Great Inspiration – guest post from Martin Livings

Last week I posted about the time, back in 1989, when I met Neil Gaiman and got a signed copy of Sandman #1, with no idea at the time of the significance of the event. You can see that post here. At the end of the post I said I would put the call out to my writerly friends and see if any of them had similar inspirations in their lives they might like to share. The wonderful Thoraiya Dyer got back to me with this excellent post, and today I have a post from Martin Livings:

The Year 1990

1990 was the year that made me. Or ruined me, depending on your point of view. I’d already been writing and submitting stories to the only local SF magazine I knew of, a trashy little beast called “Far Out”. They were amazing tales I sent them, like the one about the advanced civilisation being wiped out by a natural disaster, only to be revealed that it was actually an ants’ nest being stepped on by a small child. Or the one about the two armies fighting to the death that turned out to be a game of chess. Wow, incredible stuff. I wonder why they never accepted them?

Then in 1990 I attended Curtin University for less than a semester, my second unsuccessful foray into academic life. But during that semester, I joined the Curtin Imagination Association (CIA), as a high school friend of mine was already a member, and through them found out about the existence of Swancon, the annual Perth science fiction convention. So I thought, what the hell, sounds like it could be fun, and went along.

And that, as they say, was that.

The guest of honour was the brilliant Terry Dowling. I’d never heard of Terry before that, but hearing him talk, hearing him read, I was gone. Here was an Australian spec fic writer, doing things I’d never seen done in spec fic before. Rynosseros blew my tiny mind; I still have the copy I bought at the con, signed by Terry. I also met Nick Stathopolous for the first time there, artist extraordinaire. And it wasn’t just meeting them, either, but all of the people there, people like me, yet all different too. I wasn’t alone any more. It was energising and liberating to discover this.

These were huge inspirations, but the biggest inspiration that came out of Swancon 1990 was meeting the incredible team that were putting together what was at the time (and in my humble opinion still is) the finest Australian spec fic journal ever, Eidolon. Meeting the editors, Jeremy G. Byrne, Richard Scriven and Jonathan Strahan, plus of course the others involved in getting the magazine up and running, Keira McKenzie, Robin Pen and Chris Stronach, was like a lightbulb going off in my brain. Or maybe a nuclear explosion. These guys were locals, they were here in Perth, and they were doing incredible things with the genre.

I wanted in. I wanted in bad.

(Martin in home-made Freddy Krueger makeup, Swancon 1990)
(Martin in home-made Freddy Krueger makeup, Swancon 1990)

It took me two years to get a story accepted by them. That sounds like a long time, but considering the legendary slowness of the Eidolon reading process, it was actually pretty quick. At around the same time, I also had a story accepted by Aurealis, the other local powerhouse on the scene, which I’m so glad is still alive and well today. I ended up working for Eidolon in the end, first writing book reviews, then editing the book review column, and finally as an associate editor. I made so many great friends through this; Sean Williams and Kirstyn McDermott were two of my favourite go-to book reviewers, and of course the amazing (and Oscar-winning!) Shaun Tan was the art editor, to name only three of many. But more than that, I learned. I learned about the craft and the art. I learned what was good, what was bad, and, worse, what was ordinary and dull. I learned more than I ever could have in any university.

1990, Swancon and Eidolon teamed up and created the beginning of my writing career. And even though Eidolon may no longer be with us, it sits on my bookshelf and continues to inspire me, to make me want to do better, write better, be better. Hopefully it always will.

Perth-based writer Martin Livings has had nearly eighty short stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. His first novel, Carnies, was published by Hachette Livre in 2006, and his first short story collection, Living With the Dead, was published in 2012 by Dark Prints Press.


Great Inspiration – guest post from Thoraiya Dyer

Last week I posted about the time, back in 1989, when I met Neil Gaiman and got a signed copy of Sandman #1, with no idea at the time of the significance of the event. You can see that post here. At the end of the post I said I would put the call out to my writerly friends and see if any of them had similar inspirations in their lives they might like to share. The wonderful Thoraiya Dyer got back to me with this excellent post:

Inspirational things – The Empire Trilogy by Feist and Wurts

daughterDaughter of the Empire, by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts, was published in 1987.

I didn’t read it until 1992. That year, the third book in the series came out; I saw my mother actually go without food so that she could buy the book and find out the fate of Mara, Lady of the Acoma.

Meanwhile, I was just starting high school. Daughter of the Empire had a turreted, cathedral-looking castle and a blonde with a broadsword on the cover. Yet the first line was: “The priest struck the gong.” I’d sure never seen a gong in a cathedral.

I hadn’t heard of whitewashing in 1992 but soon lost myself in a story devoid of blondes. There were no turrets. There weren’t even any broadswords. The fascinating tale of a teenage girl inheriting the leadership of a once-mighty feudal family and battling with her wits to keep from being crushed by her rivals kept me absolutely riveted to the very last page.

Along the way there were honour-bound Tsurani warriors that sounded suspiciously like samurai. Grey warriors that might have been ronin. There were wood-framed palaces with paper screens instead of solid walls. There were spies who did not brawl like James Bond but infiltrated like ninjas.

