Book Tour

Horizon — Consciousness Explorers: Inside a Transhuman

November 12, 2014

Today I have a guest post from author and editor extraordinaire, Keith Stevenson. His new novel, Horizon, is out now. Take it away Keith.

Keith Stevenson

Keith Stevenson

I’d like to thank Alan for giving over some space on his blog for the Horizon Blog Tour.

Horizon is my debut science fiction novel published by Voyager Impulse. It’s an SF thriller centred on a deep space exploration mission that goes very wrong, with repercussions for the future of all life on Earth.

One of the most interesting themes in science fiction, and one of the most exciting advances happening in medical research today, is how humans will become augmented through interfacing with technology.

In the real world, there are amazing advances that enable paraplegics to control the environment around them. In 2012 in the UK, a woman had an aspirin-sized array of electrodes implanted in her brain which picked up signals from neurons in her motor cortex enabling her to control a robotic arm. In sci-fi movies, humans interfacing with technology has brought about a variety of dystopian scenarios from (the now somewhat laughable) Saturn 3, to (the now very laughable) Lawnmower Man, as well as the Matrix movies and the more recent Transcendance.

One of the best books about the future development of humanity is Damien Broderick’s The Last Mortal Generation. It explores not only how the life of our physical body can be extended, but also how technology might free the mind from its time-limited physical form. The mind is the key to so much — our emotions and sense of self. What would it be like to transplant your mind outside of its fleshy architecture into the elegant symmetry of a computer? Would you feel any different if your brain was replaced neuron by neuron by ‘silicon brain cells’? Would you lose your humanity? What about extending the reach of your mind resting within its physical confines by hooking it up to a wider cognitive network that’s faster, richer, and electronic?

eCOV_Horizon_C2D2In Horizon, Systems Specialist Bren Thurgood is among the first couple of generations of transhumans: people who accept an implant that allows them to interface with computerised and artificial intelligence systems. It makes her very good at what she does, and she’s an indispensable member of the crew. However even though I’m an optimist, I find it hard to imagine a future where humanity doesn’t attack what’s different in society. And given the current controversy about metadata and government snooping, I think the reasons behind a widespread mistrust of transhumans are compounded. They are ‘creatures of the internet’, able to breach firewalls and hack sensitive systems as easily as breathing. As a result, ‘chipheads’ are the target of racist — or maybe that should be ‘specist’ — intolerance from the ‘norms’.

I think the most interesting aspect of interfacing directly with the electronic world, the world of data and numbers, is how our minds would interpret and present that augmented reality to us. We’re not digital, we’re analogue, which means — perhaps — we’ll take a figurative rather than literal approach to the datastream. Bren explains it best:

Lex pressed the patches to her temples and flicked the monitor into life. He picked up a metallic wand. ‘You shouldn’t feel any discomfort. I’m just going to send a range of harmonics through the soft tissue and see what the sensors pick up.’ He touched her chin and turned her head to the left. The wand hummed in his hand. ‘What’s it like anyway, the link?’

Bren snorted and a smile spread across her face. ‘You don’t know how many times I’ve been asked that.’

‘Then you should have a good answer.’

She turned towards him and he gently turned her head back into position. ‘A lot of people can’t get used to it. There’s the increased cognitive capacity, of course. You’re totally aware — of everything. When you’re linked, you can instantly understand concepts, complex equations, programming, the works. You access information, formulate solutions, in the blink of an eye. But the perception change can really get to you. Some things you encounter are actual representations, like when I saw Phillips in the ring. Some things you can template and construct yourself. But every now and then something will come at you that’s totally figurative. Like the interface has tapped into your subconscious imagery and selected something that embodies completely what you’re experiencing intellectually, emotionally, and even spiritually. It can freak you out if you’re not used to it.’

‘Like that package ticking?’

‘Yeah, but that’s a simple example.’

‘Look to the right, please,’ Lex said and swapped the wand to his other hand.

‘Anyway, it’s helped me become more than I ever could be. But Harris and people like him will never understand. And they’ll never trust what they don’t understand.’

No matter how augmented they become, I believe transhumans will retain their own human and individual ways of looking at the world. It may have to work that way to prevent their brains from overloading. It’s a fascinating concept to think about, and it almost makes me wish all this was a reality right now.


