Sunday, September 16, 2012

My notes from the KSP Panel on 'Breaking the Rules'

I'd like to thank Carol Ryles for inviting me to be a panelist. It was actually fun. Thanks to Guy Salvidge, Lee Battersby, Martin Livings, JB Thomas and lastly, Stephen Dedman who belatedly joined us from the audience after I invited him up at the first quarter mark (naturally with the panel's full support). There were some laughs (Lee was once a stand up comedian), we discussed writing techniques, dialogue punctuation and also the work of some great writers, such as Michael Chabon, Glen Duncan, Will Self, Joyce Carol Oates, Harlan Ellison, Kelly Link, Angela Carter and China Mieville. We also ventured into the 'what's ins' - currently zombies and werewolves - so I was glad that I could point out Angela Beamer's The Loving Dead for special attention (she was in the crowd too and participated in a later panel that I missed due to the West Coast Eagles final).  The jury was out on The Road - Guy and I loved it - and I could see that Lee appreciated Cormac McCarthy's deliberate stylistic choices but we'll leave discussion of the novel's 'worth' for another time.

Our final consensus for the panel was that any 'rule' can be broken if it improves the story. 

I slap-dashed together some notes up on 'Breaking the Rules' the night before the panel and all thirty copies went quickly afterwards, so I'll paste them at the end of this post for those that missed out. I am late, apologies.

After the panel, my bookaholic behaviour continued unabated (although I prefer to think of myself as a bibliophile). I bought Lee Battersby's newly released The Corpse Rat King, Angela Beamer's The Loving Dead and Ticonderoga's Belong (ed. Russell B Farr). Martin Livings kindly gifted me his novel Carnies too.

As for my current reads, I've just finished A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, which was excellent, although hard hitting, tissue worthy stuff and I am now on Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon, a delicious, easily devoured, old fashioned tale of adventure. 

Below are my notes as promised: 


Many writers obey the rulebook like it is some deity requiring proskynesis. For many (because it is many rather than a few) the canons they are taught through creative writing classes or guide-to-writing textbooks are so utterly adhered to it becomes a criminal offense to drift from their beloved commandments.

My biggest tip is: Break a rule now and then. Be the crim, it’s far more exciting. And besides, what’s the time for petty crime? You’re not acting like a complete nutter.

Occasionally, telling is better than showing, as long as you do it well. Read some of the masters such as Joyce Carol Oates ( read Fossil-Figures, an exceptional story in which plenty is ‘told’), John Cheever, Will Self or the almost entirely ‘told’ but all-so-exquisite novella Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Telling with significant details can work marvels. And it’s not just a ‘South American’ thing.

Some writers blend their voices to form a hybrid narrative. Ghastly! – I hear the writing-law-abiders scream (this is their equivalent to murder). Try the Bloody Chamber and you’ll be enchanted by Angela Carter’s gift for the hybrid narrative. No one blends first and third or even first, second and third voices as well as Angela did.

Meander a little during a ‘longer’ short story (I am not a flash fiction fan). What’s wrong with a bit of character development? What’s wrong with some other threads coming into play? What’s wrong with some layering? Getting from A to B is okay for flash and pulp but at times it can be as boring as flat lemonade. Some stories need some meat. Genre fiction doesn’t always have to be pulpy. You don’t always have to ‘start late and leave early’. Each story is unique.

Try multiple settings if it works. All my stories have them.

Even a protagonist can remain unchanged throughout if it seems right. Some of Kurt Vonnegut’s characters affect the world around them, or they in turn, as Vonnegut would say ‘are tossed into a pile of shit’. Yet many of Vonnegut’s characters themselves remain constant (not all of course) and are even recycled into other works. In William Kotzwinkle’s comical masterpiece The Fan Man, Horst Badortes does not really change his essence at all. And I challenge you to find a funnier novel (after you’ve acclimatised to all those ‘mans’).

