If you’ve enjoyed my excursions into urban fantasy, here’s a little intro to where you can find my Dubious Magic books in electronic form.
If you’ve enjoyed my excursions into urban fantasy, here’s a little intro to where you can find my Dubious Magic books in electronic form.
I’m a writer. By preference. By profession.
As many of you know, it’s NOT an easy thing to make a profession out of.
There are a lot of obstacles to overcome, challenges to face, traps and pitfalls to avoid, and some sharks to stay well away from.
On your own, it’s an especially hard road to travel. I’ve found that it’s incredibly useful to learn from the experiences of others who’ve travelled that road across the world.
That’s what the Alliance of Independent Authors is all about. Investigate. Join. Learn. Be supported!
For a change, I’m turning this page over to another writer. Camilla Chance is responsible for a very fine book called Wisdom Man, which preserves the legacy of Australian indigenous elder Banjo Clarke. Well worth seeking out (contact me if you wish).
This piece, however, is her own effort at ‘Bush poetry’, a genre that was very significant in Australian literary history. I may ponder more on that soon, maybe even have a go myself. Meanwhile, here is Camilla’s work – enjoy!
Dedicated to the Potato Pickers near Warrnambool, Victoria, where I lived for 25 years, especially to ”Spud Murphy,” an elderly shell-shocked war veteran to whom I gave lifts along the Princes Highway. The Potato Pickers, mainly of Irish stock, slept by the side of the road or in paddocks, and rabbit holes were their cupboards, where they kept bottles of “grog.”
THE PRINCES OF THE HIGHWAY
Between Killarney and Koroit
There runs the Princes Highway
And many men have loitered there
Upon a long-gone-by day.
Each rabbit hole was storage space
For swagman, tramp or Gypsy,
And if the bottles’ corks came loose
They made the rabbits tipsy.
Men picked potatoes in the fields
And slept below the pine trees.
Good workers, they slept on the job!
Another sip of wine, please.
By wine, I mean the wind at night
That brings back long-gone-by days …
If homes are castles, these men were
The Princes of the Highways.
And now a man feels like a king
Upon the thing they use now.
He grandly guides the great machine –
A man can hardly lose, now.
But still, some pickers pick by hand,
Though few and far between, now.
So cheer the wanderers, clap your hands,
And think of what has been, now.
I received an email today from someone who has inspired me with a great idea. It may or may not be her own original, but y’know – I don’t care. I’m going to try it, and promote it, anyway!
Instead of having a ‘New Years Resolution’ list of things I want to achieve, I’m going to concentrate on how to achieve those goals I’d otherwise have written down.
Here’s a starting point:
Your thoughts become your words
Your words become your behaviour
Your behaviour becomes your habits
Your habits become your values
Your values become your destiny
– Mahatma Gandhi
So there’s my challenge. Not just ‘think positive’ – I already do a lot of that. But speak that way too, and act it. Create some new habits.
“Getting better every day” may be a cliche, but cliches only become so by repetition, and repetition doesn’t necessarily mean something isn’t true.
I will try to do my best, and the more I do it, the better that ‘best’ will become. And that, my friends, sounds like the road to success.
Wherever your roads lead you in 2017, may you travel them with courage. We can’t always control our destination but we can control the way we carry ourselves in getting there.
Here’s a little Christmas present for you all – it’s one of my favourites of all the things I’ve written “for kids”. But really, it’s for everyone who understands…
William Bowmore Wise liked to travel, and he liked to take pictures.
He especially liked to take pictures with his very expensive and very clever mobile phone that had a very clever camera built into it. He had a big camera too, but his phone was easier to carry around.
William B. Wise lived in a big city in Australia, but he really liked to travel.
Fortunately he was quite rich, so he could afford to visit a lot of interesting places.
William liked taking pictures of people who had less than he did because he thought they were interesting. He wasn’t being smug or unkind. He just didn’t quite understand them.