Follow the Horizon Blog Tour

3 November — Extract of Horizon — Voyager blog

4 November — Character Building: Meet the Crew — Trent Jamieson’s blog

5 November — Welcome to Magellan: Inside the Ship — Darkmatter

6 November — Futureshock: Charting the History of Tomorrow — Lee Battersby’s blog

7 November — Engage: Tinkering With a Quantum Drive — Joanne Anderton’s blog

10 November — Stormy Weather: Facing Down Climate Change — Ben Peek’s blog

11 November — Time Travel: Relatively Speaking — Rjurik Davidson’s blog

12 November — Consciousness Explorers: Inside a Transhuman — Alan Baxter’s blog

13 November — From the Ground Up: Building a Planet — Sean Wright’s blog

14 November — Life Persists: Finding the Extremophile — Greig Beck’s Facebook page

17 November — Interview — Marianne De Pierres’ blog

Keith Stevenson is a science fiction author, editor, publisher and reviewer. His debut novel Horizon is available as an ebook via

 His blog is at


BOUND Train coming to Melbourne

September 15, 2014

It’s a bit of a shame that we couldn’t organise an actual launch event in Melbourne for Bound, but I will be in town soon and it would be great to see anyone who can make it. I’ll be signing books in Dymocks, Melbourne from 11.30am on Friday September 26th and then I’ll be heading around to Robinson’s at Melbourne Emporium to sign from 12.30pm onwards. After that, it would be nice to grab a late lunch somewhere and I’ll be in town all afternoon if anyone is keen to catch up.

So come along if you can make it. If you already have Bound, bring it to be signed. If you don’t have it, come and get one. And whether you have your own copy or not, come along and get a few signed copies as Christmas presents. Can you imagine being that far ahead on your Xmas shopping with such a cool gift? It’s okay, I’m an ideas guy – you can thank me later.

Look forward to seeing people there. And please spread the word for anyone around the Melbourne CBD on Fridays.


And now for something completely different – Nicole Murphy

July 8, 2011

To say that I had something a bit different for you lot today would be a bit of an understatement. But let it never be said that I’m some kind of one trick pony. I know a few tricks and I have friends who make me look better. To that end, I’m happy to host a guest blog today from urban fantasy/romance writer Nicole Murphy. I’ve know Nicole for a while now and I’m very proud to call her a friend. With the release of the third book in her current series, she’s doing a few guest posts around the intertubes, and today she’s appearing here. Some of the things she has to say are very interesting, so read on.

On romance… by Nicole Murphy

Secret OnesSo here I am, a guest on Alan Baxter’s blog. A writer who deals in dark fantasy, horror, mystery and suspense. All the fabulously deep and dark and gritty stuff. And I write light urban fantasy romance. The Courier Mail described my work as “a lightweight but rollicking romp through the space where fantasy and romance collide”.

What does someone like me write about for the fabulous readers of Alan’s dark fantasy?

The answer – embrace the difference. Stand tall and proud and announce that I’m going to write to you all today about why I love romance.

A) Romance is about positivity and finishing on a high note. There are days when it’s really hard to find the positivity IN ANYTHING. So I can grab a romance and know that no matter how hard things get for the hero/heroine, it’s going to work out all right in the end. That’s a nice thing to be able to rely on.

B) Romance is about feminism and strengthening views of women’s sexuality. Now, I’ll admit it doesn’t always succeed at this – but then not every horror novel succeeds at being scary. But there are still huge tracts of the literary world out there where women are not seeing strong role models or being shown that they deserve happiness whether sexual or not. In the romance world, we get to see women taking on the men, beating them at their own game and getting the loving partner that can make their life better.

Power UnboundC) Romance is about acceptance. There’s such a range of relationships and sexuality in the romance genre. On the one hand there are the inspirational books – heavily based in religion (generally a Christian one) in which there’s no kissing or touching. On the other hand we’ve got erotica, featuring menages and S & M. At the moment, there’s a rise in gay romance (mostly being read by women, interestingly) and a massive call for romances dealing with different cultures and races.

D) Romance is about characterisation and world-building. Because of the restrictions on the plot (it HAS to end in a happily-ever-after or it’s not romance, it’s just romantic), you’ve got to work hard on the characters and world in order to create an interesting and exciting book that the readers will want to connect to. Some of the most memorable fictional characters I’ve come across have been in romance.

E) Romance is about escapism. People say this like it’s something bad but of course it isn’t. We all need to get away from the real world for a time – because we’re tired, because we’re stressed, because we’re worried, because we’re overwhelmed. A break from all this for just an hour or so can give us the push we need to move on and get through it. Most romances are written in a style that’s very easy to read and it means they’re easy to jump into, while away the time and then pop out of again.

Rogue GaddaF) Romance is about love, and love is one of the most powerful driving forces in human existence. Fiona McIntosh said it nicely on a panel at Worldcon last year – ‘if you’re not dealing with romance in your work, then you’re not dealing with the totality of the human condition because at the end of the day, we all want to be loved’.

I know romance isn’t for everyone. There’s things that I don’t like to read (and no, dark fantasy isn’t one of them :) ) so I can understand that you can give it a try and not find it your bag.

But I hope that if you’ve ever been inclined to bag romance, you’ll now think twice about it. Or at least go and read a few books (preferably mine!) before you put it down.


Giveaway question – To win a copy of Rogue Gadda, tell me what you love about your favourite genre.

