Abandon Hope.

I think I’m going to take “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” as my life motto, especially when it comes to publishing.


That’s not as dire as it sounds, though. The problem with hope is that it’s a light shining in the depths, and we (writers) focus on it to the exclusion of all else, following that distant promise, that hope that next time it’ll be me.


You know what shines a light in the darkness?



Yeah, and hope (or the constant failure of hope, rather) can lead to some pretty ugly emotions – a greedy mess of despair – why her story and not mine? How did that get published and I can’t get an agent, why is that terrible book being made into a movie, how did this book get good reviews when it’s so dumb and obvious?…etc etc.


But take away the hope – the frantic chasing of that flickering little light that promises one day, soon, by the end of this year you’ll get that agent, that deal, that amazing advance, that short story in Famous Name anthology, that award – and something happens.


Instead of focusing on that one light dancing out of reach, you get to drift in an ocean of darkness, and you can pay attention to the smaller lights, the silver shadows that slip towards you, that nudge and say hi, I am opportunity, come play with me, expect nothing, enjoy everything.


So I am done with hope, and I am embracing the drift of potential, and possibilities.

Not The November Novel

More like the December Let’s Start A Novel And Talk About Process And Take It Easy But Still Make Progress. Or something equally snappy.

I love the idea of nano, I really do – thousands of people all eagerly word-warring and tapping out novels in a month – that is impressive. Nano, unfortunately, doesn’t work for me. Mainly because just the thought of a high word count goal makes me freeze up and start crying. My creativity is like a scared little penis; it can do amazing things when it’s in the mood, but put it under pressure to perform and it shrivels up to a sad peanut.

Woops. that metaphor got away from me. Sorry.

Okay, so here goes. While out walking the Hounds of Hell I was thinking about how and why nano doesn’t work for me (pressure, I don’t work like that, exams/school stress/end of year ughness) and decided I would start a new thing for myself in December, with very easy goals, daily ones that would get me writing a little bit every day, with some vague structure to keep me focused. And I decided to blog each day to keep myself motivated.

And then I thought, hey, maybe some people would like to join in the process, which would be cool. So if you would like to take part, feel free. I’ll be posting what is and isn’t working for me, my goal for the day, and whether or not I hit it. There will be *some* structure, but no actual outlining and so on, in the sense that most people mean (though I’m of the opinion it’s all outlining, just some outlines are longer and more detailed and more prone to rewrites than others. :P)

So, if you’re keen, join me on Dec 1st, with nothing more than your pretty brain, and the willingness to write 100 words. Yep. 100.

Happy Happy

Happy Friday!

So life is short and full of crappy things, so today I am focusing on why I love where I live.

– neoprene and bare feet *is* formal wear.
– squirrels in palm trees
– fascinating array of bird life
– dog walking community
– art in unlikely places
– beach, mountain, and estuary all on my doorstep.
– kayakers stopping to chat with each other out on the water.
– people doing sun salutations next to the estuary while dogs bound about.


See, that made me feel warm and snuggly.

A good way to start the weekend.

because rambling about world-building is just like world-building

So this sprung out of an email conversation and a thread on a forum.

Now, world-building is kinda the mouth-breathing, socially-unskilled nerd of fantasy. It’s touted as what sets fantasy apart from other genres, and as obsessive pointless wankery. Really, it’s a bit of both.

I have pretty mixed reactions to my world-building in fantasy. Some readers love what I do and find it evocative, and some readers suggest I go read better authors and learn how to do it properly. (I do, in fact, read better authors. I’d have stayed a terrible writer if I hadn’t and didn’t). I can only talk about what I do, though, and if it helps you, that’s cool

>When writing something set in a secondary world I usually start with a close-up image related to the main character (something that tells you about that particular character’s social status, class, money-situation, work, age. You can get a lot of that information across without actually stating anything out right.) At this early point I have a vague idea of what’s happening outside (relative to the MC), and a couple of other key images that set tone for the world.

Most of these early image-scenes don’t even make it into the final draft in their original form. This is fine. It’s like grisaille work in an oil painting – an underpainting that sets out the form and shadows, that gives the artist a blueprint to work from and underpins the end product. You don’t see it (though sometimes you do) but it informs everything about that final finished piece. It gives depth.

So I start with these scraps and forms, and I follow my character through their story. As they move through their narrative, they *have* to, in some way, also move through their world. In the first draft I’m learning story and world. I’m seeing what happens, I’m wondering why this would happen and not that. It’s pretty obvious I am not an outliner, though I have guide-notes for reference, and an idea of resolution (that also changes quite often).

Once I’m done with that, there will be world-building that grew from this process which will directly influence and change the narrative.  This is also fine, it keeps things interesting. Sometimes things happen in real life, or I stumble across an interesting article and I think yesss this is perfect this must go in and I seed it into the fictional universe. Something as simple as taking my dogs for a walk and watching the pied kingfishers hovering and plummeting will thread its way into my book; the sour-mud smell of the air, the squish of goose crap underfoot, the bite of the south-easter. For me, world-building is as much about observation of our world as it is using my imagination to create new things.

