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Workshops and Sonic Screwdrivers

Your absentee author here, dropping in to say ‘Hi’, ‘How are you?’, ‘You’re looking well, have you lost weight?’ and other assorted greetings and pleasantries.

It’s been a busy few weeks, mostly on the home life front (saw the National Theatre Live international broadcast of Kenneth Branagh and Alex Kingston in Macbeth, caught up with friends, did some writing, played more Arkham Origins than I should have, and so on).

If I was more on top of things, I’d have blogged before now about the fantastic event I had with George Ivanoff at Eltham Library. George has said many wonderful things about the Vanguard Prime series (in addition to writing the fantastic Gamers trilogy…am I saying fantastic too much? Does this make me the Ninth Doctor?…which any reader with even a passing interest in sci-fi/fantasy or video games should check out), so it was great getting the chance to meet and hold both a Q&A and workshop with him.

George Ivanoff with some other guy on the left.

George Ivanoff pictured with another author who’s totally jealous of his Sonic Screwdriver pen.

We kicked things off with a conversation about the Vanguard Prime series (including some questions about Red Alert and the nature of digital publishing) before guiding the audience through the process of creating a story. While George covered what’s involved in creating a cast of characters, I explained the process of coming up with story ideas and how to then structure your plot. With a little luck, there’ll be a budding writer or two who took away a new idea.

Thanks again to George for making the trip out to Eltham and taking the time to chat about Vanguard Prime. If you’ve since noticed that your sonic screwdriver pen has gone missing, it was the butler what done it.

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Speaking of sonic screwdrivers, The Day of the Doctor aired while I was off not posting on this blog. As enjoyable as it was seeing Matt Smith and David Tennant on screen together, I have to admit to being one of the seemingly few people who were slightly disappointed by the episode. That said, it was a massive thrill just getting a peek at Peter Capaldi’s super-intense gaze, so I’m looking forward to the Christmas special and seeing 11 regenerate into 12, even if I’ll miss Matt Smith. Also; Sonic Screwdriver would make a great name for a drink at a geek-centric bar. So much so that I’m sure it already exists.

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In addition to seeing the National Theatre Live broadcast of Kenneth Brannagh in Hamlet, my wife and I went to see George RR Martin speak during his recent visit to Melbourne. Being the obsessive nerd type, I’d already heard much of what he talked about through all the interviews with him I’d either already read or listened to in podcast form, but one of the things that struck me was how gracious he was. Appearing with Michelle Fairley, he’d often find ways to redirect questions that the audience had asked directly of him so that Michelle had a chance to answer as well. It was a small thing, but it was something I noticed, and it only added to my respect for him.

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Listening to: Space Oddity by David Bowie

Reading: Fortunately, The Milk… by Neil Gaiman

Watching: Downton Abbey

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Life in a Nutshell

Life has been keeping me pretty busy lately, so I haven’t been able to post in a while. Sorry about that!

I’m currently knee deep in the edits for Vanguard Prime Book 3 (aka War Zone), which is still on track for its September release…so long as I don’t slack off! I’ve also been out and about promoting Wild Card, doing a couple of interviews as well as some events. I got the chance to talk to kids’ book club at The Younger Sun bookshop, which was a lot of fun and very insightful.

A week later, I had an event with Eltham Bookshop. This was the second event I’d had with the store, and the kids were just as bright and engaged as they were the first time around. One Vanguard Prime reader, Elliot, even brought along a drawing he’d done of Goldrush and the Knight of Wands, which he not only gave me permission to share here but also very generously let me keep. Thanks, Elliot!

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Pretty cool, huh?

To make sure I didn’t rip him off, I traded him a signed piece of cover artwork. Hopefully he liked it!

My wife and I are heading off on an overseas trip soon, so my blogging may get even more sporadic. I’ll do my best to keep you posted, provided my fingers don’t fall off or I’m struck suddenly and thoroughly blind.

And now I need to find some wood to knock on.

‘Til next time.

Lessons in Villainy

Some guy doing some talking thing.

Some guy doing some talking thing.

The Somerset Celebration of Literature finished last Friday, though I didn’t get home until Sunday after staying on the Gold Coast to visit family…and if you ever get the chance to check out the Gold Coast Hinterland, I highly recommend it!

