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.
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.
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.
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. With thanks to Dana and Julie for giving me some time to work on it, and to Meredith for giving me reasons.
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.
John B. rummaged under the bonnet by torchlight to no avail. There was a small place a little way ahead. Less than a town, it was barely a village, but it was a destination that could be reached by driving carefully with Wilko holding the torch out the window.
That plan worked well until it started to rain. Torchlight through the wet front windscreen proved woefully inadequate to drive by.
They limped the car slowly into Bullangar and found the only hotel in the place.
“Sorry mate – we’ve only got two rooms and they’re both full tonight,” said the manager apologetically. “I’m really sorry, I wish I could help.”
“Yeah, I wish you could too,” said John B. with a sigh.
He and Wilko turned to go back out into the rain.
“Looks like we’ll have to sleep in the car,” said Stewart.
“Bit cramped, but I guess you’re right,” agreed Wilko.
‘Noisy, too,’ was John B.’s unspoken thought.
The manager looked after them, genuinely concerned, then called out, “Wait – you reckon you can make it down the road a little further?”
“Not keen, but what have you got in mind?” asked the driver.
“There’s a farmhouse about five minutes away, on the left. Belonged to my missus’ family. Auntie Grace passed away a few months back. Family’s still fightin’ about what to do with the property, and whatever money they can get for it.”
“You know what they say, where there’s a will there’s a relative,” John B. answered with a smile.
“Bloody right,” agreed the manager. “Can’t say that in front of the missus, but. Old Bert was a funny cove but Grace was a nice old stick. I can let you have that for the night. No lights or power, but a roof over your head and you can stretch out while you sleep.”
The two golfers looked at each other and shrugged.
“What’ll it cost?” asked Wilko.
The manager looked out into the rainy night and replied, “Nah, no charge – just don’t nick anything, eh? There’s a few things the family locusts haven’t cleaned out themselves yet. Here’s the key. Just leave it in the mailbox in the morning and I’ll pick it up later.”
“Mate, you’re a champion! Thanks!” said John B. warmly.
I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve cried more than I would have liked in the last couple of days.
I’ve lost a dear friend in John Bos, who I’d share a drink and a laugh with. We’d help each other out without question or pause. I had the pleasure of actually getting him to appear on stage, just once. He wouldn’t memorise lines, but he did dance, more than willingly, with the woman he loved.
And I’ve lost a mentor, inspiration and yes, even a friend in Sir Terry Pratchett. The privilege of adapting his books for stage was wonderful – even better was the joy of watching his genuine laugh-out-loud delight when I wrote something new for him and he saw it performed for the first time.
I’m not crying for John or Terry. They’re both out of their pain and suffering, gone on to whatever is next in their journeys. I’ve wept for me. Selfishly, for my loss – for the conversations not had, the laughs not shared.
That’s what grieving is. My life is a richer thing for having been touched by both men. Thank you, guys. Be seeing you.
“There’s no such thing as living happily ever after!”
said a mother to her children.
“You shouldn’t read silly stories that tell you such untruths!”
“Bad things happen to good people!”
“You’ll be disappointed!”
“Promises get broken, and things end!”
All of that is true, of course.
But remember this, my friends:
Living happily is not the same as being happy all the time.
Sometimes you will be hurt.
Sometimes people will upset you, or let you down.
Even your friends and the people you care about.
But there is always someone who loves you.
They may be right beside you.
Or they may live in your memory and your heart.
Or you may not have met them yet.
But they’re there.
There is still beauty in the world.
Beautiful places, beautiful things, beautiful people.
Look out for them.
Find them, and cherish them.
Remember the things that have been good.
Believe that there will always be more.
Live happily. Ever after.
I apologise if you’ve missed me!
It’s been a challenging few weeks since the last post.
Some significant Unwellness, then what can be best described as a mojo deficiency.
Thanks go out to my darling bride Meredith, my housemate Stevie, my doctor Jess, and a bunch of good people at Lismore Hospital.
I’m back now, taking it gently, but importantly back in front of my keyboard and writing again.
Best piece of advice I’ve heard lately:
A couple of little sketches I knocked up a little while back. Hope you enjoy them!
(Many thanks to Lance, Meredith and all the folks who helped.)
A writer has the luxury of creating their own reality to play in.
If you like mine, check the Market Place page to find how to explore it further.
If I could build my own little world, what would it be like?
The temperature would average around 17 degrees C. Some days would be warmer, but I’d be lying on a beach enjoying a sea breeze so that’d be okay.
Sometimes it would be a whole lot colder, with snow on the ground and the Merry Dancers lighting up the sky. But rugged up inside a good coat and warm lined boots, that would be alright too.
There’d be beaches and mountains and forests. Small towns with just enough shops, bars and restaurants to be interesting, not overwhelming.
Lots of birds and animals. All of them living undisturbed. Allowed to do what they do – live, die, hunt, graze – without anyone saying “Oh that’s awful” or “Not on my land”.
Sparrows, songbirds, and soaring eagles. Rabbits, rhinos and rattlesnakes. All in their place, wherever their place may be.
The sea full of dolphins, whales, turtles and rays. Sharks even. Dazzling coloured fish like living rainbows, swarming around reefs unspoiled by greedy developers and governments.
And people. I’m not so solitary as to live in a world with no other people. Not just people I already know, otherwise how would I ever make new friends and learn new things?
The people living in my little world wouldn’t all be like each other, or even necessarily like each other. But they’d respect each other – their similarities and their differences. Even if they chose not to live alongside one another, peace would reign between them.
People would die because you have to have balance: light and dark, light and death. But that death would be peaceful, and happen in the time and manner of a person’s own choosing.
In my own little world magic works. It just is. I don’t need to have scientists and mathematicians and philosophers account for every detail, every action and reaction.
Stuff happens. I accept it. I believe in the fundamental rightness of it. It doesn’t need my understanding to keep happening – it just needs me to not interfere.
It’s a nice little world.
I think we had one a bit like it, once.