For Wilson

sun through tree, not wilson's treeWe were sat at his wife’s parents’ place, in the front lounge. I was a lot younger then, and there were more of us, so many more of us. I imagine it was hot, because it usually was, there behind the louvres, looking out at the paddocks and the tree line. It was probably summer, because I always think of that house in the summer, creaking in the heat amid that quiet stillness.

One of those family gatherings. There would’ve been tea, and biscuits, or cake. There was always tea and something to nibble.

And he got up and grabbed his camera, a black bulk of SLR I should think, because that was his job, taking photos; he and his wife were very good at it, she doing the arranging of the subjects and he doing the technical stuff behind the lens. She was the organiser, and he the quiet one. I think of him and I think of quiet, of reserve, of calmness. I’m sure it wasn’t always the way but that was how I knew him and that is how, in this imperfect snapshot, I remember him; I knew him no other way.

So he and his camera went out to take a picture of a tree. The singular gum, tall, straight, that regal bearing, standing alone in the brown grass of the front paddock. I have a vague memory of him saying, and here I could be mistaken, but I think he said how he had always wanted to get the perfect picture of that tree. Perhaps his wife told us this as we watched him leave.

And now he is gone, and I think of him, walking out, camera in hand, in pursuit of the perfect shot. I have no doubt that, if not before, he will find it now, out there.

Vale, Wilson Thomsen (1937-2013)

May there be Hammonds in Heaven for Jon Lord

Very sad to hear of the passing of Jon Lord, who rose to fame as the keyboardist for Deep Purple, pumping the instrument through the Marshalls to help make the band, in 1972, the loudest in the world. Lord finally quit the band in 2002. Classically trained, a composer as well as a rock pioneer, he was also a charming, gentlemanly person. I think myself lucky to have seen him with Deep Purple, sans Blackmore unfortunately, and with the Hoochie Coochie Men at an amazing pool-side blues gig on the Sunshine Coast. A true legend.

My 2003 interview with Lord is here

Snapshot 2012: Vale Sara Douglass

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoAUSTRALIAN writer Sara Warneke, who wrote as Sara Douglass, died in Hobart after a long battle with cancer on 27 September 2011 at age 54. She was one of the vanguard who opened international doors for Australian fantasy writers with her Axis Trilogy (beginning with her debut novel BattleAxe in 1995). Her last publications were the novel The Devil’s Diadem and a collection of short stories, The Hall of Lost Footsteps, which both came out last year. She wrote more than 20 books; three won Aurealis Awards for best fantasy novel.

From the obituary by Sara’s friend and carer Karen Brooks:
She was a very solitary person who lived in her imagination as much as she did in the real world. I think she would be overwhelmed by what people are expressing on various forums now; she would be laughing in her unrestrained and contagious way and shaking her head in bewilderment. Read the full post.

Writer and critic Lucy Sussex, in an obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald:
Middle Ages history informed the imaginary sword and sorcery realms of her novels, and made them credible, lived-in worlds. Read the full article.

Sara, from a 1999 interview:
I work in life as an historian, but not in academia as such, no. I found that life very restrictive where one has to justify every statement one says and add at least 56 footnotes to every page. Writing historical fantasy — or fantasy as a genre is tremendously liberating. I am having such a ball! Read the full interview.

Sara, on her Silence on the Dying blog post:
When it comes to death and dying, we impose a dreadful silence on the dying lest they discomfort the living too greatly. Read the full post.

A Locus review appearing with the 2003 edition of BattleAxe (HarperCollins Voyager):
Douglass has the breadth of vision necessary to create sweeping epics and the storyteller’s gift that makes readers love her.

* * *

THIS tribute is posted here as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

Vale Paul Haines

On Monday, I was sitting in the dappled shade of a park enjoying a lovely late-morning chat at Adelaide Writers Festival with some of my fellows. And then the phones beeped and vibrated, and the word arrived that Paul Haines had died.

Around us, the bon homie continued, and I found myself asking how it could. Where was the silence? The announcement? The respect?

How could the audience — an audience of writers and readers and publishers — not be shaken by this news? Not be struck mute and sombre as were we?

There was no such silence on the internet, which has been carrying tributes on Facebook and Twitter and on blogs, showing just how much impact Paul had in his too-short career. His too-short life.

I knew Paul as a writer of wonderful and daring and confronting fiction. Fearless in fiction, fearless in life. His documentation of his long and brutal fight with cancer, the hopes and the setbacks and the sorrows for the wife and daughter and family to be left behind, have touched hearts and minds well outside the speculative fiction community who proudly claimed him as one of ours. His writing career was just taking off, suggesting the delivery of the wonderful promise that anyone who’s read his short fiction would recognise.

I’m glad I got to know him, however briefly. I’ve drawn strength from his honest, challenging prose and warmth from his company, and I will miss him and lament the stories he might’ve given us. I feel terrible for his family, to have lost such a personality, such a person.

One of my favourite moments: reading his story ‘Doof Doof Doof’ at work and bursting out laughing, chuckling all the way through. I’ll always thank him for that.

The Thirteen O’Clock blog has posted a wonderfully detailed overview of Paul’s work. There is some small comfort in having that legacy. But there are times when this life and death thing seems far too cruel for words.

There’s a memorial service on Saturday and I expect it will be crowded. We will try to remember the good stuff, the Doof Doof Doof, and try not to rail too much at this wolf that is cancer, that has ripped yet another chunk out of our light.