I’ve been to writers’ festivals as an author before…well, once before…but this was the first time I’d had multiple sessions over multiple days. And the experienced was incredible. I learnt so much in so short a period of time, and I can’t wait to take all the knowledge I’ve gained and start applying it to my future events.

Something that I found especially interesting was how engaged and switched on all the kids were, with many of them showing a confidence I couldn’t have dreamed of when I was their age. When I asked if there were any writers in the audience, one girl raised her hand and said she was writing a verse novel. A verse novel! I wouldn’t have the guts to try that now, let alone when I was a teenager!

Spurred on by her calm self-assurance, I decided to take a chance and read out a poem I wrote a year or so ago and recently rediscovered in my notebook. Admittedly, I did it mostly to fill time, but the kids in the audience responded really well to it, so I may end up posting it here…in fact, I might even add it to the end of this blog post. Let’s see how I feel by the end…

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One question I was asked during my sessions was  “What makes a good villain?”. I’m afraid I can’t remember the name of the guy who asked me that particular question, which is awful of me given that he came to my signing line after the talk and was very sweet. I felt at the time that I gave him a bit of wishy-washy answer, so I thought I’d take a moment to address that critical error.

What makes a good villain?

It’s something I ask myself a lot because, in writing adventure fiction, you want to create an antagonist that is memorable, that is intimidating, that is worthy of your hero, and who maybe even has some shades of sympathy to him/her. I think the best villains are the ones who are a little morally ambiguous – perhaps they have a tragic back story, or a legitimate reason for doing what they do, even if they’ve taken it too far.

But more than that, the best villains are the characters that shed light on your protagonist. In dealing with the quandary of this opponent, facets of your main character’s personality and history are revealed. Villains are dark mirror images of heroes, serving as a warning of what we can all become if we give into the weaker elements of ourselves.

I could write up a whole essay on this subject, but I think I’ll leave it at that for the time being. Don’t be surprised, however, if there ends up being a future blog post that digs down deep on this topic to an almost tedious level!

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In addition to Somerset, I’ve also made a trip in the past week to Channel 9 studios, where I filmed my second appearance for Kids’ WB. I’ll blog more about that in the future, but in the meantime enjoy this behind-the-scenes snapshot;

I'm the one in the middle. Thankfully not in costume.

I’m the one in the middle. Thankfully not in costume.

The segment should be airing at the end of March, though that’s yet to be confirmed. Watch this space for updates!

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Okay, so we’re at the end of the post. Will I put up that poem? Hmmm.

You know what? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So here’s the poem, but before you read it there’s a few things you should know;

1) I have no idea if it’s crap or not.

2) I’m not a poet. See point # 1.

3) It got a good response at the festival, but I think that had mostly to do with how I read it…and the demand I made for applause at the end.

4) It’s about writing and being a writer.

5) I studied poetry at uni but the best I got was a ‘C’.

6) I don’t have a title for it.

7) I’m stalling now.

8) Here’s the poem…

We are dream merchants. And magicians.

We are astronomers, charting the stars,

and astronauts, reaching up to touch them.

We work instruments made of mirrors,

weaving invisible threads.

We stitch together scraps of cloth collected across a lifetime,

to make flying carpets and coats of many colours.

We are explorers. And hermits.

We study the soul and bring it names.

We take names and make them ideas.

We sell inspiration. We sow fancy and bottle stray thoughts.

We do this with ink in our veins and with our hearts beating to the rhythm of a keyboard.

We do this because we have to.

We do this because we can’t imagine anything else.

And that’s it. Hate mail can be sent here.

‘Til next time.

Of School Visits, Interviews, and Songbirds…

As I mentioned in my last post, I was invited to speak to a group of Year 5 & 6 students at Brunswick North Primary last week. I knew I was in good company when it turned out the kids were already well-versed in comic books. Not only did the name tags on their desks feature each student’s favourite comic book character, there was also a lending library of old comics available to the class (as donated by their teacher Travis). One girl blindsided me with how awesome she was when she told me her favourite superhero was Songbird.

There’s not many kids who know who Songbird is.