[Leave comments below and Nicole will pop back to see them. She’ll pick a winner for the copy of the book – Alan]

Rogue Gadda

They came to the night that she and Hampton had made love. She hoped this was something the Firimir would skip through but no, she had to sit there in front of Hampton and relive those exquisite memories in the most humiliating fashion.

She wanted to squirm, both from embarrasment and arousal – Goddess, watching them together would set anyone on fire. Then she realised the Firimir could probably feel her arousal and embarrasment won.


Dymocks Southland Bestselling Horror Titles for October 2010

November 3, 2010

Things like this make me inordinately happy. As you’ll know from previous posts, I attended a group signing at Dymocks in Southland on Halloween. Here’s the proof that in-store signings are still relevant, as well as a lot of fun. That particular store releases a monthly list of bestselling dark fiction titles. The list for October is out and it looks like this:

1. Sookie Stackhouse (series) – Charlaine Harris
2. Vampire Academy (series) – Richelle Mead
3. Torment (Fallen #2) – Lauren Kate
4. Parasol Protectorate (series) – Gail Carriger
5. The Dead (The Enemy #2) – Charlie Higson
6. Alone (Chasers #1) – James Phelan
7. Twilight (series) – Stephanie Meyer
8. Realmshift – Alan Baxter
9. The Loving Dead – Amelia Beamer
10. Under Stones – Bob Franklin
11. The Zen of Zombie – Scott Kenemore
12. Madigan Mine – Kirstyn McDermott
13. Z – Michael Thomas Ford
14. The Darkness Within – Jason Nahrung
15. Dracula – Bram Stoker

The bolded items at 8, 10, 12 and 14 are four of the five of us that were signing that day. To see my book listed in the top 10 selling horror titles for October is very humbling. Thanks again for a great event, Chuck!


Writing the good fight- Guest post with Lorna Suzuki

October 20, 2010

A few times now I’ve run a workshop at conventions which is all about writing realistic fight scenes. Writers are constantly told to “write what you know” and good writers will research things they don’t know very well. More accurately, writers should “write what you know, or have gone and found out about”. I’m a writer and a martial artist. I’ve trained and taught martial arts for close to thirty years and had a variety of fighting experiences in a variety of tournament conditions, as well as a few encounters on the mean streets of life that are best not discussed on the public record. So I can be considered something of an expert on the subject.

I developed a workshop called Write The Fight Right, and it has been very well received each time I’ve run it. Here’s the blurb:

This is a workshop designed to look at the things that make a fight scene in a story read as realistically as possible, while maintaining excitement and pace. By looking at the various factors that go into a real fight, paying attention to the things that we train for when we learn to fight, we can write fight scenes that stay exciting without breaking the rules of realism that shatter believability.

I’ve been asked by a few people to convert the content of the workshop into an ebook and sell it. I’m working on that, so bear with me.

Lorna SuzukiIn the meantime, I have the pleasure of sharing some thoughts on the subject with author and martial artist Lorna Suzuki. Lorna is the author of The Imago Chronicles and has been studying and teaching martial arts for more than twenty-five years. As part of her blog tour promoting the 9th and last novel in the Imago series, as well as the release of her new YA book, The Magic Crystal (Book One of the Dream Merchant Saga), I asked her to chat with me about various aspects of writing fight scenes.

Lorna, welcome to The Word.

Thank you for hosting, Alan! I’m so happy to be here.

One of the first things I like to get out of the way when talking about fighting is the “Hollywood distraction”. On film, fights need to be clear and visually spectacular. This often leads to each fighter taking a turn and a very unrealistic fight resulting. In writing, we can avoid the need for a visual spectacle and describe other aspects of a real fight. Lorna, what are your thoughts on this?

ImagoUnfortunately, I’ve been in real-life fight situations (with men, never against women) and for anyone who trains like we do, what you see on the screen is obviously choreographed and nothing like a real fight that can be over in a matter of seconds. From those who have struggled with writing these types of scenes and have read my fantasy series, one of the things they have consistently pointed out is that what makes mine so effective is that I tend to write about the emotional side of being caught up in a fight.

Also, because the vast majority of my readers do not train in martial arts, where practitioners can usually follow and understand what techniques are being applied, to write these scenes from a strictly technical perspective would only bore non-martial arts types out of their minds!

In my workshop, I always get people to pair up and we go through a few really basic drills to demonstrate range, footwork and movement from a real fighting perspective. How do you approach this aspect of fighting in your writing?

Definitely, having an understanding of how the body moves, the importance of balance, of not over-extending punches and kicks, etc. is intrinsic to writing scenes that have a realistic slant to them. After training/instructing for so many years, these scenes tend to play out in my head. I think having a background in martial arts makes it possible to allow the characters to do what they must to survive the situations I place them in. Of course, as I already know what each character’s weaknesses and strengths are, it’s easy to have these fight scenes unfold in my mind’s eye. For me, it is almost like transcribing what I see and trying to capture the emotional toll such a confrontation can have on the character.