He’d always been quite rich and didn’t know what it was like to have to make his own clothes or bake his own bread. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like to grow his own food or catch his own fish or build his own house.
William didn’t even really understand what it was like to have to work hard to have enough money to buy food or a place to live.
He took pictures of people working and building and fishing and farming because they were things that to him were different and unusual.
When William took pictures of people, he didn’t think of them as people. It was like they were just things. Things to take pictures of, just like bridges and buildings and sunflowers and sunsets.
The Williwilli people were a very small, very ancient tribe who lived in Central Australia.
There weren’t many of them any more. They didn’t have a home. They hadn’t had a home for thousands of years.
The Williwilli people were nomads. They wandered from place to place, and built rough shelters to sleep in for just as long as they stayed in one place.
Sometimes they would hunt, sometimes they would fish, and sometimes they would gather the fruits and plants that grew in what other people called the Outback.
The Williwilli people knew a little about things like cars and cameras and computers. They’d seen them when they happened to be at a place where there were tourists visiting.
They knew about such things, but they weren’t very interested in them.
Those were things that the Williwilli people had never had, so they never missed having them. They were quite content with their lives and the way that they lived them.
But one thing that none of the Williwilli people liked was to have their picture taken.
They really really believed that if someone took a picture of you then they took a piece of your soul. That was the thing inside you that made You who you were, and if someone took a piece of it then you would be less You.
A mate of mine is a farmer. A while ago we discussed a series of stories for kids about “Where food comes from” after realising how many ‘city kids’ really have no idea. Here’s the first. Tell me if you’d like more!
“Do you know where eggs come from?” the cook asked Nicky.
“Mum keeps them in the door of the fridge.”
“Okay, before they go into the fridge – where do they come from?”
Nicky thought for a moment. “Umm… the supermarket.”
“Do you know where the shop gets eggs from?”
“From a farm,” said Nicky, remembering something in a book.
“Yes, often they do. How do the farmers get the eggs?”
“Does they grow them? Is that what an eggplant is?”
The cook laughed. “No, that’s a type of vegetable. Eggs come from chickens.”
“Oh! Um… how do the chickens get them?”
“They lay them. Female chickens start to lay eggs when they’re about twenty weeks old…” the cook started to explain.
Nicky interrupted. “Wait… what do you mean, ‘lay’ them? Where does the egg come from?”
“Well, er, out of the chicken’s bottom.”
“What? Like poop? Ee-uuw!”
“Eggs and poop do come out of the same hole, but that’s okay – they come from different places inside the chicken and don’t get mixed up together.”
“Okay… if you’re sure about that,” said Nicky, looking uncertainly at an egg on the kitchen bench.
“So why do the chickens lay these eggs?”
“Something inside the chicken’s body makes it produce eggs regularly…”
“It varies between chickens. Some might be once or twice per week. When a chicken is young and healthy it might be about every 25 hours.”
“There are 24 hours in a day, right? So the chicken lays an egg every day almost!” Nicky was good with numbers.
“Yes. If she lays her very first egg at ten o’clock on a Monday morning, the next will pop out at eleven on Tuesday, then noon on Wednesday, and so on. But most chickens only lay eggs during the daytime, so when that pattern gets to when it’s dark she’ll stop, and lay her next egg in the morning when it’s light.”
“Okay, that’s when – but why is she making them?”
“If there’s a rooster spending time with the chicken, then some of those eggs might get what’s called ‘fertilized’. That means that a chick grows inside the egg. That’s how we get new chickens. But most eggs don’t get fertilized, so there are lots more eggs than chickens.”
“Otherwise we’d have dozens and dozens of chickens in the supermarket instead of all those eggs. Do white eggs come from white chickens, and brown eggs from brown chickens?”
“Not necessarily. Black chickens don’t lay black eggs! Different breeds usually lay slightly different coloured eggs, and each individual chicken will produce pretty much the same colour. Sometimes a bit darker or lighter, or with little speckles – depending on what they’ve been eating.”
