Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
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  • April11th

    Gap Year in Ghost Town (Allen & Unwin August 2017) has a cover! Authors, naturally, are always nervous about how their precious work is going to look, but the very clever Craig Phillips has come up with an absolute winner. I love its combination of spookiness and street smarts, and it captures the smart, creepy and funny tone of the book beautifully.

    Roll on August!

     

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  • February16th

    music notes small

    I like listening to and reading about other writers. I find the process of writing fascinating, and I find the multitude of different approaches empowering. There is no single magical formula for writing. There are a million ways to do it and to do it well.

    Take the business of music while writing. I’ve asked many writers about their aural habits while writing, and the responses are truly varied. Some insist on absolute silence. Some will allow birdsong and other natural noises but nothing else. Some fill the room with heavy metal mayhem until the dust shakes down from the ceiling.

    Me? I can have music, but I prefer it to be music without words. Words, even sung words, can intrude too much, especially if I’m writing dialogue. So instrumental music is fine, classical music can be good, but my favourite is movie music. Film scores can be sensational for nudging the right mood along. Vangelis’s ‘Bladerunner’ soundtrack is excellent if I’m in a futuristic world. ‘Lord of the Rings’ is perfect if I’m doing a battle scene. Erich Korngold’s score for ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ or the Indiana Jones march are terrific for those ‘let’s go adventuring’ moments, while if I’m after epic grandeur, I love Maurice Jarre’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Spooky, creepy moments? Try Bernard Hermann’s ‘Vertigo’ or (if you’re up to it) ‘Psycho’. Romance? I love Max Steiner’s lushness. ‘Casablanca’ is an all time favourite, but when I find I’m thinking of Ingrid Bergman instead of what I’m meant to be writing, I know I need to change the playlist.

     

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  • December11th

    A lot of buzz is already out there for this YA anthology from Harper Collins, due for publication in May 2017. It’s great being part of such a phalanx of top YA writers. Knowing them, I’m sure that the collection will be a delight, full of different approaches and voices. See here for more details and pre-ordering. #loveozya

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  • December3rd

    4th October – first full day in Venice

    Yesterday (and the day before?) was the long, long trip. Two legs – Melbourne – Dubai, two hour wait, then Dubai Venice. Arrived in Venice at 3 o’clock and met by Georgia, our landlord, who walked us from Piazza Romana where our bus brought us, to our little flat in Campiello Mosca, a gorgeous, tiny square with an ever running water spout, just around the corner from the grand church of San Pantalon, the one with the awe-inspiring trompe-l’œil ceiling.

    Slept for eleven hours, getting up at eight. Breakfast, we went around the corner to Tonolo, a recommended pasticceria, for bombe and coffee. Good stuff, very Italian.

    Our local fruit and veggie sellers, St Barnaba.

    Our local fruit and veggie sellers, St Barnaba.

    After that, we walked to Campo San Margherita, on our landlord’s recommendation, for some fruit and grocery shopping. Then we walked down toward Accademia and eventually went right through Dorsoduro to see Giudecca across the water.

    After lunch we did more wandering up to the station and Piazza Romana. Then we meandered toward the Rialto, finding good old Campo Silvestro and Locanda Armizo (where we stayed in 2004) along the way.

    Four o’clockish we made our way back to our flat, and at six o’clock, the bells started ringing near and far. At least one set very close.

    Dinner was at the Trattoria Dolfin. Good pasta and so so salmon main course. Read More | Comments

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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.

     

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  • July19th

    reading3

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  • 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.

     

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  • 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

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