Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
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  • 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.

     

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • May3rd

    Speculate 18

    Posted in: Articles

     

    R to L, Elizabeth Flux, Me, Alison Arnold, Amie Kaufman, Michael Earl

    It was an honour, being asked to be one of the guest writers at the very first Speculate Festival, held on Saturday 28 April 2018, and such was the wave of enthusiasm at the end of that inspirational, exhilarating day that I thought I’d record a few impressions of from a guest’s point of view.

    Speculate was what I’d call a boutique festival. A couple of hundred attendees, eighteen speakers, a band and a bookshop. The day had a single program stream, but so thoughtful were the organisers that the subject of each session was entertaining and enlightening for everyone.

    Speculate positioned itself as a festival ‘writers of speculative fiction from any and all backgrounds’ and that carefully considered raison d’être neatly set it apart from other festivals. Yes, it happily accommodated spec fic readers, but the shout out to those who want to write in this supremely rewarding area was welcome.

    And what a roll call of guests! Alison Arnold, Trudi Canavan, Michael Earp, Elizabeth Flux, Alison Goodman, Laura E Goodin, Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff, Earl Livings, Andrew McDonald, Ben McKenzie, Sean McMullen, Rose Michael, Brooke Maggs, Mark Smith, Dirk Strasser and Maize Wallin.

    And me. I was there too.

    This line-up enabled the organisers to schedule thought-provoking and engrossing sessions about language, location, the history and state of play in speculative fiction and even a hugely entertaining and highly musical spontaneous role playing game.

    I’d like to commend the organisers and the volunteers on the way the day ran. I’ve been to many, many festivals and conferences, and Speculate was a model of seamless, smooth running. I’m sure there were hiccups behind the scenes, but all the guests and the audience were oblivious to that. Our experience was first class.

    While flinging out the kudos, I need to say that the way we were handled, as guests, was outstanding. In the run up to the festival, we were kept in the loop and up to speed at all times, and left in no doubt as to our role and our responsibilities as presenters. The green room facilities were top flight – those cupcakes! – and the lunch was both timely and delicious. I’d hold up the arrangements here as a model for other festivals to follow.

    What else? The social media coverage was excellent, allowing people who weren’t there to share some of the flavour of the day. The venue worked exceedingly well – compact enough to encourage mingling, but spread out enough to allow those looking for a nook with a little privacy to discuss the wonders they’d just seen.

    I could start naming names to thank those responsible for the experience, but the trouble is that I’d miss someone out and you’re ALL deserving of praise. I must, however, give virtual bouquets to Joel Martin, Ian Laking, Alex Fairhill, Luke Manly, Rachelle Dekker, Ophelia, Isabella, Zoe, Melissa, Edna, Ed, Simone, David, Brett and Shanei plus anyone else I’ve shamefully neglected to mention.

    Speculate Festival was a splendid day, magnificently organised and implemented. Long may it continue.

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  • April6th

     

    As an author of books for young readers, I’m often asked to visit schools for presentations, residencies and workshops. I enjoy doing this sort of thing, and not just because they get me out of my home and into the world where I can interact with real people instead of the imaginary ones I spend my time with while writing. School visits can be exhilarating, invigorating and inspirational, but they can also be daunting if you are unfamiliar with the particular environment that schools present. How do you organise a school visit? How do you manage yourself while you’re there? Here are some tips that come from my years of experience visiting schools.

     