“So… if chickens make eggs to make more chickens… where did the first chicken come from?”
“Or, where did the first egg come from? I don’t think anyone has ever quite figured that one out! Now, would you like a boiled egg?”
“Yes please. With no poop in it!”
200 years ago Mary Shelley wrote a wonderful novel called Frankenstein. There was a competition to celebrate the anniversary. The challenge was to write 1000 words or so on “The relationship between creator and creation.” Here’s what I did. (I set up this post on what would have been my Dad’s 96th birthday. I know he’d have gotten a kick out of it.)
A remarkable inventor was Professor Thaddeus Plumpton-Green,
The man who was responsible for a most unique machine.
It turned out to be one of the best the world had ever seen.
He wasn’t very popular with other scientific brains.
They thought him odd, old-fashioned, and not up with modern gains
And in return he thought them trapped in unimaginative chains.
How things should work was what the Prof and his colleagues most would clash on.
Electronic new technology and computers may be fashion
But he didn’t care – gears and springs and clockwork were his passion.
He worked with cogs and wheels and springs and widgets made of tin.
Rack and pinion joints, and spools, and wire he’d coil around a pin
And the hammering of metal sheets that created quite a din.
The sound of his constructions could be as loud as you’d predict
So he lived and worked outside of town where the noise rules weren’t so strict,
And in that lab he called his home, he built the Thing that clicked.
Although he lived all by himself he seldom felt alone.
So much went on inside his head – a heavy traffic zone
But the Thing that clicked was company, in a way he’d never known.
Of course it could do more than click, if given half a chance.
It could nod and bow, and smile and wave. It could walk and run and prance.
When it was moved a special way the Thing would even dance.
That delighted old Prof P, who’d dance when on his own
To foxtrot records, classic jazz, on his wind-up gramophone.
If he tripped, or didn’t keep in time, the Thing would never moan.
Its clicking fitted with the jazz, in rhythm with the beat.
A dance partner who did not complain was, for clumsy Prof, a treat
For the Thing, it didn’t feel a thing if he trampled on its feet!
Once he told his Thing a joke and it gave him back a wink. It
Startled Plumpton-Green. He loved his animated trinket
But to call it ‘life’ was just too much – best not overthink it!
He hadn’t made a monster, of that he was quite certain.
The Thing was all of clockwork with no feelings to be hurting,
But Plumpton-Green still fretted as he peeped out round his curtain.
He went into town as he sometimes did to buy food, supplies and tools
When he saw some children as they walked to playgrounds or to schools.
“If they like my Thing I’m safe,” he thought, “For the young are no-one’s fools!”
Back in his lab he made more Things – just a few at first to share.
No monsters these, but playmates, each made with skill and care.
“If these kids like them I’ll make more for children everywhere!”
He took the new Things into town and gave them out for free
They clicked as they ran and danced and played and filled young hearts with glee
And parents seemed quite satisfied with his safety guarantee.
As children played with their clicking Things two men in suits walked by.
The fun the children clearly had caught one shrewd man’s cold eye.
He nudged his pal, said: “The next big thing! Let’s get rich, you and I!”
The men in suits were already rich from selling other stuff
But the funny thing with money is for some, there’s never enough.
When Professor P. said, “Not for sale!” they left him in a huff.
They found a boy who swapped his Thing for a computer game and sweets.
The lazy lad would rather play inside than on the streets
And the company of friends was less important than his treats.
So the men in suits had got their Thing and hardly spent a penny.
They had plenty cash, and grand ideas, but morals? Hardly any.
“If a few of these are such big hits, what dough we’ll make with many!”
“We can make more faster, cheaper, better too when we understand the trick!”
So their smart guys took the Thing apart to see what made it tick.
They even found the little bit that had given it its click.
They built a grand new factory with machines all big and fine,
Even automated polishers to give a brilliant shine
To New Improved Things by the thousand, off a huge production line.
Professor Plumpton read a press release of what the men in suits would do.
They’d flood the market with new Things, click-free, and cheaper, too.