A literary piece is entitled to have a ‘real’ plot. A genre piece is entitled to be ‘literary’. My favourite works often possess both a 'literary' style and a captivating plot. What’s wrong with having both?  Try some others not mentioned: George Saunders, Kelly Link, John Varley, Harlan Ellison, Gene Wolfe, Pat Murphy, Graham Greene, Michael Chabon, Glen Duncan, Karen Russell and Sherman Alexie.

Yes, as a ‘rule’ the ‘rules’ need to be followed, but don’t be afraid to be a rule-breaker for the benefit of a piece. All of my favourite writers are wanted men and women. There isn’t an offense they haven’t committed. So my tip is learn the basic ‘rules’ but don’t be a coward when it comes to doing whatever it takes to make your story original, vibrant and have some kind of aesthetic beauty in the prose.

A small dose of anarchy can be liberating. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

KSP Mini-Con

I'll be at the KSP centre this Sunday on the writing panel 'Breaking the Rules'. I believe in being a small-time writing crim and I'm sure that the gang of rule-breakers I'll be panelling with will cause a stir.

Unfortunately, I can't participate in the 'Critting and Crowd-Sourced Editing' panel as mentioned below  as I don't 'crowd-source edit' at all.

Carol Ryles has been buzzing around to organise what will be a fantastic day for lovers of reading and writing, so come on up to the hills if you're in Perth. 

It's also the launch of Lee Battersby's novel The Corpse Rat-King, which my friend Daniel Simpsom beta-read and thoroughly enjoyed. So I'll be buying that and I'm sure that there'll be plenty of other great books around worth laying your hands on.

The 2012 KSP Speculative Fiction Writers Group Minicon
Panellists include :
Local Writers: Lee Battersby, Amelia Beamer, Hal Colebatch, Cathy Cupitt, Stephen Dedman, Joanna Fay, Satima Flavell, Sonia Helbig, Elaine Kemp, Pete Kempshall, David Kitson, Martin Livings, Dave Luckett, Juliet Marillier, Ian Nichols, Anthony Panegyres, Carol Ryles, Guy Salvidge, JB Thomas.
When: Sunday, 9 September, 2012  9.30am-4.30pm
Where: Katherine’s Place, 11 Old York Road, Greenmount (Turn into the first driveway after you turn in from the highway and park at the back)
Cost: $15, or $10 if you book in advance. Leave a comment at you want to do this.
Lunch: A decent meal and tea and coffee will be available for a gold coin donation or you can BYO – there are no eateries in the vicinity.

Discussion Panels: Meeting Room
10:00 Breaking the Rules
“Look, that’s why there’s rules, understand? So that you think before you break ‘em.” – Terry Pratchett
Sometimes the ‘rules of writing’ need to be broken. But what are they and how and when do you get away with breaking them? And what do you need to be aware of before you do? All the best writers are renowned for breaking rules and new writers are crucified for it, yet there are times when we all need to cross that line.
Lee Battersby
Sonia Helbig
Martin Livings
Anthony Panegyres
Guy Salvidge

1100: Is the Internet the New Slush Pile
Google the question: “is the internet the new slush pile?” and the wisdom of the masses will tell you that since mid 2011, there has been a grass-roots change in the world of publishing. The inference given in hundreds of articles unearthed by such a search is that you should no longer submit to slush piles while trying to get noticed. There’s a new wave of authors who publish their material directly to the Internet in the hope that their book will attract the attention of publishers and agents. But what does this method of gaining attention achieve and will it replace the tradition of slush pile Monday’s? For that matter, with so many new writers self-publishing, is there a need to be picked up at all? Or is it a path to self-destruction of the writer’s rights?
Stephen Dedman
David Kitson
Dave Luckett
Ian Nichols

12:00 Lunch

Book Launch, The Corpse Rat King by award winning author Lee Battersby (Angry Robot Books)

Lee Battersby is the author of the novels The Corpse-Rat King (Angry Robot, 2012) and Marching Dead (Angry Robot, 2013) as well as over 70 stories in Australia, the US and Europe, with appearances in markets as Year’s Best Fantasy & HorrorYear’s Best Australian SF & F, and Writers of the Future. A collection of his work, entitled Through Soft Air has been published by Prime Books. He’s taught at Clarion South and developed and delivered a six-week Writing the SF Short Storycourse for the Australian Writers Marketplace. His work has been praised for its consistent attention to voice and narrative muscle, and has resulted in a number of awards including the Aurealis, Australian Shadows and Australia SF ‘Ditmar’ gongs.

