New South Wales Writers’ Centre Speculative Fiction Festival 2017

Standard

Content warning: I’m dyslexic, deal with it.

Every second year New South Wales Writers’ Centre hosts a Speculative Fiction Festival to much whooping and wooting from Spec Fic fans. This was its third run and it has sold out every single time.
For those wondering what Spec Fic is our glorious convenor, Cat Sparks, described is as ‘the literature of what the fuck.’ Which sums it up pretty nicely. In a nutshell Spec Fic is an umbrella term that covers Fantasy, Horror and Sci Fi. Wikipedia says-

Speculative fiction is an umbrella genreencompassing narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements.[1] This includes the genres science fiction, fantasy,horror and supernatural fiction, as well as their combinations.[2] The broader usage of the term is attributed to Robert Heinlein, who referenced it in 1947 in an editorial essay, although there are prior mentions of speculative fiction or its variant “speculative literature”.

As you can see it covers quite a bit. All that we fear about the future of technology, politics, and human nature, is crystallised and taken to its extreme in Speculative Fiction.

But you don’t care about dry definitions, you want to know who said what. So I’ll give a quick summary of the panels I saw.

The first panel was New Gods and Monsters. The chair was Robert Hood, and the panelists were MARIA LEWISAlan BaxterJames Bradley and….. dramatic pause….. suspense building….. so much suspense…….. Margo Lanagan. In the warm up Robert Hood says that the origins of superheroes lies in mythology. Maria Lewis adds that the split nature of heroes with one identity by day and another by night lies with the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Margo Lanagan mentions Saints as having super powers and everybody giggles. James Bradley mentions that Sherlock Holmes is a great precursor to superheroes with his almost super human intelligence. And the modern day superhero is essentially Houdini in a circus costume….. Pretty sure he means more like the contortionist than a clown.

James Bradley then takes the excitement down a notch and mentions that comics have a lot to do with the economics of the time. That they are a business and want to make money. Maria Lewis tries to lighten the mood and says it’s also about need. The world is pretty scary right now and we need heroes to step up. 

Robert Hood mentions that in the 80s Stan Lee made the heroes much more relatable to people by being diverse and having real human flaws. James Bradley agrees that MARVEL became more fun and people loved it. Maria Lewis mentions how not only the content was diverse but the writing approach became so. Comic book authors writing movies, authors writing comics. People were becoming format fluid writers. James Bradley says that the diversification is good but to be wary because it is economically motivated. Major corporations own these comics and they’re doing it because it sells and they can get more money from it. So be happy because diversity and representation matters… but hold off on praising these corporations too much because they’re doing it for money not the goodness of their own hearts. 
Onto Urban Fantasy Noir chaired by Marlee Jane Ward with Alan Baxter, Angela Slatter and Maria Lewis. Alan Baxter says he likes Urban Fantasy because he loves genre mashing. He loves mongrel dogs and mongrel genres. He takes themes from big fat epics and puts them into the real world. Maria Lewis says it just makes sense to combine ancient beings with modern days settings because everybody knows a Xerxes. Sure, who hasn’t felt so angry that they’ve ordered the water to be whipped for disobedience?

Angela Slatter says that Urban Fantasy is about tears. Fractures in your life being echoed by tears in the veil between reality and beyond. It is about that point where everything is ripped so it lends itself to crime and the supernatural as the logical two extensions.

Alan Baxter drops that Urban Fantasy is dead. Maria Lewis says not only is Urban Fantasy dead, whatever supernatural creature you are writing about is the wrong one. If you’re writing about werewolves you’ll be told by publishers that it’s Vampire Season. If you’re writing about fairies it’ll be Troll Season. And if you’re writing about mermen, you’ll need to self publish. Maria Lewis will be self publishing From the Deep in September. 

Next I saw Myth, Legend and Fairy Tale chaired by Thoraiya Dyer with Cathy CraigieRebecca-Anne Do Rozario, Margo Lanagan and Garth Nix. Cathy Craigie opens by talking about oral story traditions and how they’re organic and moving like their own growing being. They can change depending on the storyteller and the place. Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario says that with the European folk tales they veer from oral to written to oral and back again. Snaking back and fourth as they develop.

Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario says she loves research and does research for its own sake. Margo Lanagan says she can get lost in research. Cathy Craigie says research allows her to expand on stories…. Garth Nix says he doesn’t so much actively research as passively. He just naturally reads widely to be inspired and learns ew things. He rarely comes up with an idea and has to go research it. He doesn’t go looking for stuff, stuff comes and finds him.

Thoraiya Dyer asks the panelists if when recasting old tales should authors stick to the now accepted happy endings if they want commercial success. Margo Lanagan says if they wanted commercial success they shouldn’t become writers so just give it the ending it needs. 
And then we had lunch. I got a couple of books signed.

Weird Fiction chaired by Kaaron Warren with Julie KohJane Rawson, and Rose Michael is what I attended next. Full disclosure, I spent much of this session watching Julie Koh’s hand movements. They were hypnotic. At one stage she ran her fingers over the arm of her white leather chair so softly and so serenely that I could almost feel it raise tingling goosebumps up my neck and into my hair line.

Julie Koh opened up the dialogue by stating that she always felt that she was normal but people kept saying that she was not. And being placed in Weird Fiction has simply reinforced this message. She considered herself literary. Rose Michael says that she too believed that she was a straight literary writer and only found out that she was not when her first rejection indicated that the publisher wasn’t taking on literary fiction with speculative elements. Now she has embraced the weird and uses speculative elements to resolve impasses in her literary manuscripts. It has given her another bag of tricks to use.

Jane Rawson just wanted to write stuff people loved and people seemed to love literary. But she can’t help but write Weird Fiction because life is weird. Julie Koh casually mentions that people in her family have the third eye and can see ghosts and gods. No big D. So it’s not really weird it’s just stuff some people can’t see. Mebe the literary people are the weird ones because they can only see part of the world?

Rose Michael says – Reality is a conspiracy theory that we’ve all signed up for.

Jane Rawson says that there is a definite market for Weird Fiction in Australia but there might not be so many publishers that will commission it. Julie Koh admits she’s weirded out by how narrow the definition is of what Australians read because they really read much wider.

As for advice on craft, Kaaron Warren recommends a little nap in the afternoon to awaken the ideas. Jane Rawson says fall out of bed in the morning and start writing while your brain is still floating between awake and asleep. I knew napping was important.

Also, Jane Rawson and Julie Koh are part of a collective known as Kanganoulipo that are shaking up Australian literature. I’m quietly confident that they meet in an underground lair and have a secret handshake. So keep your eyes open for their work.

For the Kaffeeklatsches I saw Margo Lanagan. 

She is also a fan of writing in the morning, but that’s because she likes to write before her inner critic wakes up and judges her. 

Deadlines don’t work for her. They don’t motivate her to work better and quicker. It comes when it comes.

She doesn’t write and edit beginning to end, more so in chunks.

Margo Lanagan recommends that you get your words to the point that even if they’re read in a monotone they still have power.
The final session of the day was The Road to Publication chaired by Rose Michael with Alison GreenLex HirstJoel Naoum, Garth Nix and Angela Slatter. The main takeaways for me were that Garth Nix believes that hybrid authors are the way of the future. Alison Green says the writing is a craft but publishing is a business. Lex Hirst says that she loves Dystopian Fiction because they are the perfect balance of escapism and instruction manual. Angela Slatter urges everyone to write to the publishers guidelines and not write a cover letter explaining why you haven’t. Penguin is currently running a Literary Prize that has a $20k advance for the winner. Competition closes October 20.
And that was the formal part over. It was followed by wine and chatting. I shall now leave you with some quotes from the day that I have imgflipped onto pictures. Enjoy.

Read up about being a dyslexic writer here.

Let Me Tell You How To Live

Standard

I like giving people advice. It’s ironic, because I am in no way, shape or form qualified to give guidance to anyone, and can barely run my own life. Which leaves me with a dilemma, I want to tell people what to do but have nobody to tell what to do. Well, dear readers, I have come up with a nifty solution, if the advice wanting won’t come to Robin, then Robin will go to the advice wanting. I have just given my following list on twitter a quick trawl for questions and shall give my unwanted and unwarranted advice. Please feel free to give me money and accolades for this unwanted service.

