Monday, April 17, 2017

When The End Is Just The Beginning - Journey To Walhalla Entry 1.

It never ceases to feel special to me, whenever I type the words "The End" on a writing project. 

For my latest work in progress, a romantic fiction novel that carries the working title "Walhalla", I reached that milestone yesterday - and I almost couldn't believe it.

I've spent just short of a year working on this one, if you include the time that I spent *not* working on it because of some health challenges, and it was because of those health challenges that this milestone feels all the more sweeter. 

When I lost my voice after I had surgery on my throat and vocal cords, I mistakenly believed that I would actually throw myself into the project during my enforced convalescence at home. In truth, I lost all motivation for writing. My writer's voice had become just as silent as my physical one and there were times when I thought I would abandon "Walhalla" completely. I grew to hate writing and I grew to hate myself because I hated writing. 

What pulled me out of the hole I found myself in?

She... (image credit Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Carrie Fisher's death in December of last year had an impact on me. Apart from the fact that she was my most favorite "bad-ass princess" throughout the now 40 years of Star Wars, Fisher was widely regarded as a brilliant writer and script doctor - able to weave complex narrative tapestries and turn the most parlous of screenplays into something special. And she did all this while waging a none to secret battle with mental illness. In the ensuing obituaries and reflections on her life, I guess I received something akin to a kick in the pants from her. 

Somehow, I clawed my way out of the hole and I recommitted to this story. I realized that I actually loved it. For this is a story that I think will likely be my most personal one.

"Walhalla" is set in a little mountain town in Victoria, Australia - a place I have known and loved my entire life. Steeped in history and the site of one of the biggest gold rushes in 19th century Australia, Walhalla has refused to die - even though it was thought many times that it would. Somehow it has endured and is undergoing something of a renaissance, thanks to a renewed interest in its history and the opportunities afforded to it by tourism. 

For me, Walhalla serves as the setting for what I hope will be an engaging love story between a Doctor who has returned to his home town after the failure of his marriage and a Baker whose tragic past has instilled her with a steely determination to succeed with her nascent business. Walhalla - the story, like the town - is filled with a cast of quirky characters, all of whom are derived from people who have been a fixture in my life and I hope their presence will leap off the page as I develop the story further.

Because, even though I have typed the words "The End" on this first draft - it is really just beginning. 

Editing is a process that I love. It is challenging, frustrating and rewarding all at the same time. Once I have completed my first pass over the manuscript, I'll have a team of people to whom I will pass a second draft onto to get their insights, advice, criticisms and recommendations. I will incorporate all of those into a third draft - and then I'll be at a stage where I hope to submit it to my publisher.

I hope you might like to join me on this journey. I'll keep you updated - not too frequently - about my progress and I'd like to share a little bit of ephemera about the actual town Walhalla and how it has influenced me over all these years. 


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Dragons Rising - A Look At Fyrebyrne Island by Ashleigh Oldfield.

Among the small community of independently published authors I've come to know here in Australia in recent years, Melbourne based fantasy scribe Ashleigh Oldfield has stood out to me as an individual of immense talent. Bursting with imagination, enthusiasm and commitment, Ashleigh has worked studiously over the past few years to hone her craft, producing literature across a number of genres that showcase her abilities. I'm proud to say that I have sought out Ashleigh's keen eye on my own books, contributing important ideas to both Gifts of the Peramangk and The Recipient. Now, Ashleigh has achieved that most special of milestones with the arrival of her first major release, Fyrebyrne Island.

Here of course, is the guff first and foremost;

With a thunderous roar it fell from the sky, all gleaming yellow scales, talons the size of broad swords with fanged teeth to match, wings held out from its sides like sails, magnificent and glorious. The time has come for thirteen-year-old Rachaya to embrace her dragon heritage. Not everyone is pleased by her arrival on the dragon sanctuary, Fyrebyrne Island, however, and her mother's enemies may well have become her own. Will Rachaya live long enough to take on the mantle of Queen of the Dragons or will her enemies prevail?

I had the opportunity to beta read an early draft of Fyrebyrne Island and, even its early stages, it was clear that Ashleigh Oldfield had crafted an exciting opening salvo in a projected three book cycle, bristling with a kind of old world literally magic that is essential to the fantasy genre. Central to this coming of age story is 13 year old Rachaya a human girl with trans-formative abilities that conceal a dragon persona - a key trait of most of the cast in Oldfield's meticulously constructed world. Rachaya is plucky, wide eyed and eager to harness the legacy of her kind on the sanctuary island of Fyrebyrne Island but her journey will be tumultuous as she finds herself at the center of an epic struggle that will threaten her future and test her resolve to the extreme.

