Easter, anthologies and Amanita

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This weekend while everyone else has been looking for chocolate eggs in the tall grass, I have been busy trying to weave together stories for two anthologies I’m editing.

I have always enjoyed reading, and there’s something rather special about pulling together the work of other writers in relation to a particular theme.

Specifically, I’ve been tinkering with the adrenalin-pumping non-fiction tome Call of the Wild, and my creepy M.R. James tribute anthology of short stories, both of which have attracted some very high calibre offerings from both new and established writers.

And while my house has (rather unthinkably) been caffeine and chocolate-free, there have been bunnies aplenty – wild brown rabbits darting across in front of our car when we nipped out for a Saturday drive (no mean feat on the Easter long weekend when my neck of the woods becomes choked with cars heading east and west).

After the rabbits zipped by (egg-less, they must have already done the bidding of the Easter Bunny), I noticed we had stopped out the front of an old miner’s cottage, and the road had turned into a dirt track. In front was a magnificent old pine tree, and gathered around its roots like a colourful skirt were lots of Amanita muscaria, pretty red and white toadstools of the kind always seen decorating faerie bowers.

Sometimes the magic happens when you least expect it.

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Working holidays, writing myths, and patrons

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Has it really been more than a month since I posted on this dear old blog? What the hell have I been up to? Well, dear reader, I’ve been enjoying a bit of a working holiday.

I spent a good three weeks undertaking some firsthand research for a long-term non-fic book project, which entailed camping out in the wilderness of Tasmania.

And I’ve been busy pulling together some anthology projects, the first of which is an M.R. James inspired collection of creepy tales authored by some very exciting (several of which are very well known) authors.

It’s going to be a cracking collection, and I’m sure old Montague, if he were about, would certainly approve!

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I’ve also engaged in a bit of crime – watching it on the box, that is – enjoying Murdoch Mysteries (S1 – there’s another 7 to watch, apparently!), and some tense, nail-biting drama in the form of Broadchurch (S2), and Fortitude. All highly recommended.

The latter two series do a good trade in red herrings – more potential suspects than you can poke a stick at, but at least the plots keep you coming back for more.

Of course there have been other casualties during this fallow writing period – most tellingly the garden and the housework. It’s hard to get your work ethic back after several weeks of communing with nature, but one does have to pay the bills.

Speaking of the bills (of which there are many, I think they were breeding under the fridge!) I stumbled across a series of interesting posts about how writers *really* financially support themselves. There is a prevailing belief that most writers just write all day, miraculously making ends meet while churning out moderate to excellent prose.

Well, some do. While others can, largely thanks to inheritances or wealthy patrons (read: spouses or family trusts), plod along and write whenever they please. But most of us work other jobs. I’d urge you to read the many comments and links, and enjoy the honest revelations.

Here’s the post that kicked it all off, Ann Bauer’s “Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from. It’s refreshing, and it’s raw. And we’re all green with envy, Ann! Your bloke sounds like he needs cloning 🙂

Today, I am essentially “sponsored” by this very loving man who shows up at the end of the day, asks me how the writing went, pours me a glass of wine, then takes me out to eat. He accompanies me when I travel 500 miles to do a 75-minute reading, manages my finances, and never complains that my dark, heady little books have resulted in low advances and rather modest sales.

As for me – yes I do work full-time as a writer, but not for myself. My own writing is largely done on the train each day early in the morning or evening, or on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes it’s churned out during fits of insomnia. But it’s rarely if ever penned between the hours of 9-5. That time, friends, belongs to The Day Job, without which I would not be able to fund much of what I do, including living and eating.

At the moment my independently-published books break even and pay for themselves production-wise with a bit more besides, and I have a trade-published book that presents me with a nice combined ELR-PLR payment each June, equating to slightly less than a week’s pay. Icing on the passive income that is the book royalty.

I write for pleasure, and for interest.

I don’t write for profit – yet – but I’m getting there.

Confucius says read!

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Did Confucius, China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist (551-479 BC) really say this?

Was this position on reading one of his analects (teachings)?

I don’t know, but the sentiments certainly ring true. Read, read and read some more. Today there really is no excuse for ignorance with so much information at our fingertips.

Confucius apparently did say ‘True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know’. Or something like that.

The easiest way to remedy ignorance is to read. And the easiest way to read is to buy or borrow reading material. In doing so, you’re supporting storytelling and those that ply its trade.

In a roundabout way, Confucius said so!