Vale: Samuel Youd, aka John Christopher


Word is spreading of a sad loss in the speculative fiction community, that of British Writer Samuel Youd, on February 3, only two months shy of his 90th birthday. <Update: Locus has confirmed Youd’s passsing.>

As John Christopher, Youd provided two of the great texts of my childhood, both of which have survived the recent pogroms of excess literature cluttering the household shelves: The Tripods and The Sword of the Spirits trilogies. Tripods in particular made a strong impression.

This is barely scratching the surface of his output published under numerous pseudonyms.

He ranked up there with the likes of Garner, Cooper and Le Guin in my early reading. I hope more generations come to appreciate his legacy.

Update: the Guardian looks at Youd’s work and provides a short obituary and a longer one.

Dragons, love and lights that shine after the final sunset: vale Anne McCaffrey

Awoke to the news that Anne McCaffrey has died, aged 85, and I imagine all around the world readers are looking up and waiting to see if any dragonriders take flight to stave off the threads of dark the news has struck. Of her books I’ve read, from her famous Pern universe, one passage still rings clear, in which and a boy and a girl meet and fall instantly in love, and the narrator tells us there are two kinds of love, the one that creeps with time and subtlety and comfort, and this second one, the lightning bolt. Oh, yes.

No doubt McCaffrey’s words linger still in the minds and hearts of her fans, and will continue to do so as long as those words are available, for generations to come. We will always have dragonriders to stave off the dark.

Fly safe.

Vale Ingrid Pitt

I was saddened to hear tonight that the wonderful Ingrid Pitt has died.

Strangely enough, the news came just before Kirstyn and I went into the Joy 94.9 studio for a Sci-Fi and Squeam segment on Hammer Horror with a particular focus on the Karnstein Trilogy. (Dear Christopher Lee, please do take care of your health!)

Pitt starred in one of my favourite movies, The Vampire Lovers, a classic from the Hammer stable and the first of the Karnstein Trilogy, and also the erstwhile Countess Dracula (trailer). Non-horror viewers might know her from war film Where Eagles Dare.

But it was the elegance and fragility of Carmilla Karnstein that I most associate with the Polish actress who made her way to cult stardom in England. Vampire Lovers was one of the first movies to break the lesbian taboo on the mainstream big screen, and it did it with a poignancy that still holds in a day and age of much fancier sets and production values, and of course much greater overtness.

As one of Hammer’s women of horror, she’ll always be remembered.

Ronnie James Dio dead, Jeff Martin live

So I’m just about to say how much I enjoyed Jeff Martin’s gig at Ruby’s last night, and I see that Ronnie James Dio has died from stomach cancer. The little guy had a massive voice — anyone who saw him tour with the Heaven and Hell Sabbath tour had nothing but praise for him (alas, I was elsewhere, and now the opportunity is forever lost).

Maybe it’s fitting, then, that Jeff Martin’s Requiem-Hurt combo was a highlight of last night’s two-hour acoustic set, accompanied by Armada bass player Jay Cortez. This was their third night in a row, and Martin’s voice had taken on a huskiness that added to the impact of the slower tunes, but he didn’t favour it, giving each song everything he had.

This was my first outing at Ruby’s, an easy 30-minute drive from home and plenty of off-street parking, at least at eight on a Sunday night. It’s an atmospheric and intimate club, lots of black and red, and a wicked timber staircase down to the basement loos. Naturally, as it is these days, it seems, the crowd had its share of tossers who got more vocal during the night: I’ve never seen bouncers come to the front of the stage at a Jeff Martin gig before, and it was a relief when the manic-depressive domestic in front of us finally decided to take it outside.

But they managed to contain themselves for the opening songs, Morocco and the aforementioned Requiem. The set canvassed Martin’s career, including Tea Party favourites The Bazaar and Sister Awake rubbing shoulders with solo songs The Kingdom and Stay Inside of Me (a duet with support act, Brisbane singer pear), and Armada tunes The Rosary (written for his dead grandmother) and Line in the Sand, and a stomping encore double of Going Down and Black Snake Blues. Add a second duet (regret I didn’t catch the singer’s name), on the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush hit Don’t Give Up (a RockWiz hit with Tina Arena), and a cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable, emotionally charged concert. But then, his usually are, which is why, despite the aggravation of arseholes who chatter and elbow and take their flash photographs, I keep going back for more of the same (but never quite the same).

Martin is said to be withdrawing for a few months to work on a new album. Can’t wait for that!

Vale Lisa Lamb

Lisa Lamb by Mark Greenmantle

Lisa, photographed by Mark Greenmantle at our book launch in 2007.

I just got back from a trip to Phillip Island and was all fired up to share the penguin fun, when I got an email telling me that our gorgeous Lisa Lamb has died. So the penguins can wait.

Lisa was a pal from Brisbane, a comedian and a reporter and a writer and a performer and an event manager and, most importantly, a mum. But it was her performance that led me to know her, a vivacious, vibrant personality who was grabbing the world with both hands, wowing the adoring boys of France with her burlesque, lighting up rooms with her presence, cracking laughs over massive steaks a person of her petite size had no right to be able to tuck away.

We’re told it was a cardiac arrest that put her into a vegetative state that has been enduring for months, and one can only imagine the heartache that must’ve brought her family, to have this huge personality contained in such a way. It feels like the death of Superman, honestly.

In life, Lisa blazed, and in her passing, she throws a long shadow.

Vale, Woolly, and godspeed.