Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
  • Articles
  • September12th

    For the spooky Halloween season, I’m holding a Ghost Town Ghost Walk, where I’ll take participants to some of the locations featured in Gap Year in Ghost Town and the sequel, Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town. It will be an amiable night time amble over an hour or so and roughly two kilometres in distance. I’ll provide a commentary full of ghostly and historical interest, and quite possibly a few jokes. While ghost sightings aren’t guaranteed, possum sightings are.

    Date and time: Saturday 2nd November, 8 o’clock.

    Depature point: Corner of Treasury Place and Lansdowne Street, Melbourne.

    Bookings here: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/ghost-town-ghost-walk-tickets-72204645037

  • July24th

    Apollo 11 50th got me thinking, so here are Five of my Favourite Science Fiction Moon Novels.
    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. The moon is revolting! Or its denizens are, anyway. One of the last good Heinlein novels?
    Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. If the moon explodes in the first line, is it really a moon novel?
    Steel Beach by John Varley. A heavily populated moon, because aliens won’t let us go any further into the universe.
    Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys. An existential moon. Mind bending.
    A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C Clarke. A dusty moon, which is a problem.

  • June30th

    One crafty technique that should be part of every writer’s toolbox is using foibles, quirks and mannerisms in your characterisation. You should do this for two very good reasons:

    1. They individualise your characters. All humans have foibles, quirks and mannerisms. They’re the minor and unconscious ways we do things, from the way we walk to the way we talk to the way we eat our food. Allocate a handful of these to each of your characters in incidental description, and instantly they’re more realistic, more human, more convincing.
    2. They can create a Moment of Recognition™. As a writer, we’re all aiming to engage our readers. One of the most subtle – but most powerful – methods is when a reader recognises something in one of your characters that is like someone they’ve seen, or like someone they know or – best of all – just like themselves. Dropping in well detailed foibles, quirks and mannerisms is a useful way of providing opportunities for those Moments of Recognition™ that help your reader develop a deep and enduring engagement with your story.

    For example, consider someone who cannot finish drinking something without adding a satisfied ‘Ahh!’. We all know, or have seen someone like that. If your character – major or minor – displays this foible/quirk/mannerism, it instantly individualises them (because this character is the only one in your story who displays this FQM) and creates a potential Moment of Recognition™. Achievement unlocked.

    As a writer, you should practise observing people, noticing these tiny aspects of our behaviour, then collect them and roll them out to make your characters more realistic, more individual and, with luck, create that wonderful moment of recognition hook for your readers.

  • June11th

    Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town is due for release on 1st of July. Here’s a book trailer I put together to tempt and tantalise.

  • April16th

    Yes, good stuff gets left out of any final version of a novel – and for many good reasons. Still, that’s no reason they can’t see the light of day, right?

    But do you know how hard it is to ignore ghosts, when you’re supposed to be a dedicated and conscientious ghost hunter? Correct answer is, “very hard” but with the avalanche of ghosts right now, that’s what Rani and I had to do. On our way to jobs, we saw ghosts everywhere. They spilled out of old buildings, blundered around alleys and lanes, wandered across busy streets, and basically made nuisances of themselves. And they weren’t solo manifestations, either. Pairs, trios, bunches of them skulking around together. Mobs and packs of a dozen or more. Crowds, even, drifting around, doing their ghosty thing, enjoying—if that’s the right word—their spooky existence.

    It was as if someone had stuck up a sign saying “Worldwide Ghost Convention Here!” and then forgot to arrange any accommodation. It was really lucky that politicians couldn’t see them otherwise they’d be frothing at the mouth about roaming gangs of ghosts up to no good and using this to justify some sort of law and order crackdown.

    Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town is coming in July, from Allen and Unwin. Pre-order now!

  • March21st

    Christopher Smart (1722-1771) is most often described as a mystic and a visionary. That’s when it’s not pointed out that he was ‘confined for insanity’ at St Luke’s Hospital in London. While he was there, he produced 1200 lines of verse most often titled Jubilate Agno (‘rejoice in the lamb’). The most famous section is where Smart writes about his cat, thereby anticipating the internet’s obsession by a few hundred years.