    • Keep this in mind: schools are large organisations. Even a small primary school is likely to be a hundred people or more, staff and students. Just making sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time can be a challenge. Just imagine the logistics of a large secondary school with perhaps two thousand people, all going in different directions at different times. It’s remarkable how well schools work on this level, when you think about it.
    • I suggest contacting the school at least a week before you roll up. Sometimes, author visits are organised months ahead, even a year ahead. This could mean that the person who did the initial arrangements might no longer be at the school, or could be on long service all maternity leave. Checking in before you arrive can avoid an embarrassing ‘Who the heck are y
      ou?’ moment.
    • When you contact the school beforehand, it’s worth checking on parking, if you’re driving. Some schools have ample parking, but for many, parking is in short supply. Don’t simply expect you can roll up the main driveway to a specially reserved parking spot. Forewarned is forearmed, especially if you know you had to find a park in a nearby street – inevitably schools are surrounded by parking restrictions.
    • Technology. Having a sensational PowerPoint presentation or a series of must-see websites to show students is an excellent way of pepping up your presentation – but every moment where technology is involved is a potential disaster zone. When contacting the school ahead of your visit, sound out their technology requirements. Do you need to bring your own laptop, or is that expressly forbidden? Is the school PC or Mac or are they happily agnostic? If you need sound for your presentations, is that available? And after you’ve sorted all this out, make sure that you have your presentation ready in multiple forms, on USB, in the cloud, and on your hard drive. And after you have all of this ready, make sure you have the ultimate backup of an alternative version of your presentation that requires no technology at all. That’s your failsafe.
    • Do check the address of the school, and be careful of multi-campus schools. You might be confident that you know where the school is, and when you roll up you could find that you’re actually booked to appear at the junior/senior campus some kilometres away.
    • Make sure you have a specific contact person that you can ask for when you reach the Reception/General Office. And when you get there, all schools have their own particular sign-in procedure. Be prepared to enter your details and, often, to pick up a lanyard which identifies you as an official visitor.
    • Working with Children. Most schools these days will insist on an officialWorking with Children card. If you don’t have one, organise this sort of thing well in advance – bureaucratic checks can take some time.
    • Remember that when you visit a school you are a disruptor to the normal routine. Special arrangements will have been put in place for your visit. Regular schedules might have been altered, tweaked or suspended entirely. This could mean that the school will be teetering on the edge of chaos, or it might all run like clockwork. Be prepared for either eventuality.
    • Be reasonably flexible. This doesn’t mean that you cave in and end up doing bus duty at the school because someone asked nicely, but some reasonable accommodation on your part is an acknowledgement that schools are places that often have last minute changes that can’t be foreseen.
    • Be careful what mug you use for your staffroom cup of coffee. Someone might just say, ‘help yourself’ but if you end up using the prize mug of the oldest staff member, your stay could be an awkward one. Look for mugs on the shelf marked ‘Visitors’ or, failing that, reach right to the back of the cupboard for the least used mugs, the one with ‘World’s Greatest Gran’ or similar on it.

    And how do you give a good presentation in a school context? That’s the subject of another blog post, coming soon!

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  • February28th

    Hot on the heels of last week’s Aurealis Award ‘Best Fantasy Novel’ shortlisting, ‘Gap Year in Ghost Town’ has bobbed up again, included on the CBCA’s 2018 Notable Books List. Yay!

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  • February27th

    Good news, everyone! I’ve managed to rack up two Aurealis Awards shortlistings!


    Gap Year in Ghost Town has been shortlisted for Best Fantasy Novel and my short story ‘First Casualty’ (from the groundbreaking ‘Begin, End, Begin’ anthology) is shortlisted in the Best Young Adult Short Story category.

     

    These are my eighth and ninth Aurealis Award shortlistings, and congratulations to the many fine writers I’m humbled to be listed alongside.

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  • February25th

    Let’s face it, a Martian Invasion is pretty much inevitable. It’s just a matter of time before our solar system neighbours finally press the big green ‘Go’ button and blast their way Earthwards. After all, they live on a really dreary piece of real estate. All that red dust! I’m sure that right now those dangerous little munchkins are voting on the best way to send their armed hordes across to our green and lovely planet. I can just imagine the polls they’re running: ‘Which ray would you use on the puny earthlings? Death Ray, Heat Ray or Blaster?’

    That’s what they’re like.

     

    As we don’t know when the Martian Invasion will come, it’s important for us all to get ready. There’s no point waiting until the flying saucers are hovering over our most loved monuments, government offices and other food sources to start wondering what to do. Preparation is the key, so I’ve put together a few handy tips.

     

    1. Read your Martian-English Dictionary really carefully. It’s too late to start leafing through pages when the battle drones start marching down your street. You need to be able to yell ‘Look behind you!’ in flawless Martian without even thinking about it. A few other phrases to memorise: ‘It’s not me you’re looking for’, ‘My mother is a Martian’ and ‘Would you mind standing on that train track for a while?’