I also like to point out that when a fight is written with a lot of clinical terminology, it takes the reader out of the visceral experience of fighting. If you need to describe techniques in detail it slows the pace of a part of the book that should be fast and hectic. How do you avoid making the fight the slowest part of the story?

It would be the equivalent of using words that the majority of intelligent readers are not familiar with. Each time they have to stop and check the dictionary for the meaning of the word, it disrupts the flow of the story, making it come to a screeching halt each time.

Because my style incorporates ninjutsu, my characters’ actions are very subtle and very quick. A film producer interested in acquiring rights has already told me that the fight scenes would have to be adapted to make them visually ‘spectacular’. I tend to write what I know, so it works its way into the scenes. Whether it’s dropping the opponent by striking a pressure point or using a bone-breaking technique, they are easy to do, easy to describe, but they’re not flashy on the screen. These are the things that work for me (and my characters).

From a writing perspective, it’s important to try and keep the adjectives to a minimum and to keep the sentences short and tight. One thing that I’ve noticed is some authors will have two opponents in a death battle and as they’re beating the crap out of each other, they are also maintaining full dialogue! No stilted sentences, no words cut short. The two are engaged in as much conversation as they are in a physical confrontation.

And I can tell you from experience, that never happens! Another good aspect to writing over film, as you mentioned earlier, is that we can describe the emotional impact of what’s happening – the adrenal reactions in the body and so on. How do you approach that aspect in a fight scene?

Dream MerchantWhen I do write the fight scenes, the action level is intense, but it’s usually over pretty quickly. However, for me, I tend to emphasize the trauma of being drawn into a fight and the roller-coaster ride of emotions as things escalate. The adrenaline, the panic, the fight-or-flight instinct kicking in is something that even if a person has never been in a physical altercation, the emotional side of it is something they can relate to. If they can relate to the feeling of fear, that rush of adrenalin, the shock of pain that becomes apparent only after the fighting is done, etc. the more impact this passage will have on them.

I think one of my best fight scenes is when the female protagonist goes to war for the first time and is momentarily frozen in panic. When it’s over, she’s on her knees puking her guts out and the shock sinks in that she is truly capable of taking a life. I’ve been told it was the emotional trauma she endured that really stuck in the reader’s mind.

Absolutely – that sounds to me like a very realistic scene. Obviously, there’s an awful lot more to all this than we’ve covered here, but it gives you a taste. I don’t want to give everything away, or there’ll be no demand for the ebook I’m working on!

Lorna, anything else you’d like to say on the subject in closing?

I’d like to recommend authors struggling with this bit of writing to try out a style of fighting their characters are familiar with. Many martial arts school give free introductory classes and a chance to sample a lesson can sometimes be enough to inspire the author to continue on training to learn more. Once they discover how easy it is to really do serious damage when they know what they are doing, it can be a real eye-opener. It can also open the door to writing fight scenes with a sense of realism. In my opinion, the best fight scenes are a perfect blend of action and emotional tension.

I couldn’t agree more. I’d like to thank Lorna for taking time to chat to me today about this stuff. Best of luck with the book tour and your future writing!

Thank you so much for being such a great blog host, Alan! I’ll catch you on Twitter and maybe when I return to Australia one year we can do a seminar on this subject. Now that would be fun!

You’re on!

You can read excerpts, reviews and find out where to buy the books by checking out Lorna Suzuki’s website at

Follow Lorna on Twitter: @LornaSuzuki

Join Lorna for Day 5 of the blog tour when she discusses “The Challenges of Writing for a YA Audience” with Katrina Archer at her website:


Why I love F&SF guest post at Helen Lowe’s place

October 8, 2010

Just a quick reminder that as part of the promotion for Helen Lowe’s awesome new book, Heir Of Night, I was invited to write a guest post for her blog. The subject is why writing F&SF rocks my world. So read all about my writing history and where I developed my love of F&SF here.

And remember to check back daily for all the other great writers that will be answering the same question in guest posts of their own.


Guest post for The Heir Of Night Launch

October 7, 2010

At Worldcon I was lucky enough to be asked to do a reading of my work. I was also lucky in that I was able to share that reading session with Helen Lowe. Helen is an awesome author from New Zealand and she read from her forthcoming book The Heir Of Night. Well, that book launches in Australia and New Zealand today. I’m looking forward to reading it – the excerpt she read at Worldcon really caught my interest.

As part of her launch party she’s arranged for a series of guest posts at her blog, with F&SF authors from all over Australia and New Zealand posting about why writing F&SF rocks their world. I get to be first cab off the rank and my post about why I love F&SF goes up tomorrow. In the meantime, check Helen’s site to see the great list of awesome people she’s got visiting over the next few weeks. Also today there are book giveaways and all sorts of cool things happening.