He sighed and patted Thing the First and said, “At least I’ve still got you.”
But the New Improved Things didn’t sell – no-one wanted them as toys.
“What’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with you?” the men asked girls and boys.
The answer came, “They’re not the same. We liked the clicking noise!”
The men in suits were horrified at what the children spoke.
The factory, sales plan, marketing had all gone up in smoke.
Their production line of monsters left the men in suits quite broke.
The men in suits sold all their Things to the sheikh of a far-off land
Who used them as cheap labour to construct his buildings grand.
But alas, they didn’t last for long as their gears were clogged with sand.
Tastes change quickly nowadays and novelty wears thin.
Even those few Things that clicked were soon no longer ‘in’.
But the Prof back in his lab still wore his quiet contented grin.
For he still had his Thing the First to proudly call his own.
They’d stay up late and dance to jazz on the trusty gramophone,
As years went by old Plumpton-Green never had to be alone.
When the old Professor passed away, the Thing it couldn’t cry.
It didn’t have the means for tears, however it may try.
It hadn’t been designed to weep or mourn or even sigh.
It held his body to its breast and danced a gentle sway.
The music stopped, the Thing still moved in a tender, loving way
Until the gears at last wound down, and the last click died away.
We should all have the right to die with dignity, on our own terms. Visit www.dwdnsw.org.au if you’d like to know more, or show your support.
Imagine the sound of a bullfrog whispering.
That’s what Lander’s voice reminded the staff of, whenever he’d manage to make them hear him say, “Take me away, please…”
He didn’t manage that often. Not any more.
It wasn’t anything wrong with his throat that was the problem, although people hearing him lately for the first time tended to assume he was another victim of too many cigarettes.
Truth: the deep gravel voice was natural – he’d never been much of a smoker, other than a brief flirtation with a pipe in the mid-Sixties when he’d first been recognized as A Writer.
Scott William Lander. Creator of the Morton the Lunatic series of novels. The eponymous Morton was a teleporting hero who operated from a base on the moon, hence the ‘Lunatic’ tag. Scott couldn’t resist a pun.
He was never quite a darling of the critics, especially in his early career. He was dismissed as a bit too populist, perhaps, at a time when science fiction was meant to be intellectual, deep and meaningful. Lander’s work had seemed almost a throwback to the pulp fiction heroes of the Thirties, like Tarzan and Doc Savage.
But Scott and his hero were made of sterner stuff than the critics realised. When Armstrong and Aldrin kicked up the moon dust in ’69, some thought that would end Morton’s adventures. After all, anyone with a television now knew what the moon looked like. Nobody could really live there. NASA or the Russians would know if there was any sort of base there, wouldn’t they?
Lander saw it as an opportunity, though. In his next book, What The Eye Doesn’t See, he referred to how Morton used his own advanced technology to keep his base from the prying eyes of the space programs. It raised gentle questions about how trustworthy those agencies might really be, long before any conspiracy theorists proposed that the whole Apollo XI landing was an expensive hoax.
Scott had smiled in quiet delight when he read a magazine article headlined “DID ‘LUNAR’ LANDER GET IT RIGHT?”
That had all been a long time ago. Although his book appearances had become fewer and further between Morton had learned to overcome time as well as space. Alas, the same could not be said of his creator.
Scott Lander had fallen prey to Alzheimer’s Disease. It was insidious – slow and progressive. That had been the most distressing aspect of all for both Scott and his son William – both of them knew what was happening to the older man, and neither could do anything to prevent it.
After his diagnosis Scott had broken the news to Will, also an aspiring author, in a discussion about writing.
“Writers never retire,” Scott had observed. “We go in and out of fashion, and in and out of passion with our muse, but writing isn’t a job you can retire from. It’s a compulsion.”
“A need,” said Will, nodding.
“Like a driving force,” agreed his father, who then sighed deeply. “But I’ve realized I can’t steer. Then I forgot and kept trying. And kept on realizing, and forgetting, and realizing again. I spoke to the doctor about it, he did some tests, and now he’s told me why. It’s only going to get worse.”