Rachel, may I call you Rachel? This is a tricky one, and I’m glad you came to me for advice because I would not want you to make the wrong decision here. On the surface it seems like you’ve got a lot of great options. You can either drink champagne as your friends sleep OR imbibe 1/3 of a bottle of champagne. It is a tricky one. My gut feeling is that you should probably drink, alone, in the dark,  whilst your friends sleep… maybe drunk dial a couple of exes, send a family member an email with all the times they let you down as a child, BUT leave a gulp full so that you can later pour that onto one of your friend’s crotchal area and then literally cry with laughter because people will think they wet their pants. That being said  imbibing also looks like a good option, so it’s really a line call. Good luck, and do let me know how it all panned out.

Great question Kirsty, thanks for coming here to ask specifically me about this. In short, no it is not a coincidence. But why keep it in short if I can go longer? Whilst you were away your seat became haunted. I know that’s scary, but that’s the reality you’re living with now, so deal with it. The ghost is willing to share with you but not for long stretches of time. As such they are shooting pain into your sacroiliac joint any time you sit in its chair for longer than twenty minutes. I’d suggest that you make sure you stand up every twenty minutes to ensure the ghost knows you aren’t trying to steal its chair. I would also recommend seeing a physio for the damage it has already inflicted upon you. Furthermore, exercise your pelvic floor. But whatever you do, do not take a smudge stick to your chair. It will only enrage the ghost and your life will LITERALLY turn into the movie Poltergeist. Hope that helps, please let me know how things work out for you.

Tania, firstly, thank you for coming to me with this question. It’s a deeply personal issue and takes a lot of courage to go public with this. I commend you for your bravery.  Secondly, I think of cats playing tiny, cat-sized pianos. I don’t think of cats inside pianos or cat organs being used to string regular pianos. Yup, definitely cats playing pianos. I think there’s something in that for all of us. Thanks so much for your question, and please let me know if my words helped.

If you would like advice, or have a friend you’d like me to advise, please don’t hesitate to tweet your question to me at @RobinElizabee.

Buy my shit here.

Confession of a Spec Fic Writer: Sometimes We’re Not Clever, We’re Just Plain A-Holes.

Standard

In October of 2012 I started this blog as a budding Spec Fic writer. I wrote Doctor Who Horoscopes, I shared Fantasy excerpts and short stories that I had written. However, in March 2014 I went into a psychiatric hospital with postnatal depression. My blog focus shifted but strangely enough I still often identify myself as a Spec Fic writer. For the next couple of years I have Spec Fic slated to come out. A Historical Fantasy this year and a Paranormal Crime next year. As such I am having more Spec Fic focused conversations with fellow writers. We all think we’re pretty clever. We all like playing with reality. We all enjoy coming up with clever tricks…. But sometimes we fail. Sometimes we unintentionally write things that are harmful and bigoted. 

A recent conversation with a friend reminded me of a concept that an ex came up with when we were in our early 20s, about 15 years ago. It was a vampire film (yeah, I used to do short film, I’ve even got an award, I’m quite the Jack) and he was so excited about it because it combined his two great loves, medical science and vampires. He had a medical science degree. He had honours. He was doing his PhD. In short, he knew his stuff. And as he told me his plans I said, “Wow, that’s really fucking interesting.” 

His premise was that vampires were a result of a blood mutation and that people with hemophilia were actually descendants from the original vampires. He had way more science behind it than that but that’s about the extent that this aging, arts-degree brain can remember. We hi5ed to good thinking and how solid the science was. We listened to Placebo’s Haemoglobin. We were sooooo cool. But then some thoughts started cropping up…

…. Hang on, are we saying that very real people who exist today are not entirely human? Are we saying that a group of real people are part parasite ready to suck the blood of others? Have we made out that they’re different and savage because of a medical condition? Have we seriously othered them? Oh shit, we had. But aren’t vampires cool? Doesn’t everyone want to be one? No. People who have been systematically excluded already probably don’t want to be further dehumanised. 

You know what we ended up doing? We set the idea aside. We decided not to run with it because there were too many issues. Sure the science was interesting, the play of ideas was interesting, but actually putting that dehumanisation of a group of people out into the world was not interesting. It wouldn’t be fun or cool. It would be actively othering and already misunderstood group. 

What did we do? We came up with other ideas that didn’t dehumanise a group of marginalised people. Just because and idea seems interesting on the surface doesn’t mean it’s actually a good concept to film or write about. We’re creative people. We can think of more things. We can do better. We can come up with equally exciting concepts with out dehumanising marginalised people. I believe in us. We’re thinkers. 