I’ll post a reminder tomorrow about my guest spot, but check out the site today, as it’s launch day and there’s loot to be won!


Halloween horror book signing at Dymocks Southland

July 30, 2010

Here’s a little something I’m quite excited about. On October 31st, which as you all know is Halloween, there’s going to be a little horror-fest at Dymocks Southland bookstore.

A bunch of us dark writer folk are going to be doing a group book signing there in celebration of all things… well, dark. It’s a great idea and I’m honoured to have been asked. I’ll be sharing the signing table with some truly notable writers. Joining in on the day will be Bob Franklin, Kirstyn McDermott, Jason Nahrung  and Bruce Kaplan (as well as little old me).

You’ll remember Kirstyn McDermott from this post the other day where I was talking about her new book, Madigan Mine.

Jason Nahrung is the author author of The Darkness Within and numerous short stories.

Bruce Kaplan is the author of the YA paranormal novel Jenny’s Dance.

Bob Franklin is primarily recognised as a comedian that you’ll probably know better from TV than from his writing. He’s stared in show’s like the ABC’s The Librarians or guest appearing on Thank God You’re Here. However, he’s also the author of Under Stones, a collection of “tales of unease”.

So as you can see, I’m in some stellar company. It should be a good laugh, so if you’re anywhere near Melbourne come along and join in the fun. Here are the party invite details:

12 noon ’til 1pm on Sunday 31st October

Dymocks Southland
Shop 3067/8, Westfield Southland
1239 Nepean Highway
Cheltenham, VIC 3192

Ph: 03 9584 1245


Baggage anthology from Eneit Press

June 17, 2010

Baggage is a new anthology of short stories, published by Eneit Press and edited by Gillian Polack. You may remember Gillian being mentioned on here before – she was kind enough to officiate for me at the book launch of MageSign late last year. This anthology that she’s put together is a pretty awesome concept and I’m really looking forward to reading it. As part of the blog tour promoting it, I’ve got a post here with some of the contributing authors and Gillian herrself talking about the concept of baggage.

That concept is described on the back of the book thusly:

Humankind carries the past as invisible baggage. Thirteen brilliant writers explore this, looking at Australia’s cultural baggage through new and often disturbing eyes.

Sounds pretty cool, huh? The Table of Contents is:

Vision Splendid — K.J. Bishop
Telescope — Jack Dann
Hive of Glass — Kaaron Warren
Kunmanara – Somebody Somebody — Yaritji Green
Manifest Destiny — Janeen Webb
Albert & Victoria/Slow Dreams — Lucy Sussex
Macreadie v The Love Machine — Jennifer Fallon
A Pearling Tale — Maxine McArthur
Acception — Tessa Kum
An Ear for Home — Laura E. Goodin
Home Turf — Deborah Biancotti
Archives, space, shame, love — Monica Carroll
Welcome, farewell — Simon Brown

As my part of the blog tour, I asked three questions of a cross-section of those contributing authors. The cross-section in question being Kaaron Warren, Deborah Biancotti, Laura E. Goodin and the editor herself, Gillian Polack.

The questions were:

1. The anthology is called Baggage and explores the cultural baggage carried by people, from a specifically Australian perspective. When you first saw/concocted this theme, what was your initial reaction? What do you see as Australia’s baggage?

2. Do you think baggage is essential? Would we be better off without cultural baggage?

3. What actual baggage do you always take when you travel? What’s your essential piece of physical baggage?

Their answers are below.

Kaaron Warren:

The anthology is called “Baggage” and explores the cultural baggage carried by people, from a specifically Australian perspective. When you first saw this theme, what was your initial reaction?

I thought, Rats, so I can’t pull that zombie wishing he was a werewolf married to a vampire story out of my to-be-finished pile and submit that.

I was also struck by how many layers of thought it was going to take to get to the heart of the theme. I liked that; it’s the first time I’ve been asked to write a story based on an almost abstract idea rather than something more specific.

What do you see as Australia’s baggage?

Australia’s baggage is like the really good set you get from your friends for a wedding present if a lot of them get together and are pretty generous. The history people bring with them as well as the shared history. Ditto for culture; the things people bring and the things that have been created here.

We have some shameful baggage and plenty of heart-breaking history. I think it’s the details which hurt. I recently saw the Dunera Boys exhibition at the National Library. One item was a case full of notes and stories written on toilet paper because there was no other paper available.

Do you think baggage is essential?

I think it’s inevitable. You can’t live even the quietest life without gathering some. There will have to be hurts, bad memories, loves, losses.

Would we be better off without cultural baggage?