In a distant and interesting corner of the world there’s a high plateau.
Scattered along the top of the plateau are a number of little towns. They’re very old, and the people who live in them have been there a long, long time.
Not many people climb up the plateau, and those who do usually wind up deciding that they really like one or other of the little towns they find up there. So they stay, and the plateau towns remain largely unknown to the outside world.
But this is one of their stories.
At one end of the plateau was a town named Block. The people who lived in Block were big, heavy people with loud voices. They had big square heads and big square bodies and they shouted a lot. They were like walking bulldozers.
The bulldozer people of Block always seemed to be busy. They were impatient, and would push each other around and shove each other out of the way in their hurry to get to places and do things.
They would shout over the top of each other because each one of them knew that whatever they had to say was absolutely the most important thing that could be said right at that moment.
All of the pushing and shoving and crowding meant that Block itself got very dirty and rundown. Walls started to crack, the footpaths started to sag, things broke down and didn’t get repaired because everyone was too busy demanding that someone else should do something about it.
Eventually there came a time when Block started to become too worn out, crowded and noisy even for the people who’d lived there a long time.
“Block isn’t good enough for us now! We should visit somewhere else and see what’s there!” cried some of the big square people.
A few of them travelled along the plateau to the next town – a quiet place named Sekund. There was more space there, and the people weren’t very good at standing up to the big square bodies of the bulldozer people when they started behave the way they did at home.
The news got back to Block quickly, and more and more of the big square people moved along the plateau away from their old homes and into Sekund.
They pushed their way in. They pushed the Sekunders out of their way, or pushed them around and shouted at them.
“We are visitors you know! You’re supposed to treat us well – bring us food and something to drink!” they would shout.
Some of the Sekunders thought that this was a way to behave that really got results, so they started to do the same things. They pushed people around and shouted and demanded that things be done for them.
They never even noticed that the more they behaved like this, the more their bodies and heads started to change shape. They were starting to look just like the people from Block as well as act like them.
The poor little town of Sekund hadn’t been built for rough treatment. The streets were narrower than those in Block. Shouting voices echoed and sounded even louder, and the walls and footpaths quickly started to crack and crumble.
Soon many of the big square bodied people had started to move along the plateau again, pushing their way into another town, and another after that.
Everywhere they went, they pushed and shoved and bullied.
“We are visitors! We demand to be served properly!” they would shout at the local people.
Some people did their best to keep out of the way, some started to behave the same way, and others just got trampled on.
All too soon, the big loud bulldozer people from Block, and others who behaved just like them, had moved all the way along the plateau.
Some of the folks in those towns tried to stand up to the Block people. They got run over, shouted at and pushed aside.
The big loud square bodied people really were just like bulldozers, shoving and squashing anyone and anything in their way.
The Mayor of the town of Quailville tried to talk to the people from Block when they first arrived.
“You can have some of our town all to yourselves, and we will live peacefully in the other part,” he offered.
The Block people agreed that was a good idea. But it didn’t take long before their part of Quailville got noisy and crowded and unpleasant.
“The other part of Quailville looks much nicer,” they said.
So they pushed their way into the rest of the town. The poor Mayor was just another person to be pushed aside.
`“This is no way to treat visitors! Why didn’t you let us have this bit of the town? It’s much nicer!” shouted one of the bulldozer people.
“It used to be,” said the Mayor in a sad, quiet voice as he looked around at the noisy, shoving crowd. But the people from Block didn’t hear him.
So they kept moving along the plateau, finding nice unspoiled places and spoiling them. Not deliberately, of course, but it never occurred to the Block people that their noise, and their pushing, and their rudeness, was really the cause of the problems they kept trying to leave behind.
Eventually they got to the very last town on the plateau. It was a very old town called Terminus.
The very polite people of Terminus welcomed them.