This was 16 years ago and I’m still having similar conversations. Let’s do better. I know we can do it. Don’t get me wrong, we’ll all fuck up at times, I definitely do, but at least put it on our radar.

The Great Con: women actually do ask for help.

Standard


I keep reading newspaper reports about how women keep depression and anxiety a secret and don’t seek help. I then speak to women who mouth the same thing that they didn’t ask for professional help BUT then they outline all the ways they did in fact ask for help, all the while saying they didn’t. The same goes for physical conditions. Women tell me how they told partners and doctors how they were tired, how they were gaining weight, how they didn’t have energy, how their memory was faltering and yet still finish off with saying they never spoke to anybody about their depression.

Now why would women detail to me a whole bunch of symptoms that are linked to depression that they have told their doctors about and then say that they didn’t tell anyone about it? Clearly they have told their doctor symptoms by their own admission so why do they then claim they didn’t speak about it? Because the great con is that women have been conditioned to think if they don’t get medical help it is because they didn’t ask properly. They’ve been convinced that they haven’t asked for help because they didn’t provide the doctor with a diagnosis and ask for help with that specific thing. Women are expected to do the the doctor’s job of diagnosis in order to get help. This is an ongoing issue in the medical profession as outlined in the study, The Girl Who Cried PainA Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain, women are routinely dismissed. They’re asking just fine, they shouldn’t have to diagnose themselves, that’s actually the doctor’s job, but there is an inherent bias against them.


It’s time to stop meekly standing by as we lose more and more women to suicide and watch more and more women lose mobility because of lack of treatment and continue to say, “Oh, it’s our fault, we mustn’t have asked correctly.” Men are given treatment and further testing when they give their symptoms, women are sent away. Women are forced to come back time and time again trying to get help. It’s the real reason why women see doctors more often than men do. They have to because they are forced to go back because they keep getting dismissed and the problem continues.


Women, you shouldn’t have to do the doctor’s job in order to get help. You shouldn’t have to be medically trained and able to diagnose pancreatitis, or stroke, or anxiety, or pelvic dislocation, that’s the doctor’s job. If you’ve mentioned your symptoms you have in fact asked for help. Let’s not be part of this system that undermines women. Let’s back ourselves and say we are worthy of treatment and we are perfectly capable of communicating symptoms. We actually do deserve treatment and this bias needs to stop. We’re not the problem, the unconscionable bias against us is.


Here are some further articles I think many of you will relate to. Happy reading.


She Thought She’d Pulled a Hip Muscle, But Six Doctors Couldn’t Diagnose Her Pain.

Diagnosis: Sexism 

When Gender Stereotypes Become a Serious Hazzard to Women’s Health

Endometriosis  and the Dangers of Period Pain Dismissal

I Screamed and Screamed and Screamed but Nobody Would Listen to Me.




Buy my shit here


Rage against the machine… everywhere and anywhere?



P.S. If I had a penny for every female who told me that they were told by medical professionals that women just got tired, grumpy, fat,  weak, and lose memory at x age, x ranging from 16-60, but persisted and after countless dismissals finally got a diagnosis and got treatment, I’d have a lot of pennies…. Sadly, I’d have way more pennies than I earn from writing. You don’t have to accept that women just fall apart. We don’t. No more so than men.

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 

Standard

We need to talk literary news. NSW Premier’s Literary Awards news. And by talk, I mean let me tell you the winners 

Royall Tyler won the Translation Prize

Jan Owen won the Early Career Translation Prize

Maxine Beneba Clarke won the Multicultural Award for The Hate Race. (Maxine wrote an acceptance speech which her editor, Robert Watkins, read on her behalf. He cried, the audience cried. A beautiful message of doing better and being kinder.)

Leah Purcell won the Nick Enright Prize for Playwriting AND the Book of the Year

Both Shelley Birse and Abe Forsyth won thr Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting 

Leanne Hall won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature

James Roy and Noel Zihabamwe won the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature 

Peter Boyle won the Kenneth Slessir Prize for Poetry

Thornton McCamish won the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction

Michelle Cahill won the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing

Heather Rose won the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction…. she was set upon by a band of rampaging feminist fans, picture below

My friends Lisa Fleetwood, Helen Petrovic and I throwing ourselves at Heather Rose. She was AMMMAAAAZZZZIIIINNNGG.