Of course this is impossible, but I think we are better off keeping our cultural baggage. A lot of it can be negative, with slights going back hundreds of years. Memories of murder, rumours of betrayal, who scored the best position on the boat over. These things are remembered and handed on.

But these are the things which give us substance. They are the things which form our decisions and make us different from each other.

What actual baggage do you always take when you travel?

My big brown handbag. Room for a book, some lollies, travel sickness pills, the travel documents, things for the kids to do and read, phone, diary, note pad, many pens, keys…it really is very useful.

What’s your essential piece of physical baggage?

I usually travel with husband and two kids.


Deborah Biancotti:

The anthology is called “Baggage” and explores the cultural baggage carried by people, from a specifically Australian perspective. When you first saw this theme, what was your initial reaction?

I thought it was brilliant. Australia has such a tapestry of histories I couldn’t wait to see what people had come up with, what cultures we’d find in the book. I thought it was the perfect theme for our country!
For me, though, working to the theme proved to be tough. I’ve never really related to Australia. I’ve never understood ‘what it is to be Australian’. I tell people I didn’t feel at home until I *left* Australia in my twenties. (I came back, of course, but coming back was hard.) And so for me the only way to write a story of the Australian experience – my Australian experience – was to write about homelessness.

What do you see as Australia’s baggage?

Well, we don’t have a great track record on human rights. And we’re embarrassingly good at wars. All up, that seems to suck.

Do you think baggage is essential? Would we be better off without cultural baggage?

Maybe it’s a necessary evil. Baggage can make you wise, and wisdom can stop you from being overwhelmed by all your inevitable baggage.

What actual baggae do you always take when you travel? What’s your essential piece of physical baggage?

Nowdays it’s my phone. Boo-yah for inbuilt GPS and that whole data downloading thing! How else can you find the best Mexican in San Francisco while you’re on the run, eh?


Laura E. Goodin:

The anthology is called “Baggage” and explores the cultural baggage carried by people, from a specifically Australian perspective. When you first saw this theme, what was your initial reaction? What do you see as Australia’s baggage?

When I heard about this project, I thought, “Wow. An anthology for people like me!” I’ve been an expatriate for, oh, about 15 years now [Laura is American – Alan], and I’m acutely conscious of my difference, of my non-belonging to the society in which I live. I’ve been forced to confront a lot of my cultural baggage, just in the course of learning to get through the day and do some meaningful and valuable things while I’m here. I’ve been forced to shed the assumption of rightness, that my people’s way is the way that makes sense, and everyone else’s is second-best. Of course, no thinking person consciously decides that his or her culture is, by the very fact of its existence, the one that any rational person would choose if they had the chance. It’s just that until you’ve lived overseas, you’re not compelled to decide otherwise.

Obviously, it’s not just expats who carry baggage, but host-country people as well. I wouldn’t presume to stand here and wag my finger at Australians about their assumptions and cultural preferences, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have them. This obsession with bringing back Hey Hey It’s Saturday, for example – but no! No, that’s just none of my business. You people do what you think is best. No, really. *makes surreptitious “Oh my God” faces* [In our defence, I don’t know ANYONE that thought it was a good idea to bring back that show – Alan]

Do you think baggage is essential? Would we be better off without cultural baggage?

I do think it’s essential, and I find the term “baggage,” with its pejorative overtones, ambiguous at best. Rather, you can consider it “context” or “cognitive framework.” Cultural baggage is how people make sense of what they’re witnessing, thinking, and feeling. Cultures evolve because they meet the needs of a group of people (or some of their needs, anyway). That’s a strength: to have a system of thought that both meets your needs and offers you a way of evaluating what you’re going through. Of course, as my karate teacher told me once, our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses, and the same framework that gives us strength to get through the day in a confusing world is the framework that can limit our thinking and make us bigoted, parochial, and paranoid. That’s why being a compassionate, open-hearted traveller is such a wonderful thing to strive for.

What actual baggae do you always take when you travel? What’s your essential piece of physical baggage?

Hm. I always take more warm clothes than I’ll probably need (I have a horror of being cold). I usually take my laptop. I always, always take a notebook, a pen, and a book to read. Perhaps the most unusual thing I never travel without is my radio. It’s an AM/FM/shortwave, which means I can always listen to the cricket (joke). But, in all seriousness, when I’m in another country, or even another city, the way I key into what’s happening and what things are like for the people who live there is to listen to their radio stations. Even if I can’t understand the language, I can hear their music and at least get an inkling of their news. Radios. Radios are cool, and immediate, and random in a way the Internet is not. You take what you get with radio: no picking and choosing, no clicking until you find someone who only reinforces what you thought already. Radio can surprise you. Moreover, the batteries last way longer than a laptop’s.


Gillian Polack (editor):

The anthology is called “Baggage” and explores the cultural baggage carried by people, from a specifically Australian perspective. When you first concocted this theme, what was your initial reaction? What do you see as Australia’s baggage?

