Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's A Long Way To The Top.

I learned a couple of things about success this week.  I learned it takes perseverance and won't happen overnight (unless you're one of the lucky few), I learned it takes planning and preparation, I learned it takes having good people around you, I learned it takes making the right choices, and I learned it takes a bit of luck.

I finally got around to watching the film Anvil - the story of a band that were the next big thing in metal back in the 80s, and nothing happened. They're still around, gradually falling into their 50s, producing album after album, sounding like a lot of other bands that did make it - but circumstances, bad management, bad luck and poor choices make for a group of guys with obvious comparisons to Spinal Tap.

They seem like nice guys, and I ended up feeling rather sorry for them (while laughing at the same time). I wanted them to succeed. And towards the end of the film they have a few minor wins.  From what I've heard they've had a bit more success after the film's release, with support slots on AC/DC's North American tour.

Lars Ulrich was there on celluloid, raving about how great Anvil are, and what an influence they were on his music. It's a shame he didn't back that up by giving them the $25,000 or so they needed to record their next album with a half decent producer - or even just helping them get the finished disc picked up by a label. I'm not just having a shot at Lars, but at any of the rich rock stars that got themselves on this film by saying how great Anvil was and how much they deserved a break.

But the main thing I learned was the dedication we need to succeed. I have a long way to go, and I have a lot of work to do - but I plan on succeeding in writing.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

They're Here...

I used to tell people that I'd had two ghostly encounters over the years.  After another one last week, I counted up and realised there were actually five.

One of those previous encounters was actually two encounters.  Same location, just 12 hours apart. A mischievous little poltergeist  too. Actually made things move in front of my eyes (with other witnesses) and then the next morning, as well as playing with the lights, caused an object my colleague and I were looking for to disappear - only to make it re-appear when we weren't looking. Kind of freaky at the time, but a lot of fun too.

Another was a visitor I had one night.  I never saw anything, but I felt the presence, and I felt as though I was being held down. I just couldn't move or say anything - and it took an enormous effort and about 20 minutes to free myself.

Then last year I was standing next to someone who saw a ghost.  I didn't see anything, but I saw what it did to him - and there were plenty of internal clues surrounding the event to prove this as a true visitation.

And then last week I encountered number five.  I was on a school trip to Tasmania with 4 colleagues and 42 students, and we took in the tour of Port Arthur. (A wonderfully tragic place for a number of reasons - well worth the visit.  I love going there.)  The Isle of the Dead is fascinating, the Separate Prison is incredible, and the beauty (which masks the years of pain and suffering) is unsurpassed. During the daytime I visited the Parsonage, as I have previously.  This time, however, there was one room I felt rather uncomfortable in. I couldn't explain it, I just didn't like it in there. I am, however, wise enough to accept that perhaps there was nothing there but my own desire to see something.

At night we returned for the Ghost Tour - and if you've never done it, you must. Twice now I've enjoyed this tour - and both times I've been lucky enough to have excellent guides. This time, as we stood outside the Junior Medical Officer's House, around six of us heard the floorboards creak and the footsteps as something walked across the inside of the house.

No, it wasn't a tape recording. No, it wasn't an animal. It was a series of footsteps across the rooms inside.

A great tour, and I hope next time to encounter John Gould, The Lady in Blue or even the Parson.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Aliens In Australia.

Today I visited an animal park with a bunch of students.

While kangaroos and wallabies and koalas and wombats and the like are nothing new to me, I was once again struck by how bizarre these marsupials are. I know that when Europeans first came to Australia, they were stunned by the diversity and uniqueness of Australian wildlife. In fact when they shipped back a platypus to their British colleagues, or so the legend goes, the scientists back in England thought they were having their collective legs pulled - after all, no creature as bizarre as this one could actually exist.

It's a mammal, but has a bill, lays eggs, has poisonous spikes on its hind legs and lives in and around waterways.  Robin Williams once did a hilarious routine based on these very facts.

But as bizarre as these animals are, I grew up with them. And even overseas visitors seeing them for the first time have seen pictures/read/heard about them.

There's not much out there that's truly weird in a 'not of this world' kind of way. Yes, I know we're still discovering strange creatures under the Antarctic or in the murky depths of the oceans, but for the truly unique, for that animal that causes a moment of complete shock where we are stunned something so bizarre could actually be alive, we'll have to wait for the xenobiologists to return from other planets.

For now I'll just have to rely on the Sci-Fi I read, and my own imagination in trying to create beings that aren't derivative. Lots of stories base themselves on variations of earth animals - insect people and the like.

I must say I've just enjoyed reading a couple of Robert J. Sawyer books where he explores the psychology of being alien. Now that's truly bizzare.

As for me?  Well, it's back to work.  I'm creating a planet populated by oversized wombats with tentacles.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Watch What You're Doing.

Tonight I'll be at Festival Hall in Melbourne to see The Pixies. For those that don't know this venue, it's a huge barn with less than ideal acoustics.

It has, however, come a long way. At least these days you can hear the music.

Back in the day, as my students like to call any period of time I refer to prior to their being born, it was a shocker - with a wall of sound hitting you from every direction as it bounced and reverberated around the boxing arena.

Over the years I've seen some great music there.  Johnny Winter, Dio, Stryper, Randy Stonehill, Joe Satriani to name only a few.  My last visit there was about 5 years ago to see Oasis. At least the Brothers Gallagher were still only barely talking to each other then.

But tonight it's The Pixies - not the best venue for them and I'm surprised by the choice of venue. But there is a sense of circle there for me. The first concert I can recall seeing at Festival Hall was Larry Norman, 'back in the day' - and as any Pixies fan will tell you, Come On Pilgrim, the band's first EP, was named after a Larry Norman line. In fact Frank Black turned up and jammed with Larry on that very song for one of his final shows before he passed.