Read a more detailed summary, by Helen Petrovic, here.

Why Don’t You Just Block Them?

Standard

I blocked this person, claiming to be a writer but has a dating site as their website, pretty quickly. They continued on tweeting about me for another 15 screen caps. And what was it in response to? I called Donald Trump and Mark Latham a cunt. I didn’t @ this person, I don’t follow them and never have. I simply tweeted this- (Note: all screen caps are of PUBLIC posts)

It chose to interact to tell me that women shouldn’t swear and then to call me a bad mother because of it. It then chose to @ me pretending they were responding to things I had said long after I had blocked them. So this is possibly why people don’t just block, because some fake accounts will continue to harass you and slander you long after you block them. How about instead of telling people to just block, we tell harassers to stop being arseholes? They chose to attack me, my parenting, my relationship, and my writing skills all because they said they didn’t like swearing. 

Mum was a potty mouth? Mum is a potty mouth but she rarely swears in front of us.

Yeah, I want attention, that’s why I’m harassing random people on the internet and refusing to leave them alone. Oh wait, that’s not me.


Ohhhh but wait, they also swear. They’re attacking me for swearing yet it’s okay for them to swear. Clearly their issue with swearing is contrived nonsense and just an excuse to troll.

They are well and truly blocked at the point yet still keep going. 

Spoiler alert it says Jesus and Hell a lot. That’s considered blasphemy and cursing.

Don’t swear ladeez, it’s only for men. Men won’t think you’re attractive if you swear and we all know that’s the most important thing ever.

What is this “No girl” shit? I never told her to get over it. She wants to not swear she can not swear, don’t shove it down my throat. She’s the one forcing her way on others, I didn’t start @ing her demanding that she swears.

Bring hella fury??? I haven’t responded to her in ages. Show? I’m not on TV or YouTube. What the heck???

So now it is telling Adam Hill how many hashtags he can have? Why is it still @ing me? WTF is “you like?” In regards to? Is it imagining a conversation between us? Is it responding to imaginary tweets? What mistress, what old club? WTF?

It’s doing it again. Responding as if I said something. It’s responding as if I said, “Don’t tweet that shit at me, I’m a wife and mother.” Literally never happened. People deserve respect because they are people, until they lose it by having tirades about my fitness to parent, and tone policing me. Respect has nothing to do with how many babies came out of you, it’s about being a decent person. So it is way off base with their imaginary conversation.

And I’m spent. So this is why it’s not as simple as blocking. Because they can keep at you after you blocked them. They can keep pretending to be conversing with you after you blocked them. They can continue drawing attention to you long after you blocked them…. seriously, still block and run though. You don’t need that popping up in your notifications. Just saying it isn’t so simple.
Oh, and for the record, Mark Latham and Donald Trump have a history of abusing and marginalising women, so I absolutely stand by my first tweet. Fuck ’em.

Natasha Lester: #Robinpedia

Standard

Natashalester1.jpg

 

Natasha Lester is an Australian writer with a Masters in Creative Writing and a PhD in being farken fabulous. When she isn’t writing she enjoys yoga, sorting through her extensive lipstick collection, buying shoes, and drinking gin. I believe her gin cupboard looks something like this. 

Prior to entering the Australian authorial world Natasha Lester worked in public relations and marketing. She has worked for heavyweights such as L’Oréal, Maybelline and Harlequin. Thankfully she abandoned the glamorous life of PR and became a povo writer instead. It involves just as much drinking of gin but far less money.

 

Lester’s first book, What is Left Over, After was published by Freemantle Press in 2010.She did what any first time author would do and took a bunch of shelfies. Don’t pretend that we don’t all do it. This was followed up in 2012 with If I should Lose You. For her third book, Lester switched to writing historical romance. She released A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald in 2016 through Hachette, this was quickly followed up by Her Mother’s Secret in 2017.

 

When Natasha Lester isn’t doing yoga whilst writing and applying lipstick she teaches writing. Frequently through The Australian Writers’ Centre.

natashalesterjpg

 

Find Natasha Lester’s website here

 

Chat to Natasha Lester on Twitter here

 

Drop Natasha Lester a line on Facebook here

 

Grab her books here

 

Check out my review of A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald for Newtown Review of Books here

 

Read more about Robinpedia here

 

Buy my shit here