    It’s full of remarkable descriptions that any cat owner will recognise, all couched within religious meditations on the divinity of being. Put that aside, though, and it’s such a wondrous evocation of our feline friends that it’s breathtaking. Look at the extended depiction of Jeoffry washing himself. Look at the startling imagery (‘For he is the Tribe of Tiger’). Look at the humour (‘He is a mixture of gravity and waggery’) and the astonishing (‘For by stroking of him I have found out electricity’).

    It’s a wonder and well worth reading. Oh, the pic below is of my cat Winston, not Smart’s cat Jeoffry.

    For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.

    For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.

    For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.

    For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.

    For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.

    For he rolls upon prank to work it in.

    For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.

    For this he performs in ten degrees.

    For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.

    For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.

    For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.

    For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.

    For fifthly he washes himself.

    For sixthly he rolls upon wash.

    For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.

    For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.

    For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.

    For tenthly he goes in quest of food.

    For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.

    For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.

    For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.

    For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.

    For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.

    For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.

    For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.

    For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.

    For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.

    For he is of the tribe of Tiger.

    For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.

    For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.

    For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.

    For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.

    For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.

    For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.

    For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.

    For every family had one cat at least in the bag.

    For the English Cats are the best in Europe.

    For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.

    For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.

    For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.

    For he is tenacious of his point.

    For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.

    For he knows that God is his Saviour.

    For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.

    For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.

    For he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually—Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.

    For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.

    For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.

    For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.

    For he is docile and can learn certain things.

    For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.

    For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.

    For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.

    For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.

    For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.

    For he can catch the cork and toss it again.

    For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.

    For the former is afraid of detection.

    For the latter refuses the charge.

    For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.

    For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.

    For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.

    For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.

    For his ears are so acute that they sting again.

    For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.

    For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.

    For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.

    For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.

    For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.

    For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.

    For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.

    For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.

    For he can swim for life.

    For he can creep.

  • February13th

    With Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town (the sequel to the Aurealis Award Shortlisted Gap Year in Ghost Town) to be released in July, I’m deep in the last stages of editing. Thanks to the good people at Allen and Unwin, the story is getting tighter and pacier, coming together nicely. The editing process does mean, however, that some good bits necessarily hit the cutting room floor. But why lose them forever? Why not use them as tasty teasers for what’s shaping up as another spooky, witty, alarming adventure?

    So here’s the first.

    After the ghost’s gaze roamed vaguely in my direction it drifted back to whatever he was doing – or thought he was doing – and right there’s one of the puzzles of ghost hunting that fills in the boredom while waiting. Do ghosts actually think or are they, as they appear a lot of the time, an insubstantial machine going through the motions of life without any real intelligence? Whole careers have been taken up arguing about stuff like this in ghost hunting academic circles where professors huff and puff about this and that while cleaning their monocles or adjusting their pearl earrings or sharpening their flick knives or whatever ghost theoreticians do. Maybe they get red in the face and take it outside to settle these things mano a mano.

    Okay, so I haven’t had a lot of direct experience with ghost hunting professors, but that’s what imagination is for, to fill in gaps like that.

    Imagination. It’s not just for professionals.

  • September1st

    Hey, everyone! We now have a title for Gap Year 2 – ‘Graveyard Shift in Ghost Town’! More spooky, fun adventures, more Anton, Rani and Bec, more ghosts, more everything! Coming, July 2019 from Allen and Unwin.

     

  • August3rd

    I keep a compendium of sentences that I like both for inspiration and for the sheer pleasure of reading them again and again. What gets a sentence onto my list? A number of reasons. A neat turn of phrase. An unusual construction. An arresting use of punctuation. A thousand other things.

    Here are a few Fantasy and Science Fiction favourites I’ve gathered over the years, and I’ve glossed them with the reasons for their inclusion on my list.

