Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012


When writing a novel, it’s useful, at some point, to consider what themes have emerged in your story. I say emerged because I think in most cases writers don’t start out with a strong idea of the thematic intent of their work. They may consider what type of story they want to write, what the inciting event, main event, or denouement will be, or have a strong idea about character or world, but theme? Not so much. Certainly that’s been true for me in developing the Kresh novels, and now that I’m nearing the end of a consolidated first draft, it’s useful to think about themes. Useful, in particular when it comes to looking at a second draft and working out what story elements to strengthen, or link, or drop. It’s a weird symbiosis that by working to bring the theme – once you’ve identified it – into sharper relief, you actually make the story stronger. It hangs together more, simply because it’s more obviously ‘about something’. Saying it like that sounds prosaic, but I think it’s only ‘self-evident’ when you realise it is.

Of course understanding the theme of the story also helps you sell it to others – readers, publishers, whatever. Because it focuses your ability to explain what the story’s about. So what are the Kresh novels about? Interestingly, to me anyway, because I didn’t plan it this way – I was just following some bad stuff that happened to a particular alien – it’s about how societies are wounded by trauma, how they react to that trauma and how the actions of individuals can bring about necessary healing.

The Kresh society is guided by a desire to attain perfection. As a consequence Kresh born with defects or otherwise injured are euthenased. No-one questions this. When the war comes and the invading Hegemony deliberately mutilate large numbers of Kresh, the result is mass suicides and murders. The traumatised society is still clinging to the old ways but those ways are damaging it further. Jeldon is one of the mutilated excisees. Despite great personal suffering, he refuses to suicide or to be executed. Through his struggles he demonstrates the idiocy of carrying on with the old ways and helps to heal and transform his society.

The human-based Hegemony is ruthlessly aggressive. Their policy of attack and subjugate first is what keeps them safe and strong. That policy grew out of an early encounter with a deadly alien species that all but destroyed humanity. In that light their defensive/ aggressive response is understandable and as the memory of that trauma faded, those in control did all they could to generate and nurture a fear of outsiders in order to reinforce that response and ensure the continued safety of the species. Rhys was part of the Hegemony war machine until he was ruthlessly used and discarded by the leader of the Diplomatic Corps. Damaged, perhaps not in such an overt way as Jeldon, he sees that humanity has lost its moral compass. Teaming up with Jeldon he devises a plan to bring war to the Hegemony, not to destroy them, but to force them to see that their worldview is extreme and, ultimately, self-defeating.

There’s an obvious symmetry that’s emerged in the story which is really pleasing and, I think, the path is becoming a little clearer for me in how to go about the second draft.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


A lot can happen in 24-hours. But writing, editing and publishing a book?! That's tricky. And it’s what makes if:book Australia's 24-Hour Book challenge so exciting. The other thing I'm excited about is that I’ve been selected to be Lead Editor on the project. It sounds like a lot of fun. And I'll be working with some very cool authors, including my fellow Serapeum alumni, Rjurik Davidson. Bring it on! Here's the offical word from if:book Australia —

The 24-Hour Book
24 hours.
9 writers.
1 book.

On 11 June 2012, if:book Australia will challenge a team of writers and editors to collaborate, write, and publish a book in a single 24-hour period.

At midday, nine writers (including Nick Earls, Steven Amsterdam, Krissy Kneen, and P.M. Newton) will gather at the State Library of Queensland and begin writing furiously. Their stories will be written live on the day, with work in progress posted online to allow readers to watch the story unfold and to submit ideas, suggestions and contributions across media. As the stories are completed, a team of bleary-eyed editors will take the text from manuscript to a book.

On the 12 June (at midday of course), the finished book will be available in both digital and print with a launch in the following days.

Digital tools have already made a tremendous impact on the process of writing and reading. We’re used to thinking about text written for screens, such as blogs, as instant publishing platforms: the act of making writing public is as simple as clicking a button literally marked ‘Publish’. Digital writing is also designed as a collaborative environment: writers, editors, designers, and even audience are all invited to take part in the creation of a complete document.

But what if we apply these concepts to making and reading books? Not just books for screens, but for ink and paper too?

How far can you push the technology? How far can you take the book?

if:book Australia presents: The 24-Hour Book

11 - 12 June 2012

Watch the story unfold at

Nick Earls
Steven Amsterdam
Krissy Kneen
P.M. Newton
Geoff Lemon
Rjurik Davidson
Christopher Currie
Angela Slatter
Simon Groth
Keith Stevenson (Editor)

Stay tuned to if:book Australia for more details in the coming months.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Many things have been happening. One of the most worrying was the sudden disappearance of the coeur de lion website. We use a wordpress platform and the whole thing just disappeared to be replace by the http error screen of death (not to be confused with the blue screen of death that was so popular with Windows Vista). It was with some trepidation that I went into the 'back end' of the site. There was an option to 'repair database' and all I had to do was click a button. It couldn't be that simple could it? Apparently it could. The site was back up in minutes. Praise be the wiley IT pro who put together THAT little magical bit of programming!

In amongst all this, I took delivery of Adam Browne's manuscript for Pyrotechnicon.  I'd seen an earlier draft about a year ago and given Adam some comments a couple of months ago. He's worked tremendously in the intervening time and this latest draft is positively thrumming. There's wonders, word plays, delightful jokes and sly winks to the reader, all wrapped around a most engaging tale featuring one of the most famous of literary characters - Cyrano de Bergerac. So the next wee while will be spent in the enjoyable pursuit of reading this latest version. Then it's back to Adam for some minor tweaks before we get into the copy edit stage.

As a result, progress on the Kresh novel has taken a back seat. But only for a short while. I've got good momentum now and I know where I'm going, so it's all good.

The only slight wrinkle in my world is the minimal number of reviews Anywhere but Earth is garnering. It's darned hard to get anyone to review anything these days. There's been some great feedback on GoodReads but apart from that, not a lot. Oh well, one can only keep trying.