Writing by the dock of the lake

writers soaking up the sun at Lake Mulwala

Lake view at Mulwala

The writing group to which I belong hit Lake Mulwala at the weekend for a three-night writing retreat. What a brilliant spot it was, with a dozen of us camped in a two-storey joint on the lakeside: a drowned forest, a plethora of birds — including cockatoos and a black swan who came a’visiting — and some amazing moon rises, including a blue moon!

The town sits on the New South Wales side of the Victorian border, across from the rural town of Yarrawonga, and took about three-and-a-half hours of scenic driving to get to from Melbourne. We also popped into Euroa to stretch the legs and scarf down a very tasty lunch.

wine by the case

Winery supply run

It was also fortuitous that the Rutherglen wine district is only a short drive away. After tasting and lunch ($20 with a drink, w00t!) at Rutherglen winery in town, we hit All Saints (with added cheese!), Stanton & Killeen and Campbells . We returned with the rattle of bottles; fortifieds mostly. The muscats hit the sweet spot.

But the aim was writing, when we weren’t chowing down on our self-catered banquets. And writing we did, each in their own way. I managed to untangle a lot of the knots in a new novel, so slowly but surely that yarn is coming together. There was plotting. There was scribbling. Typing. Solitaire. Ahem.

Mulwala lake retreat

Wordsmiths at work


It is such an advantage to be able to get away to somewhere quiet with like-minded souls and just butt up against the story. With only cockatoos and pretty sunsets to distract, it was a very productive and rewarding time indeed. Having a nearby walking track along the lake edge was an asset, too, because sometimes the brain just needs some downtime to process and come up with some subconscious solutions.

The retreat has added impetus for a new Supernova website, which seeks to draw together the various news and views of the members as well as extol the simple virtue of having a constructive support network to keep you on track. Ellen has written about the retreat there to help get the ball rolling.


Sunset over Lake Mulwala

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  • Writers on Rafts — help for flooded Queensland

    writers on rafts by QWC

    The Writers on Rafts site is now live. You can buy a ticket for books, services from writers such as story assessments, and other stuff, such as having a character named after you in a book. It’s a raffle, not an auction. The initiative is being run by the Queensland Writers Centre, who still have not been able to return to their offices since floods devastated South East Queensland earlier this month. The floods meant that, in the past month, three quarters of the state has been declared a disaster area — Queensland is more than twice the size of Texas or France.

    Other initiatives by writers to help flood victims are running, too. Check them out!

    Writers, and readers, to help Queensland flood victims

    Please check out these sites set up by writers to raise money for charities assisting Queensland flood victims:

    Ocean Hearted: poetry book, proceeds to charity

    100 Stories for Queensland: send in your stories, buy the book

    After the Rain: Fablecroft had already got this anthology on the drawing board, and has turned around a quick e-version for charity purposes.

    An auction site, offering signed books, manuscript assessments and plenty of other stuff, is now running at Authors for Queensland.

    And don’t forget, cash donations can be sent to numerous charities online. This is the State Government’s website.

    Awards news

    Good news on two fronts today regarding excellence in Australian fiction.

    Firstly, several Australians have made the finalists list for a Hugo, to be awarded at Aussiecon 4 in Melbourne in September:

    Jonathan Strahan (best editor, short form), Shaun Tan (best pro artist), Helen Merrick (best related work) and Lezli Robyn (best newcomer, though it’s not strictly a Hugo, the John Campbell is run as an adjunct). See the full list of Hugo finalists here.

    Secondly, the Australian Shadows awards have been announced. This year, the award was split across three categories and the finalists presented a solid slice of Aussie horror writing.

    The winners were:

    Slights by Kaaron Warren (Long Fiction); Grants Pass, ed. Jennifer Brozek & Amanda Pillar (Edited Publication); “Six Suicides” by Deborah Biancotti (Short Fiction). The judges’ reports are available here.

    A collected bargain at Melbourne’s Worldcon

    Ticonderoga Publications has announced an awesome pair of launches to be held at Aussiecon 4 in Melbourne in September (it’s the Worldcon, in case you’ve missed the news, so it’s a Very Big Deal). Kaaron Warren, whose novel Slights recently made the long list for the Stoker Awards (w00t! — notice the other Aussies on the list!), and the hugely talented Angela Slatter will both have new collections available — Warren’s second, Slatter’s first. Both promise much goodness, of the unsettling kind. Even if you’re not going to Worldcon — and if not, why the hell not? — you can order the collections online. Should make the next Aurealis Awards for best collection interesting!

    Aurealis Awards finalists announced

    The finalists for Australia’s premier speculative fiction awards, the Aurealis Awards, have been announced on the website.

    Great to see some new names in the mix as well as the stalwarts, and Brisbane’s Peter Ball running for the greatest over-achiever award with his swag of nominations.

    The winners will be announced in Brisbane on January 23, which will mark the end of Fantastic Queensland’s tenure as hosts of the awards. No word yet on who will be taking over the prestigious but invidious task.

    Home again, home again, where is home again?

    It has been a hell of a month, this October. So huge it spilled into November! Here’s why it’s been ages, well, more than a month, since I wrote on this blog:
    We kicked off October on Bribie Island at our annual Edge Writers writing retreat, this year with Sean Williams and Alison Goodman as tutors. We were able to celebrate the news that our Paul Garrety has scored a two-book deal with HarperCollins, first one due out in 2011!

