be pretty empty and probably not worth making.

    Scratch that last example. Dammit.

    I’m asking you to think of the writers. Those poor, misunderstood, exploited – did I mention poor? – souls who do their best to bring a little happiness into your lives. Do you really want to deprive them of a tiny morsel which could brighten their blighted lives? Do you want them to do without something that could make their twisted, deprived and possibly soulless existences a little easier?

    I thought not.

    If there is no Time Travel, all our lives – all our lives, I tell you – would be immeasurably poorer. We would:

    • have no Morlocks or Eloi
    • have no special De Loreans
    • have no bootstrapped zombies
    • no dinosaurs stepping on butterflies leading to awful spelling mistakesdelorean
    • have no excellent adventure for Bill and Ted
    • Happy ending at the end of Christopher Reeves Superman 1
    • have no Doomsday Book, no Anubis Gates and no Time Traveller’s Wife
    • have no Outlander, no Life on Mars, no Time Tunnel.

    A world without such creations would be a much lesser world indeed.

    To put it another way, we’re all time travellers – it’s just that we’re doing it very, very slowly. It takes us one day to travel one day into the future. And I, for one, will have no truck with anyone who wishes to assert the opposite and to deny our very way of life.

  • March15th

    authors at lunch

    Authors at lunch

    Look at this for a roll call of kids and YA authors: Deb Abela, Felice Arena, Tim Baker, Tristan Bancks, the multiple person who is Angelica Banks, David Burton, Peter Carnavas, Nick Earls, Carmen Gray, Dave Hackett, Leanne Hall, Jacquie Harvey, Nicole Hayes, Jack Heath, Megan Jacobson, Andy Jones, Leisel Jones, Luka Lesson, Alice Pung, Chris Richardson, Matthew Ryan, Lian Tanner, Paula Tierney, Gabrielle Tozer, Frances Watts, Lesley Williams, Tammy Williams, Fiona Wood and Claire Zorn. Whew! That’s a stellar line-up in anyone’s terms and the breadth and diversity of offerings is a tribute to the organizers of the latest Somerset Celebration of Literature, which I was lucky enough to be part of last week – 8 to 11 March 2016 on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

    photo credit Chris Richardson

    That’s me – photo credit Chris Richardson

    And what a time was had by all. Consider the numbers. 20,000 tickets were sold to individual sessions. I repeat, 20,000! That’s a lot of young readers seeing their favourite authors in person, possibly for the first time, and getting irreplaceable insights into the craft of books and writing. Even more impressively, Somerset College funded a thousand kids from regional Queensland schools and the Northern Territory and helped them attend the festival. That sort of contribution to the community is remarkable and deserves recognition.

    The result was four days of outstanding fun, full of talk, sharing and high spirits all dedicated to the wonderful world of books, reading and writing. I was in my element.

    photo credit Elke Schneider

    I talk the good talk – photo credit Elke Schneider

    As a measure of the enthusiasm of the attendees, I had a workshop session with Grade 6 students, late on the Wednesday. In order to get to the festival on time, some of these kids had been up since 4.30 that morning – and in this workshop they were still keen, good-humoured and totally on task. Of course, the teachers deserve enormous buckets of credit, too. They go above and beyond the call of duty in organising these squads of students and then shepherding through the whole experience. They are worth their weight in gold.

    From an author’s point of view, the festival is exemplary. In some ways, it’s a chance for some author professional development as we can slip into the back of our colleagues’ presentations and glean some tips, as well as having a chance to discuss the nitty-gritty of the writing industry over the excellent coffee in the salubrious Green Room.

    One way to ensure that a festival is memorable for authors is to make sure that it’s smoothly organised. Here, Somerset Celebration is a model for others to aspire to. Managing scores of sessions, a multitude of venues and a motley bunch of authors could be seen as a challenge, but the Somerset crew made everything run like clockwork – aided by the many, many cheerful and hospitable volunteers who were essential in making everything hum along.

    In thanking Andrea Lewis, Karen Mackie, Anna Kirkby, Lisa Thomson and Cecilia Robertson I’m sure I’m neglecting to name others who contributed – please forgive me.

    The Somerset Celebration of Literature is one of the high points in Australia’s literary calendar. It was a privilege to attend.

    authors at Literary Dinner

    Authors at the final night’s Literary Dinner – photo credit Dave Hackett