I don't expect Frank to play Larry tonight - but I do anticipate a great show.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

When I Grew Up And Went To School...

Motivation is a curious thing.  We say we want to do things, but make all the excuses as to why we can't. Of course I'm as guilty of this as the next person, but there are some who take it to new levels.

I see it often in my students - young adults who tell me of their hopes and dreams and plans for the future.  They tell me of how much they want to do these things.  Usually these plans require some kind of goal, a particular score on final exams in order to enter an establishment of further study and I always advise these students of how they can reach those goals.

But what I don't see anywhere near as often is the corresponding effort.

As with most things it's easier to talk about it than to actually do the work.

Once again I'd like to point out that this is something I'm guilty of also, although I'm definitely improving and writing more and more often. But unlike these guys I don't have an exam at the end of the year that gives me a result that sees whether I get into university or not. I don't have the sorts of goals that require a pass in English. And I already have a job.

It's easy to see things differently with experience and age, and we can never put old heads on young shoulders.  They are, after all, teenagers.  Also there's only so much I can do. I can't force them to learn and to work if they don't have the motivation.

But I do my job to the best of my ability, teach the course content well and pass on my sage advice and wisdom - along with the occasional kick up the backside when they need it.

And now and again students turn themselves around and actually surprises me.

Now those are the moments.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Riding Along On A Pushbike, Honey...

After a couple of months of talking about it, and then a couple of weeks of researching it, my wife and I are now the proud owners of shiny new bicycles.

We bought all the necessary associated gear - the lights, the helmets, the rack for the car, the bike pump - but we were able to ignore the other stuff (let's just say they're made out of lycra) for the time being.

We live in a beautiful region of Victoria, with lovely bike trails and wonderful scenery, and while my wife an I have walked some of these areas we're really looking forward to jumping on our bikes and pedaling our way around.

Did I mention they're shiny?

This is the first time I've bought a bike since I was about 16 years old.  At that time I was working part time in a supermarket, and I saved up to buy myself a bike from K-Mart.  It served me well for a few years.  My friend and I even went fishing and camping a few times with all our stuff loaded on our bikes.

But these bikes are great quality, and we were able to get a great deal on them. They look good, ride well, and are well constructed.

So look out for me on the Warburton Trail and other places.  I'll be the one on the shiny new bike.

Did I mention they were shiny?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What? Back For More Punishment?

My second quarter entry for the Writers of the Future competition is almost complete.  I've been working on it, and it's shaping up really well.

I actually started it last year, but due to a number of reasons I wasn't able to complete it before the close of the first quarter.  Rather than rush the story to submit it, I reluctantly sat out that quarter. Which is just as well.  I ended up rewriting large chunks of the story and as a result it's a much better narrative.  It has better flow, the characters interact more realistically and the resolution works better.

It's about twice as long as any other story I've written, and I'm finding it's a much better length to work with. At least in this case.  As to whether it has any chance with the judges or not, I really don't know.  If my past experience is any indication, then this one won't even make it to the contest offices.  Two of my previously submitted stories I thought would do rather well ended up being rejected outright. while the one I thought wouldn't do anything at all was awarded an Honorable Mention.

So either I'm no judge of my own work, or the co-ordinating judge has absolutely no clue whatsoever.

Wish me luck with this one. (and here I was going to make a joke about hoping the judge finally gets it right - but, um, that might work against me...)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Out Across The Universe.

Next weekend I'll be out with other members of the Astronomical Society of Victoria for the annual Messier Night. I have a few friends coming along - for some it'll be their first time - for others - well, let's just say they're hooked now!

It's been a while since my scope has been serviced, so tomorrow I'm rolling over to my mate's place where it'll get all the TLC it needs.  Mick knows how to treat it good.  He should - after all he built it. And once it's all shiny and clean and swivelling smoothly on fresh teflon pads (and with the Naglers and Televues I borrowed from another friend) the universe will be my oyster.

Ah yes. There's nothing quite as relaxing as sitting under a dark sky with a friend and a brew, listening to Neil Young, talking crap and staring into deep space.  And at that those wee small hours, I find I get some weird ideas which later work their way into stories.

Dr. E will be there, as will Mr. J and a few other SEDNA members. (There are only 6 SEDNA members, and I suspect we'll all be there.) Great nights, great stories - many of which shall remain unshared.

But if you are free next weekend, come and join us - I'll show you space as you've only ever imagined it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Number Two Down - And Plenty More To Come.

So the weekend was spent in the city in fellowship with others of a like mind. Well done and congratulations to the organisers, volunteers and chairs.

It was great to either meet for the first time or catch up with Felicity Dowker (various short stories) Narrelle M. Harris (The Opposite of Life ), Paul Haines (A Slice of Life), Christian Tamblyn (Dragon of the Second Moon) and many, many others.

Cat Sparks was there too, and I was able to spend a lot of time talking to her. She was even lovelier in person than I had expected her to be and she offered me lots of fantastic advice on writing. I can't speak for other genres, but in speculative fiction it's wonderful that writers of all abilities and levels of success celebrate, share and support each other. Speaking of which, congratulations to Cat on finding an agent and the impending publication of your collected short stories.

My friend came along with me, solely as a result of conversations we had shortly after Continuum 5. This was his first con, and on the way he confessed some misgivings. He was concerned that he was there under false pretences, as he's more of a 'horror' fan than a 'Sci-Fi' fan. How did he cope? Well, he's gone and signed up for both Continuum 7 and Worldcon (Aussiecon 4) - which is great news for me as I've just saved some money on booking hotel accomodations by sharing with him.

And then to top it all off, I came home to some great writing news.  Nothing I can share yet, but something that's re-energised me and my words just when I needed it.

So, I'll see you at Aussiecon, right?