Later, I discovered that Feist and Wurts had used Korea and Ancient Rome as their inspiration, but by then, barking up the wrong tree, I’d already delved into all things Japanese.

I took Japanese for my language elective that year. When Mum asked if I wanted to do netball or soccer, I told her I wanted to do karate. I read Zen Flesh, Zen Bones and The Book of Five Rings. I set my alarm for 3am to get up and watch inappropriately classified and poorly dubbed anime while drinking green tea. Pre-internet, I sent physical letters to the Japanese pen pal I later met on my first amazing trip to Japan.

I learned enough about this other culture that when older Australians with hangovers from World War II told me that the Japanese were a cruel and inhuman race, I could set them straight in no uncertain terms.

The cultural diversity to be found in today’s SFF is an absolute joy to me but I’ll never forget where I found it first. The vivid fantasy world of the fictional Empire was not Japan, not Korea and not Ancient Rome. Some might argue, today, that the borrowed elements of it were not Feist’s or Wurts’ to borrow, but what they did, while they were borrowing it, was wave it in my young, impressionable face and say, “Look! How incredibly cool is this? People can live lives that are completely different to yours, so different that you’ll never be able to look at your own culture the same way again, and yet just as rich, just as dangerous, just as colourful, just as gut-wrenching, just as meaningful and just as true.”

I’ll owe them a debt forever, because of that.

I’ve borrowed many places and people in my short fiction that didn’t belong to me. I’ve set stories in Nepal, Scotland, the Caribbean and New South Wales pre-colonisation. I’ve written Spaniards and South Americans, Quakers and Christian Saints.

When I make mistakes, I’m very sorry for it, I feel inadequacy and terrible remorse, but I hope that for every person offended by my ignorance, five more will be inspired to go to the source, to museums or the internet, to film, art, fiction or non-fiction made or written by people who are of that culture or to meet and speak with those people, and become immersed, drinking up all the detail I could not give them, because all I was really doing, all I was trying to do, was shout out to my readers, “Look! How incredibly cool is this?”

Thoraiya Dyer is an Australian writer who lives online at . Her four-story collection, Asymmetry, is available at Amazon ( ), Wizard’s Tower ( ) or direct from Twelfth Planet Press ( ). The naginata, or Japanese halberd, a women’s weapon of feudal times, features in one of the stories.


Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror Recommended Reading

years-best-fantasy-and-horror-v3-slideI’m doing my Snoopy dance. Ticonderoga Publications have just released their Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror Recommended Reading List and I feature on it four times. Four! That’s so cool. I’ve mentioned before how proud I am that my story, Tiny Lives, (originally published at Daily Science Fiction) is being reprinted in the book. To have a Year’s Best reprint is just such an honour. But to also have four other stories given a nod in the recommended reading is fantastic. It includes the story I co-wrote with Felicity Dowker. My listed stories are:

“Cephalopoda Obsessia”, Bloodstones anthology.
“Crossroads and Carousels”, The Red Penny Papers. (Free to read online)
“Fear is the Sin”, From Stage Door Shadows anthology.
“Burning, Always Burning”, with Felicity Dowker, Damnation and Dames anthology.

Check out the full list of recommended reading here. That’s some sweet company I’m keeping. And at the end of the page linked there is information on where to buy the book, jam-packed full of Year’s Best awesomenitude. And yes, that is totally a word. Now. Also, check out my Books page and Dark Shorts page for details on where to find the recommended stories.


Stranger than fiction – Pentacle in Kazakhstan

I love stuff like this. You know when you see something bizarre in the real world and it just blows your mind? When you’re a writer, you see stuff like that and think, I’d never get away with that in a book. I think it was Neil Gaiman who said: “Fiction is hard, because it has to make sense. Real life doesn’t.” Or words to that effect. Apologies to Neil if that’s a bad paraphrase. And apologies to someone else if it wasn’t Neil Gaiman who said it originally. I honestly can’t be arsed to check. The principle is sound and has been echoed in many ways over the years. Which is why I love stuff like this. It’s just so out there, but it’s real. At least, it exists. It all starts with this headline: Gigantic Pentagram Found in Kazakhstan – Can Be Seen in Google Maps. The headline there links to the original article. Go have a read.

Essentially, it boils down to: A gigantic pentagram was found in Google Maps in an isolated region of Kazakhstan, West of the city of Lisakovsk (coordinates +52° 28′ 47.14″, +62° 11′ 8.38″). The circle’s circumference is over 1000 feet wide and contains a clearly defined, mathematically correct pentagram.

It’s actually a pentacle (a pentagram in a circle) but the article does mention that later.

Beyond that, it’s all speculation. I’d love to know more about why it’s there, who made it, etc. Is it for some magical rituals? Is there a great conspiracy at work or is it just a bit of fun and nonsense? Kazakhstan is apparently well-favoured among the occult elite, whatever that means. I really must arrange a visit there one day. Next book set in Kazakhstan, maybe? Then I can write off a research trip.

Of course, the first thought is that it’s all a hoax, so I double-checked. You can indeed see the thing on Google maps, so it’s at least that real. Here’s a crop from a screenshot I took after I tracked it down:


I think this whole thing is pretty cool!