“You’re welcome to come in, but please be gentle. All of our town is very old and fragile,” they said.
“Yes, yes, sure. Now get out of the way!” replied the people from Block.
With a sigh the polite people of Terminus stood back and let the bulldozer people pass before they could be pushed aside or crushed.
Block people all across the plateau soon heard how easy it was to get into Terminus. They rushed there, pushing themselves along, pushing each other out of the way, and shouting as if being louder would help get them there sooner.
They pushed down the gates and pushed over the old fragile walls to get in.
Again the polite people tried to give a warning. “Please be careful – all of Terminus is old and fragile,” they said.
Most of the bulldozer people didn’t even bother to say, “Yes, sure.”
They either ignored the polite people, or pushed them out of the way, or shouted at them to get something because they were visitors and expected to be treated well.
Without the people from Block even noticing, the polite people quietly got right out of their way – right out of Terminus, in fact.
The people who used to be the Terminites stood some way away from where their gates had been, shaking their heads sadly. Inside the town, the Block people were rumbling around, pushing and shoving each other and shouting for somebody to come and serve them.
Then suddenly above the terrible noise of the pushing and shoving and shouting came an even louder, more terrible noise.
The people of Terminus had warned that all of their town was old and fragile. That included even the ground on which it had been built.
The end of the plateau collapsed under the strain. Terminus and the big square bulldozer people of Block fell hundreds of feet to their ruin.
The polite people made their way back along the plateau to all the places where those from Block had been. Places like Quailtown and Sekund – even the remains of Block itself.
Gradually the damage in all those towns was repaired. The people who were left treated each other with respect – they’d all learned a lesson from Block.
The plateau was shared by everyone, and became just the best and friendliest place in the world to live.
But they kept that quiet. They knew that there were other bulldozer people in the world.
THE WHITE SPIRIT
Thanks to this prompt, I’m reposting another early Dubious Magic story, set during the early events of Book 1: The Wizard of Waramanga – in which Wilko gets a little foretaste of the weirdness he’ll come to know around John B. Stewart.
It had been an unexpectedly successful weekend for both of them, right up until very recently.
John B. Stewart and Robert ‘Wilko’ Wilkes were a pair of fairly ordinary Canberra public servants. Except for John B. having magical powers ever since he’d hit his head on a poker machine.
The Tasmanian Wilko didn’t believe a word of that story, no matter how earnestly John B. tried to convince him that his wishes now came true. Not always predictably, he would admit, but results happened.
What they did agree on was a fondness for a game of golf. When the chance arose to play in a social tournament in a little country club a few hours drive west of Canberra, they’d agreed it seemed a good way to spend a couple of days.
“It’s your turn to have a few drinks, mate,” John B. had said. “We’ll take Kraven and I’ll drive us home.”
Kraven was Stewart’s battered but well-loved old Hillman Hunter. Wilko had been slightly concerned – the old car had been the recipient of some of his friend’s rather dodgy ‘running repairs’, but the offer was generous and the Hunter did seem to be reliable at the moment.
The golf had gone remarkably well. John B. had won a ‘nearest to the pin’ prize on Saturday, and Wilko had gone from a decent Saturday to a terrific Sunday, becoming the upset winner of the overall competition.
It wasn’t a great financial windfall, but it was a nice trophy and a few extra dollars to put over the clubhouse bar. So it was rather later than they’d originally intended when they finally waved their farewells and headed east.
John B. had been as good as his word and had very little to drink. A couple of good single malts spread over the hours, interspersed with plenty of soda water. He was tired, though. Sharing a hotel room with Wilko was challenging. The Tasmanian was a heavy sleeper, and completely oblivious to his own snoring. John B. wasn’t so lucky.
The sun was well down as the Hillman trundled along the road. It wasn’t a well-finished surface, and the ride was a bumpy one.
It was one particularly bad pothole that had been the cause of the sudden change in their fortunes. Kraven’s front left wheel had hit hard, the car had bounced and landed heavily. When it did, all the lights went out.