Why I love my library

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John Lubbock really knew what he was on about. Isn’t this a great quote? I love it. I want it tattooed on the wall of my next house, in the room that will be my very own private library.

I was a wee little thing when I visited my first library. I remember it well. It was in the hallowed halls of St Joseph’s primary school in O’Connor in Canberra, Australia. It was the late 1970s, so the children’s reading corner was very traditional – lots of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven, Herge’s Tin Tin, Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix, Jeff Brown’s Flat Stanley – and featured an enormous tube cushion in the shape of a giant snake. I loved that library, and I remember the competition was fierce for the good books, particularly the ones featuring Julian, Dick, Anne and George (and Timmy the dog!). The boys in particular were quick to swoop on any Tin-Tin and Asterix books. For my money, mysteries were  the way to go. I was green with envy over my friend Jo’s collection of original hardcover Famous Five books, which she had inherited from her mother. It was hard going trying to find all of the books and read them in order through the library, and yet the library offered me something I’d never had before: reading choices.

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My next most memorable library was on the other side of the world at Hunters Woods Elementary School in Reston, Virginia, USA. You wouldn’t get a more different collection of children’s books, which isn’t surprising given how culturally different the two countries were in the 1980s, a time when you couldn’t even watch American ads on Australian TV. It was here I discovered the likes of Joan Aitken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and Louise Fitzhugh’s charming Harriet the Spy (which inspired me to carry around a similar notebook of frank and fearless observations for a while – to my detriment).

I also discovered Judy Blume, a then (and probably still) controversial author. She was your go-to girl for all the gory details about periods, first bras and kissing boys. Reading ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ was a rite of passage.

When I wasn’t at school, I begged my father to take me to the Reston Regional Library, where I would walk out with armfuls of books. The school holidays were heavenly. A keen reader, I’d churn through most of them in a week and insist on another trip. It was cheap entertainment, considering a few years earlier I’d been badgering my father to buy me endless copies of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden books at around $6 a pop (big money then, and when you read them as quickly as I did).

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There have been other libraries since then. Other books. Many other books. But those three libraries and their contents shine in my memory as havens for the young me, a bookish child, and opened up a world of joy, adventure and knowledge.

These days I tend to buy my books instead of borrow them. Some books I read straight away, others I shelf for a rainy day. I buy new, I buy old. I buy mass market books, and I hunt down rare and unusual tomes. I buy locally, interstate and internationally. I buy in shops and I buy online.

I almost never give away books and, after a few bad experiences, I absolutely never lend them. My collection gives me great joy. I still have books that I owned as a child – adventure stories, fairytales and compendiums of myths and legends – precious touchstones that still evoke feelings of delight and wonder. Books have proven to be constant friends to me, and even in my darkest hours (and I’m fortunate in that I’ve never had too many of those) they have been my crutch, my confidante. To live without books in my life would be akin to giving up food or water.

My fondest wish as a child was to have my own library. My very own shelfed sanctuary heaving with every kind of topic or genre that has ever grabbed my fancy, well kept and respected tomes, gently loved and, post-read, occasionally caressed. The air thick with the scent of ageing pages. I have that now – a few thousand books that line the walls of my old 1940s cottage, roughly ordered by subject, spines rebelling against anyone’s attempts to colour coordinate to any interior decor whim. This isn’t a show-pony library, it’s a reader’s library.

Books taught me about the importance of storytelling. It’s a love affair that has defined my career choices and hobbies – first as reader, then as journalist, book reviewer, editor, and writer – so it’s little wonder that I share my house with so many stories. I’m not a hoarder, and I’m not a collector. I’m merely in tune with my true nature (and yours), the primal need we all have for sharing and finding meaning in the human experience.

For telling stories.

Reynolds Price said: “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter.”

‘Hey lady!’ I hear you say, ‘haven’t you heard of ebooks?’

Well yes, yes I have. But if someone pulls the plug on the Internet tomorrow or Amazon.com crashes, or your e-reader runs out of juice, your ebooks will be floating in the ether. My books will be on the shelf, ready to read.

In my library.

A new age in publishing…

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ALLI member David Mattichak has posted a great summary of the state of play in publishing and where independent publishing fits in over at his popular blog www.dgmattichakjr.com.

“Whether we like it or not, we have entered into a brave new world of writing and publishing across a range of media and books is only one of them. The fact is that there will always be bad books and there will always be good books, and the difference between them will be decided by the people that read them, not the people that publish them.”

Well said David!