Featuring vivid characters, sprawling, medieval inspired landscapes and a cinematic narrative that crackles, Fyrebyrne Island: Book 1 promises a thrilling adventure that will keep readers, young and old, on the edge of their seats from the first page to the last.

(image credit: A. de Niese.)

Ashleigh Oldfield is a fantasy fiction and children’s writer from Melbourne, Australia. Always having a love for  the written word, Ash wrote her first stories by moonlight at the tender age of five, long after her parents thought she had gone to bed. To this very day Ash still prefers to write by the light of the moon long after any sensible person has succumbed to sleep. 

When she is not working on her latest piece of fiction, Ash enjoys drinking good coffee, taking her dog for walks on the beach and hanging out with her two cats. In 2012 she took the plunge, quit her day job and has been writing full time ever since.

Fyrebyrne Island is out now. 

Purchase Fyrebyrne Island from The Book Depository.

Purchase Fyrebyrne Island from Amazon.

Connect with Ashleigh Oldfield here

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Friday, March 31, 2017

The Dying Wish - A Journey With Star Wars.

Star Wars is more than just an entertainment franchise - that much is clear. It's more than a popular cultural phenomenon that has stood the test of time. Because of its longevity, Star Wars has come to mean many different things to many different people. 

Here's what it means to me...

In 1999, during the run up to the release of Episode 1, I was a junior Nurse at a private hospital in Adelaide. 

In late April of that year, I encountered a patient - a young man named David - who was terminally ill. He'd been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer just a few months before and he'd been given only weeks to live. 

It was a rainy Friday night when I first met him. He lay in his bed, grossly swollen with fluid, completely bald and barely able to lift his head from the pillow. He was surrounded by Star Wars toys and, of course, my face lit up at all of the cool things he had. Alot of it was the mid 90's Hasbro merch - a couple of light up light sabers, a big arsed Millennium Falcon, some 12 inch figs and of course, those beefed up 3 & 3/4 figs that got most of us back into collecting after that long hiatus. 

Suffice to say, we hit it off right away and I was encouraged by the fact that he too, had found something of a kindred spirit in me. His smile said it all. 

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I made sure that I was able to look after David when I was on duty and I'd bring in items from my own vintage collection for him to check out and play around with. We'd talk the films and the then EU books and of course, we'd toss theories back and forth about the possible story that Episode 1 would present. At one time, during his admission, there was a slight glimmer of hope that the medical and nursing team might be able to get David well enough that he could attend the premiere of the film in June, but it became clear that his condition was deteriorating quickly. He wouldn't get his wish.

Then I discovered something in the course of our conversations that created an opportunity to do the next best thing. 

David had never seen the Holiday Special.

He'd heard about it but assumed that it was an urban myth - the kind you'd hear about in those early days of the internet when message boards were still a big thing and the web hadn't​ quite saturated our consciousness. 

I had (and still have) a bootleg copy of the Holiday Special that I'd tracked down on one of the early iterations of eBay. When I told David this, the excitement in his dying eyes was as bright as the twin suns and so, I duly arranged for a special night where we would screen the Special on his TV, in his hospital room. 

I came in on a Saturday night - my night off. His family had gotten in on the fun and we had a spread of snacks in his room, all his Star Wars kit on display and David dressed in his Star Wars jimmy-jams. 

And we screened the Holiday Special. It was still the most wonderfully terrible piece of Star Wars even committed to celluloid (or DVD as it were), but it didn't matter. For David, for his family and the nurses and doctors who came in and out over the course of that evening, it was the best thing we had ever seen. So much laughter and gritting of teeth the worst bits. Cheers and tears at little Lumpy and fist pumps at Han and Chewie outrunning the Imperials on their way to Kashyyyk. 

For David, it was the most wonderful thing ever. Star Wars that he had never seen. 

I went to the midnight screening of Episode 1, having stood in line for hours with hundreds of other excited fans at Marion's GU Megaplex. Just as we were about to go in, I got a message from one of my colleagues at the hospital. David had died, literally half an hour before midnight. 

I went to David's funeral a few days later. He was buried in his Star Wars jimmy-jams, his coffin was draped in a Star Wars beach towel and his green and red light sabers were crossed over the centre. 

His Mum told me afterwards that they would never forget that last Saturday night. Screening the Holiday Special for him had given both he and them one last occasion of joy together.

That's what Star Wars means to me. Because of it, I was able to connect with someone during their darkest hour and share in something they could find joy in before their end. 

Star Wars brings people together. It creates memories that last forever.