     

    ‘On the heights above the river Xzan, at the site of certain ancient ruins, Iucounu the Laughing Magician had built a manse to his private taste: an eccentric structure of steep gables, balconies, sky-walks, cupolas, together with three spiral green glass towers through which the red sunlight shone in twisted glints and peculiar colours.’ Jack Vance, The Eyes of the Overworld.

    This is the opening of the book and it’s Jack Vance in full baroque mode. Sly, spiky, complex and mannered in an utterly distinctive way. Nice use of the colon, too, for which he gets extra marks.

     

    ‘Bright bloomed the morning, and debts were settled beneath it.’ Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light.

    Almost the opposite of the Vance example, Zelazny goes the economical route in this chapter opener. I love the way he plays with word order (‘Bright bloomed the morning’ instead of the more customary ‘The morning bloomed bright’) and then he crushes the clichéd description of daybreak with a hammer blow. The way the sentence finishes is so far from where it started that it takes your breath away.

     

    ‘A profound love between two people involves, after all, the power and chance of doing profound hurt.’ Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

    Never use a strong, unusual word like ‘profound’ twice close together! And certainly never in the same sentence! Except if you’re in serene control like Ursula le Guin was with this one. It’s almost musing (‘after all’) and is profound in its own right.

     

    ‘Atop that, yet more crisp-cut stone towering higher and higher as if men competed with the gods who had thrown up the great rock the whole edifice stood upon.’ Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion.

    Lovely scene setting. Bujold takes her time with this sentence, a lesson for all writers. She doesn’t hurry, and brings it home with a simile that not only a winner, but by its mention of gods it hints at mysteries, vistas and back story that efficiently adds texture to the narrative.

     

    ‘Driving east on the Santa Monica Freeway in the pre-dawn darkness, the moon long since set and the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles standing up off to his left like the smouldering posts of some god’s burned-down house, Crane had been seized with the idea of just staying eastbound on the Pomona Freeway, and all the way out past Ontario and Mira Loma to where it joined with the 15 in one of those weird, semi-desert suburbs with names like Norco and Loma Linda, and then straight on up to Las Vegas.’ Tim Powers, the Last Call.

    How can you make a description of a humdrum world resonate with otherness? This is how. Pop in a disconcerting simile (‘like the smouldering posts of some god’s burned-down house’), use strong verbs (‘had been seized’) and then the world becomes ominous, uncanny, even threatening.

     

    ‘Readers will always insist on adventures, and though you can have grief without adventures, you cannot have adventures without grief.’ Catherynne M. Valente, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

    This is a sentence built around rhythm, using repetition for an effect bordering on the sonorous. Three is the magic number, and using a word three times is like casting a spell.

     

    ‘Heidi’s room looked like the aftermath of a not-very-successful airplane bombing.’ William Gibson, Zero History.

    Sometimes you just nail a metaphor. I can imagine that after writing that one, WG sat back with a small smile on his face.

     

    ‘Joe felt the familiar exultation, the epinephrine flame that burned away doubt and confusion and left only a pure, clear, colourless vapor of rage.’ Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

    Rhythm again. Hear the drumbeats of ‘pure, clear, colourless vapor of rage’? Hammer blows building, echoing Joe’s boiling fury. Add to that the startling image of rage as ‘the epinephrine flame’ and we have a sentence to savour again and again.

     

    ‘True peace required the presence of justice, not just the absence of conflict.’ N.K. Jemisin, The Killing Moon.

    A neat antithesis, a sentence balanced around the comma which gives it a neat impetus. We read the first part and we know that something is coming either to turn this around or to emphasise it. Clean, cadenced, punchy.

     

    A well-crafted sentence is a thing of beauty, and something all writers strive for. Some succeed.

  • June24th

    Dani Vee from the excellent Words and Nerds podcast interviewed me recently. If you’d like to listen to my mellifluous and authoritative voice while I talk about inspiration, characterisation and motivation – with a particular focus on Gap Year in Ghost Town – then go here.  After that, have a listen to the other engrossing interviews that Dani has done. Thoroughly worthwhile.