     

    1. Invent an Anti-Martian Spray. Now, I know that this might be a bit tricky, but a Martian Invasion is no picnic either. Start with basic principles. Investigate how mosquito repellent works, then apply the same sort of thinking to an Anti-Martian spray. That should work.

     

    1. Keep an eye on the heavens using your telescope. Hint: this is work best done at night. I know, I know, this means going without sleep, but no pain, no gain.

     

    1. Exercise. Remember: when the Martians land near your home, you don’t have to be the fastest runner around, you only have to be faster than the slowest runner around. Lots of exercise is also good because you’ll get nice and skinny. I think we have to assume that the Martians are going to eat us, so it’s best to be as unappetising as possible, right?

     

    1. Weapons. Forget the usual guns and missiles. Martians just laugh at this sort of stuff, thanks to their incredibly advanced science. And they’re also very easily amused, apparently. A knock-knock joke really breaks them up, which tells you something. I mean, if you laugh at that sort of of thing, you’re probably full of all sorts of evil stuff, right?

     

    Where was I?

     

    Weapons. Just get hold of some of those things that use the Martians’ single weakness against them. Whatever that is.

     

    1. Build a giant flying saucer in your front yard. This is clever. When the Martian battle fleet hovers over your neighbourhood, the Martian commander will look down through her Vision-o-Scope (or whatever) and say, ‘Okay everyone, let’s move on. We’ve got this part of the puny earthling world under control.’

     

    A word of advice. Don’t run outside and make rude gestures at the departing Martian battle fleet until it’s a long way away. Those Vision-o-Scopes are probably dynamite.

     

    1. I love this one. It’s a variation on Number 6, above. This time, you climb onto your neighbour’s roof (the neighbour with the really annoying dog that just won’t shut up) and paint a huge sign on the tiles: ‘Martians Go Home!’ So while the Martians are going all ballistic on your neighbour’s head, you can stand there and laugh. Except if they use some sort of high-powered neutron inhibitor bomb which would crack open the earth’s crust in an area  ten kilometres square. Laughing wouldn’t help much then.

     

    On second thoughts, maybe you could try writing: ‘No Tasty Earthlings Here (Puny or Otherwise)’ but maybe a low profile is the best idea. Paint your roof to look like a desert or a swamp or something. Martians won’t get suspicious of a swamp in the middle of a residential neighbourhood. They’ll probably just go: ‘Those crazy (and puny) Earthlings! A swamp in the middle of a desirable neighbourhood! Go figure!’ Then they’ll cruise on and blow up a monument or something.

     

    1. Get your Martian disguise all dusted off and ready so you can infiltrate their headquarters and steal their plans or their super-science stuff or their money. Of course, since no-one has actually seen a Martian yet, this might be tricky, but that’s your challenge. Use your imagination. Green is probably a good start.

     

    1. Get ready to bribe them. Since our weapons will be useless (apart from making them laugh) maybe bribery will work. We’re working in the dark here, not knowing what will appeal to these evil invaders, so it’s probably best to stockpile lots of everything. When your neighbours complain about the mountains of old tyres or rotting cabbages or dog collars in your backyard, just tell them they’ll be sorry when the Martian Invasion comes. They’ll leave you alone after that, I’ll bet.

     

    1. Get used to being called ‘Puny Earthling.’ Don’t get mad about it. It’s just a Martian thing.

     

    A Martian Invasion need not spoil your day, as long as you prepare for it properly. Thinking about your home and what you can do to make it an impregnable fortress is just common sense and will allow you to lead a long and happy life under alien occupation. And remember, you don’t need to salute the Martian Overlords if you defeat them singlehanded!

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  • December12th

    If you want a great holiday read, look no further. Available here.

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  • December9th

    Some time ago, I was in a room of thirty or so YA writers, editors and other industry people when one writer declared, ‘I know you’ll all agree with me that what makes a good book is a chance for us all to have a massive cry.’ She was rewarded with enthusiastic acclamation and high fives all around – except for me. I was sitting there gobsmacked. Not just by the statement, but by the total and uncritical acceptance of it.

    I understand the pleasure that comes from emotional release like that. So did the Ancient Greeks, and they called it ‘catharsis’. Somewhere along the way, though, the serious nobs forgot that Aristotle et al fully understood that catharsis can come from tragedy or comedy. The purging, the emotional release that comes in those moments of heightened feeling can come from an uproarious laugh as much as it can come from weeping.