He lives in Western Australia, with his wife, writer Lyn Battersby and an increasingly weird mob of kids. He is sadly obsessed with Lego, Nottingham Forest football club, dinosaurs, the Goon Show and Daleks. He’s been a stand-up comic, tennis coach, cartoonist, poet, and tax officer in previous times, and he currently works as the Arts Co-ordinator for a local council, where he gets to play with artists all day. All in all, life is pretty good.

1:00 Critting and Crowd-Sourced Editing
Should writers have their manuscripts criticised by a broad audience of their fellow writers? What value does it add to your work? Can you lose your ideas by letting others see your manuscript before the editor does? How about crowd-sourcing of editing? Is it possible to let others perform the work for you while reading early revisions of your manuscript? And how do you even take advantage of such services? Should they be avoided completely?

Amelia Beamer
Satima Flavell
Pete Kempshall
Juliet Marillier
Anthony Panegyres

2:00 Building Characters without Cardboard
In online reviews, a common complaint against many recent authors, especially those who choose to self-publish, is that their characters seem two-dimensional or otherwise lack depth. So what does the aspiring author need to consider in their writing so that their characters seem more real to the reader? And how do they achieve it? Are characters planned or imagined? And what are the pitfalls that many new writer, and even experienced ones, fall into? And how do you write convincing characters from the other gender?

Lee Battersby
Martin Livings
Juliet Marillier
Carol Ryles
JB Thomas

3:00 Has Erotica Become Just another Mainstream Sub-Genre
With Fifty Shades of Grey now the fastest selling book ever, it’s difficult to ignore the part that erotica has played in this series’ success. Writers thinking of including sexually explicit content in their novels are often confused by the terms ‘erotica’ and ‘pornography’. How should a modern writer approach this situation? How to avoid mistakes? Should erotica feature in a serious novel at all?

Amelia Beamer
Cathy Cupitt
Stephen Dedman
Elaine Kemp

Kaffeeklatsch Schedule (Library)
1PM – 1:30PM Joanna Fay: Publishing with a small press overseas
Joanna’s Daughter of Hope, the first novel in her epic fantasy sequence The Siaris Quartet, has recently been published as an e-book by Musa Publishing, a relatively new e-press in the USA. From the comfort of her lounge room in the Perth hills, Joanna has taken an intensive ‘high learning curve’ this year on the road to publication, while coming to grips with both the potential and pitfalls of online promotion.
2PM – 2:30PM David Kitson: Self Publishing – A complete end to end guide for anyone planning on doing it themselves
David’s self-published novel, Turing Evolved, broke into the top 20 Science Fiction book list on and is now rated at four-and-a-half stars with one hundred and fifty customer reviews. Learn about David’s experiences with editing, uploading, customer feedback and eventual contact and representation by a literary agent.

3PM – 3:30PM Juliet Marillier: Theme to be announced
Juliet is a New Zealand-born writer who now lives in WA. Her historical fantasy novels for adult and young adult readers include the popular Sevenwaters series and the Bridei Chronicles. Juliet’s books have won many awards including the American Library Association’s Alex Award, the Prix Imaginales and the Aurealis Award. Her lifelong love of folklore, fairy tales and mythology is a major influence on her writing. Juliet has two books out this year: Shadowfell, first instalment in a fantasy series for young adults (available now) and adult fantasy Flame of Sevenwaters, to be published in November.

And don’t forget that there will be books by our panellists and other guests for sale all day. Take advantage of their presence and get your purchases signed!