All the kids expressed a lot of enthusiasm for reading and writing, and provided me with a lot of insightful questions to answer. The artists in the class were interested to hear about the process behind designing a book cover, as related by a guy who’s only passingly familiar with the details of that himself (though I think I bluffed my way through pretty well). Unfortunately, the time passed far more quickly than I’d have liked, and after signing a few books and posters I was waving goodbye.

 

I’ll be bundling together a collection of comics to donate to the class’s library to say thanks to Travis and all the kids for their hospitality and the opportunity to speak to them. And thanks also have to go to Natasha at Book Bonding in Niddrie for arranging everything! If you get the chance, you should definitely drop in and see the shop. Natasha’s great and really knows her stuff…though I’d be surprised if she also knew who Songbird was.

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In addition to fielding questions in a classroom, I also spent some time last week being interviewed by Stephanie Campisi for her blog Read in a Single Sitting. We covered a lot of ground in the interview, ranging from what makes a strong female character to the appeal of action books for young readers. If you’re interested, you can read the interview here, and when you’re done with me waxing lyrical I heartily recommend checking out the rest of the site. You’ll find that Stephanie is a far more interesting and productive blogger than I could ever hope to be.

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…speaking of which! I don’t know how much I can say at this stage, but it looks like I’ll be writing a series of guest posts over on another prominent blog in the very near future. More details will follow when final confirmation comes through, but I’m hoping to blog about all the aspects of writing that I mean to cover here and never quite get around to.

 

Too busy making multiple references to Songbird, I guess.

The Art of the Matter

Another weekend has ended, another week has started, and another event is done and dusted.

 

The signing at Dymocks Southland turned out to be a lot of fun. I had a table set up at the front of the store and got the chance to chat with people as they came in. Quite a few people who’d never heard of Vanguard Prime before walked away with a copy of the book (signed, of course!), and even better than that was all the support that was expressed for Aussie authors and the publishing industry in general. Thanks so much to store owner Jerome for the opportunity! If you guys get the chance, make sure to drop by the store and check it out.

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Vanguard Prime: Goldrush has had three more reviews this week, the first (and worst) of which was written by…well, me. Let me explain. You see, in addition to being an awesome writer, Jack Heath is also really supportive of new authors. After I mentioned how influential Third Transmission was in the writing of Goldrush, Jack got in touch with me and we ended up hanging out. What a nice guy!

 

Cut to last week, where (or should that be ‘when’?) I got an email from Jack saying how he was asking various authors if they’d be interested in reviewing their own books, much as he did for his latest book, Dead Man Running. It was a daunting challenge to say the least, but one that I couldn’t possibly turn down. It proved to be a struggle, trying to walk the line between honest self-analysis, neurotic self-flagellation, and blatant self-promotion. Hopefully you’ll agree that I struck a decent balance.

 

A far more glowing review came from Vic and her blog, Mummy Ate Me. Any review that starts off with “I LOVED this book!” always heads straight to the top of the pile of favourite reviews. But! Vic may have been beaten out by the third and final review I received this week. This one came from 9-year-old Ethan, who actually took the time to do a review of Vanguard Prime: Goldrush…in diorama form! Thankfully, Ethan sent through some pictures and has given me permission to share them here.

For those who can’t make out what the text says, Ethan also generously provided a typed-out version. It says; “The Vanguard Prime team lives in a aircraft carrier with a prison on board and lots of aircraft. The characters of Vanguard Prime are super heroes. My favorite character is Ethan or the Knight of Wands. My other two favourites are Goldrush and Machina. The last of them is Agent Alpha, Gaia and Major Blackthorne. My favourite power is Machina’s. She can control technology. The bad guy is really hard to beat because stuff with his mind. His name is the Overman. Another is called Cronus and he is strong. He has a helmet with a horn.”

 

I honestly don’t think I could have summarised the book better myself.

 

If that wasn’t cool enough, Ethan also sent through the very first piece of fan art I’ve received! You may notice that the diorama contains an illustration of the Knight of Wands, but in addition to that Ethan provided this drawing of Goldrush;

 

Cool, right?

Very big thanks to Ethan; it’s reader mail like this that keeps authors writing! And if anyone else out there has some Vanguard Prime art they’d like to share, make sure to send it through (along with what name you’d like it credited to) and I’ll post it here on the blog.

‘Til next time.