    The trouble is, there appears to be a false equation in the ranks of book people. That is, serious subject matter = a text to be taken seriously = a valuable and worthwhile text.

    I call bullshit on that.

    The converse, and generally accepted view, is that books that inspire laughter are lightweight, trivial, not to be taken seriously – therefore not valued. The accepted view appears to be that there’s nothing to be learned from laughter and lifting of spirits and that books that explore defeat and disaster are more worthy than books that end with triumph.

    This stance is standard in literature circles, and YA literature isn’t free of it.

    Bart Simpson once said ‘Making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel.’ Too easy, in other words. Want to try something difficult? Try writing something that makes readers laugh, that lifts them up, that gets them seeing that the world isn’t thoroughly black, crushing and defeated. If it’s a choice of outlooks between the nihilistic and defeatist Rick Sanchez and the effervescent optimism of Joy from Inside Out, I know which one I’d choose.

    ‘But the world isn’t like that!’ I hear you say. ‘The world is full of despair and crime and horror and so books that reflect that are more true!’ Again, I call bullshit on that. The world is not full of darkness. Darkness is there, but so is hope, love, laughter, mistaken identities, puns, and triumph. An unrelieved rollout of texts that solely concentrate on the darker side of life is a fundamentally dishonest representation of life because, let’s face it, typical everyday lives are far more likely to contain laughter than death.

    So what’s going on here? Why are books full of darkness and despair anointed as more worthy than those that are full of comedy and wit? Why is there a view that ‘resolutions that provide uplift do not necessarily reflect the complexities of life’? It’s simply a matter of siding with convention, I suspect – and, perhaps, a lack of knowledge and understanding of the alternative. For instance, I defy anyone not to see the labyrinthine complexities of life explored, uproariously, in Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, with its pointed and insightful commentary on bureaucracy, greed, family relationships, technology and human frailty. Gut-busting, erudite, poignant, eye-opening, dazzling and trenchant all at the same time, it’s an examination of the human condition that leaves you with a smile on your face instead of being crushed.

    Which is apparently not a good thing.

    Perhaps there’s some sort of snobbery at the bottom of it (bottom – heh). Is comedy seen as coarse and common, while other aspects of humanity such as suffering and misery are loftier? Of course comedy has fart jokes, but it can be so much more than that – even if a well timed fart joke is a side splitter.

    I implore you, don’t neglect funny books. I maintain that the best of them are just as important, just as valuable and just as insightful as the best of other books, the ones more traditionally deemed as worthy.

    And, of course, ‘worthy’ ends up as being a synonym for ‘acceptable to study’.

    Some advice here, though. Please, don’t do the reluctant and half-hearted thing and tentatively step into comedy via earnest dark comedies, those already awarded the status of ‘nearly suitable for inclusion in a serious person’s reading list’. Most of them are dire and unlikely to get you laughing out loud. They’re often dealing with a serious subject and using ham-fisted comedy to make a point.

    Spare me.

    Instead, go for something without pretensions. Look for books that are genuinely trying to make you laugh, the wild, the off-beat, the outré and the bizarre. The skill involved in writing this is extraordinary, and the craft is thoroughly worth analysing and appreciating. It could be outright farce, it could be black comedy, it could be satire, it could be parody, it could be romantic comedy, whatever. Look at the writer’s technique in creating the moments of laughter, and you’ll find it’s as rewarding as looking at any downward character spiral.

    Explore the great comic characters, too. What makes them so memorable – and it’s not always because they’re fools or that they’re a clown that cries. Look at Bertie Wooster, look at Harry Flashman, look at Mia Thermopolis. Why do they make us laugh so much? Why are they so memorable? Why do they get us returning to re-read their exploits again and again, even if we know every punchline?

    And, above all, look at Terry Pratchett. Profound, humane, moving and very, very funny. He makes you laugh, and we need more laughter in this world, after all, not more crying.

    Addendum

    Look, I know and accept that a book can make us cry and make us laugh. That’s not the point of my essay above, so let’s not get into that topic right now, okay? Another time, maybe.

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