    And brickbats to the Queensland Government for its plan to close the State-run complex, although there is hope whoever picks up the tender for the centre will continue to make it available to groups such as us. For the third year running, I had a manuscript staked out in the sun to burn after it failed the worldbuilding test. On the bright side, I did finish a very rough novella set — surprise — on an island. This is my backup story, the one I write only on the island after all else has failed.

    court of two sisters

    dinner at court of two sisters, new orleans

    After Bribie, my beloved Kirstyn McDermott and I flew to New Orleans, where we had an awesome week. Highlights:

  • My old friend from Canada joining us for a long weekend of merriment
  • Lunch at the Green Goddess, where I’m very happy to report the ‘mezze of destruction‘ is still on the menu.
  • Dinner at Irene’s, where we were shouted a drink because of the length of our wait — the place is popular, and no wonder, given the excellent service and food.
  • A memorable dinner at my favourite restaurant, The Court of Two Sisters.
  • Hanging out over superb bloody marys at the Pirates Alley Cafe, where absinthe is a specialty.
  • Gospel brunch at the House of Blues.
  • Catching some sets with Big Al Carson at the Funky Pirate (and getting a shark attack from the Tropical Isle next door).
  • From New Orleans (more pictures here), we caught a Carnival cruise ship, the Fantasy, for a quick voyage to Progreso and Cozumel in Mexico. Out of Progreso we took a bus tour to Uxmal, a superb set of ruins I’d visited on a previous visit to Mexico. In Cozumel, where, very disappointingly a tour to Tulum wasn’t on offer (wonderful beachside ruins), we went snorkelling on three dive spots and saw lots of fish. Some pictures are here.

    I don’t mind cruising as a stress-free way of covering some miles and relaxing. It’s nice to be waited on once in a while, eh? Even though the focus on the casino and the bingo is a tad sad, and the buffets can be case studies of gluttony. I was impressed with the efficiency of embarkation — US domestic airlines could learn something there — and was happy to fork out for a behind-the-scenes tour of how the ship works, including tours of the galleys, bridge, engine control room and soforth.

    Back in New Orleans, we had time for a Lucky Dog and a bloody mary before heading to the airport and San Francisco.

    kirstyn and jason at golden gate bridge, san francisco

    at the golden gate bridge

    SF is a grand city, and while it doesn’t have the atmosphere of the French Quarter (where does?), it is a relaxed and pleasant city for visitors. We bought a week-long passport for the public transport system and hopped buses, cable cars and street cars all week, visiting Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, a Tutankhamun exhibit at deYoung and hitting the wharves. We also got out of town, hitching a bus to Muir Woods and arty Sausilito, and the Winchester Mystery House. The latter is well worth the effort, with its amazing staircases to nowhere, chimneys that don’t reach the roof, doors that open on to walls, and so on…

    We also saw a local musical about a zombie attack that used Ozzy Osbourne as a deus ex machina of sorts — brilliant — and saw the movie Zombieland (light, fun, flawed) and caught an awesomely fun gig by Emilie Autumn. Sadly, a trip to a bayside music venue resulted in an annoyingly smug performance by a semi-rockabilly dude (who did do a very fun, very fast version of Sweet Home Alabama that foxed those dancing to the Yankee classic) and a debilitating case of suspected food poisoning for Kirstyn.

    From San Francisco we caught the Caltrain, and what a sweet deal that is with its double-decker cabs, to San Jose, to attend the World Fantasy Convention. Aussie superstar Garth Nix, as far removed from acting like a superstar as you can get, was a guest of honour. I was chuffed to get to spread the good cheer that is Australian red wine amongst the guests at an Aussie party thrown by Garth and Sean Williams, with t-shirts designed by Cat Sparks. It was a fun bash, and I got to meet new faces and also renew some contacts made at last year’s WFC in Calgary.

    Other highlights of the con were seeing Jeff VanderMeer throw stuffed toys at his launch party, hear Garth and others read Poe’s The Raven, enjoy the wit of Tim Powers (whose Anubis Gates is right up there on the awesome reads list, and has landed some Pirates of the Caribbean action), and see Aussies Shaun Tan and Margo Lanagan score World Fantasy awards at the banquet where we enjoyed the company of our fellow Aussies. (Check out Deborah Biancotti’s take on it here, and see Cat’s pix here)

    flowers at bega cemetery

    flowers at bega cemetery

    Back in Australia, we picked up my car in Brisbane and drove highway 1 down the coast to Melbourne, taking five days including layovers with family. Driving highlights: Kiama’s foreshore, fish and chips at Bateman’s Bay, Lake’s Entrance, and the cemetery at Bega.

    And now we’re back in Melbourne — home becoming, for this recent arrival from interstate — where the weather is warm and the coffee very fine. There’s a pile of mail on the table, more holiday pictures hitting Flickr as the mood takes me, and a plan to get some words down, sometime soon.

    A quick w00t though: I got home to the news that the Federal Government has decided to retain the current copyright and import laws for books. Hurray!

    And editor extraordinaire Ellen Datlow included my short story, “Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn”, from Dreaming Again, in her highly commended list that includes a bunch of Aussie talent. Happy dance!