I must have seen the theme for the first time, but it feels as if it’s been with me always. Finding a way of expressing it so that other people saw what I saw: that was tricky.

What is Australia’s baggage? See my answer to the next question. It’s shared stuff. Some of that shared stuff is amazing and positive. Some of it is sad. Some of it is quite nasty. We’re not aware of it all – in fact,
we carry most of it around all the time without expressing, explaining or even understanding it.

Do you think baggage is essential? Would we be better off without cultural baggage?

Without cultural baggage we don’t have any tools for communication, for living. How do we know when to wake up in the morning? How to smile at someone we love? How to cut steak? Cook steak? Eat steak? Some cultural baggage is strongly negative, but the vast bulk of it is the stuff we carry with us all the time without even knowing. The shape of your bed; how you get out of bed; what you do when you’re out of bed: cultural baggage.

We have eyes, but it’s our cultural baggage that trains us how to use them. It’s the shared aspects of that cultural baggage that enable us to look at each other and interpret what we see in a way that enables us to live in a shared world.

What actual baggage do you always take when you travel? What’s your essential piece of physical baggage?

I always try to carry a handbag big enough to fit at least one book. If the voyage is going to last more than 3 hours, then my netbook is slipped into my handbag, all powered up, with several books loaded. I also always carry paper and pen – and I always need it, too.


Thanks to everyone above that took the time to talk a bit about their perceptions of this great collection.
Get your copy of Baggage here

(Incidentally, the awesome cover art shown above is by the very talented Andrew McKiernan.)


Kate Forsyth & Belinda Murrell blog book tour

May 13, 2010

You may remember a little while ago that I hosted a day of Kate Forsyth’s blog book tour for The Puzzle Ring. Well, Kate is far from the only talented writer in the family. Her sister, Belinda Murrell, is also a talented and prolific writer in her own right. Seriously, these two are enough to give any writer insignificance syndrome – Kate is working on her 25th book and Belinda on her 10th!

Both Kate and Belinda have a new book to promote – The Wildkin’s Curse by Kate and The Ruby Talisman by Belinda – and they’re touring the interwebz together. I was lucky enough to get them both to answer a few questions about their writing and their lives.

Which of you was published first? Was there competition there?

Kate – I would normally say that I was published first as I had my first novel Dragonclaw published in 1997 which is nine years before Belinda published her first novel, The Quest for the Sun Gem – by the time that came out I had already published 14 or 15 books. But Belinda reminded me today that she actually wrote a book that was published while I was still at university! It just wasn’t a novel. And she’s catching me up fast – I’m now working on my 25th book & Belinda is writing her 10th.

Belinda: There wasn’t so much competition as trepidation. While I had worked as a professional writer for 20 years, both my sister and brother were bestselling authors and so I wrote my first book in deepest secrecy! Kate found out I was writing it by accident and she was so excited. However I was terrified that Kate would hate the manuscript. Luckily she didn’t!!

The Ruby TalismanIs writing something that runs in the family, or is it just you two that are the literary over-achievers?

Belinda: Writing definitely runs in the family! Not only are my brother and sister authors, but there have been writers in our family for about 180 years. Our great-great-great-great-great grandmother Charlotte Waring wrote the first children’s book published in Australia. My grandmother was an English teacher and with our mother, always fostered our love of books, poetry and writing. She used to tell us the most wonderful, romantic stories about history, our family and Scottish folklore full of adventure and brave, feisty heroines. She would talk to us about Shakespeare and Tennyson, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.

Kate: Charlotte Waring’s book was called A Mother’s Offering to Her Children by a Lady Long Resident in New South Wales [Surely one of the best titles ever! – Alan] and it was published in 1841. It’s an amazing book – the first time Australian flora and fauna was described in a work of fiction, the first time Aborigines were described, the first recount of Eliza Fraser’s experiences after her shipwreck… it’s really appalling that she is not more celebrated. Then her daughter Louise Atkinson was the first Australian-born woman novelist and the first Australian female journalist… there’s a flower named after her!

What’s your ideal writing space/environment?

Kate: I love my study! It’s painted pale green and is lined along two walls with bookshelves laden with books on history and witchcraft and folklore and literature. The third wall is hung with framed covers of my books and a map of Middle-Earth and a map of Narnia. The fourth wall is a huge picture window that looks out across my garden, through the peach tree to the harbour and the ocean. It’s a lovely place to work. However, I am very used to working anywhere at any time – in bed at 4am, at the airport, on a plane, in the park while my children play, with my notebook on the bench while I cook dinner…

Belinda: I have a beautiful office now, full of books, with a fireplace and a view over the garden. But while I was away travelling with my family for two years, I wrote in many beautiful and wild places – in the Kimberley in far north Western Australia, in the Scottish highlands, on the verandah of a friend’s cattle farm, on outback stations, in Margaret River…

Where do you get your inspiration?

Belinda: Life! My children. Travel. Things that happen all around me, every day…
I was inspired to write The Ruby Talisman because my family and I spent two years travelling and having adventures together, including a wonderful sojourn in France. We explored the gorgeous French countryside on horseback, by foot and on board an old fishing boat. We even crawled down into the dank, dark tunnels under the streets of Paris where the aristocratic bones were tossed of those murdered during the revolution. The French Revolution seemed an ideal period in history for a book of deadly danger and exhilarating adventures!

Kate: I find that ideas come to me all the time – I can reading a magazine (or a jewellery catalogue like I was when I first got the idea for The Puzzle Ring) or staring out a car window or reading a book on Cornish folklore or walking past a creepy old house… and then I’ll begin to wonder… I think the main difference is I see these moments of wondering or imagining as the seed-bed for a story while most people would just be distracted for a moment and then keep on walking.

The Wildkins CurseI think that’s something true of all writers – we see the potential for a story in everything.

Do you help each other out with writer’s block or sticky plot twists?

Kate: We talk about what we’re doing a lot, and often find just by talking it out we come to the solution… or one of us will say something really quite obvious that sparks an idea. I remember with The Wildkin’s Curse I was bothered about my final scene and Belinda said, ‘Well, what can your hero do that no-one else can?’ and at once my brain was off and running, and my sticky problem was fixed!

Belinda: Kate and I tend not to read each other’s manuscripts until they are finished – we find it’s better that way. We do help each other in so many other ways, whether talking through a difficult plot problem that is bothering us, helping to look after each other’s children or giving each other a stern talking-to, when we are doing too much, or getting stressed from juggling the many demands of motherhood, career, family and writing.

Is there still competition between you both?

Belinda: In a sense, we can be quite a competitive family. But we usually celebrate each other’s successes and are very supportive of one another. The keenest competition can be when we discover (yet again) that there is some quirky similarity between the two books we are writing at the same time. For example, with our latest books we discovered we had both called our heroines Tilly, so we had to negotiate a compromise – I won!

Kate: Sometimes we ring each other and say, ‘How many words did you get done today? Ha-ha, I did more!’ But it’s only ever as a joke. And we’d only do it if we knew the other one was writing happily away and not stuck or busy on other things. This week we were teasing each other because our books were the No 1 & No 2 bestsellers at a bookshop – and the bookseller was too scared to tell us which was which in case whoever was No 2 would be upset. But of course were both thrilled – both for ourselves and for each other.

Belinda: Yes – it turned out Kate was the number one bestseller, but I was nipping at her heels! I was only one book sale behind!

Does it help that you’re both writers? Can your success help to influence the other’s success?

Kate: A writer can really only forge their own success. It didn’t matter how many books I’d written or how many millions I’d sold, no publisher would have taken on Belinda just because she was my sister. They took her on because her books were so good! And people buy them because they’ve read her earlier books and loved them. Customer satisfaction and word of mouth is what sells books, not who you’re related to!

Belinda: It can actually be a hindrance – Kate’s agent refused to take me on because she thought it was too incestuous! Actually, in many ways it does help. Kate has definitely been a wonderful mentor to me, and has taught me so much about how the industry works. In other ways it made it harder, because Kate was so successful that I was very naive about how difficult it actually is to get published. I thought all authors sold hundreds of thousands of copies of their books!! But that too was an inspiration because I thought if Kate can do it, so can I!

Kate & BelindaTell us a bit about your current release.

Belinda: The Ruby Talisman is an exciting time slip adventure where my modern day heroine, Tilly, falls asleep wearing an old ruby pendant and is magically transported back in time to the glittering and opulent court of Queen Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI. Tilly wakes up in Versailles on July 14th, 1789, the day the peasants storm the Bastille, sparking violent uprisings against the aristocrats all over the country. Tilly sets off on a series of terrifying adventures throughout France to help her aristocratic ancestor Amelie-Mathilde escape the dangers and chaos of the French Revolution.

Kate: The Wildkin’s Curse is a tale of true love & high adventure, set in a world of magic & monsters, valiant heroes and wicked villains. It tells the story of two boys and a girl who undertake the impossible task of rescuing a wildkin princess from a crystal tower.

Princess Rozalina has the power to enchant with words – she can conjure up a plague of rats or wish the dead out of their graves, she can woo a cruel king with her stories and, when she casts a curse, it has such power it will change her world forever.

The Wildkin’s Curse is a book about the power of stories to set us free.

Thanks so much to you both for sharing this stuff with us. If any of you out there are interested in learning more about Kate and Belinda you can check out their websites. Belinda’s site is here and Kate’s site is here. You can also watch the book trailer for The Wildkin’s Curse here – one of the best book trailers I’ve seen.



The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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