I  once heard or read someone talking about how specificity in a novel makes the fantasy world come to life, so instead of using generic words like tree, I’ll say what kind of tree it is, and that sparks more thought – why this tree? What does it say about climate? How would this tree affect the world around it? What kind of furniture would people make from this tree? And then I think about furniture…and the process never ends.  And that’s how the world develops. It is an organic process, and sometimes no matter how cool (or truthful) a world-building element might be, including it throws the story off, so in those places I either smudge, or use smoke and mirrors. Some things are not THAT important in the grand scheme of story. It’s when these elements become more important than your story’s truth, you know you’re headed too far into the realm of writerly wankery.

One of the things I do is use zim wiki to keep world-building notes in order for easy adding and cross-referencing, (and also so I just have a repository of the pointless detail – things like eye colour of some random mentioned once on page 18 of book one who is suddenly a major player in book 3 :P).

So that’s my take on world-building; if you have little tips or tricks or things you do to help build and visualise a strange new world, I’d love to hear. If you want me to expand on something, I’ll do that.

green-eyed monsters and how to trade them in for creatures with beautiful eyes

I’m not going to pretend, there are days when I look at my fellow writers and am overwhelmed with despair. People who are my peers, but who have series deals and several books out already, and I always start wondering where I go so wrong with my work, why I’m not there with them etc etc.

This is not productive, though god knows we all need a good wallow occasionally. Except it’s stifled my writing, because all I can look at is that compared to them I’m a failure, how my work is just not right, not commercial enough, not appealing enough to editors, or whatever. Whether this is true or not, I can’t even judge. At this point, I feel like it’s true, even though I have sold books, so obviously at some point I’ve written something that hooked editors.

I keep starting stories and then abandoning them because I can’t imagine who would want to buy them.*

So, I guess, I want to know – what are your tricks for getting yourself out of this mindset? What makes you carry on when you feel there’s no point at all to continuing?


*I was chatting to The Boy about this and he said ” I love you babes, but there’s no way to sugar coat this… you suck at marketing,

you have zero idea of what people will buy.” so there’s a chance I am just self-sabotaging here.

Ou Kraal and beyond

Today’s hike was up Ou Kraal to the Spes Bona forest, then along back to Pecks Valley. The total from home to back again was about 13 kms, but it took us 4 hours 25 minutes because *someone* had to go down half the trail on her seven-year-old arse.

ippThe forest is a wonderfully cool haven of wooden walkways (you’re not allowed to disturb the forest) that weave between lichen-shaggy rocks and twisted tree limbs. Because it was early on a Sunday we had the walk to ourselves, and could hear the peeping of frogs and the distant trickle of mountain streamlets.

We took a brief break in Tartarus Cave. We don’t currently have a torch because *someone* used it to go look for chickens in the dark and desn’t know where she put it, so we didn;t venture in very far, but it was a nice respite from the icy winds on that side of the mountain.

ippAgain, we got to enjoy a vast variety of fynbos and other plant and animal life , including spotting some little droseria “nurseries” in the lee of some rocks, and the range of proteas coming in to flower. I particularly loved the contrast of these deadheads swathed in lichen (?)


Paperback Writer

Yesterday, I received a mysterious package.


Upon opening it, I found that When the Sea is Rising Red is now out in paperback, the cover has been tweaked and improved, and it has a sexy sexy new tag line.


Voila! The pretty!



So if you’ve been putting off buying my book because hardcover be pricey, yo, then hie thee to Amazon or B&N or your local bookstore. Because you’re worth it!

Imma workin’ imma workin’

Making words and working on ghost songs

Read More →

A round-up of links

I really should be better at doing this, but I just tweet about things and then forget all about them.



For readers in South Africa who are for some strange reason reluctant to pay Amazon’s exorbitant delivery charges, you can buy the paper-and-ink version of House of Sand and Secrets locally from Megabooks

(For everyone outside SA, I’m afraid we’re still on Amazon for now, will update that.)




And a while ago my short story Waking was published by Apex Magazine, and now there’s a podcast up. This is very exciting because I’m pretty sure that’s my first podcast of a short story. Whee!

Hiking and flower-arranging in my head.

I know I’m exceedingly lucky to live in a really beautiful part of the world. At my doorstep is an ocean, an estuary, and a bunch of mountains. I am spoiled for outdoor activities. I can also be the laziest human in existence, with a tendency to lie around like a bear that just ate an entire wedding cake.

Recently I’ve been making more of an effort to enjoy my world, and one of those things is to go hiking in the mountains with my family. The Western Cape is home to some amazing plant life, and the fynbos is my favorite. It has such a subtle beauty, that pictures really don’t capture it. it’s spring at the moment, so it will be interesting to watch the floral landscape change (already the arum lilies have passed their bloom and are fading away to dune flowers).

I spotted this little (insect eating?) plant while walking. There were only a handful of them, but they were beautiful – I’d love to find out more. I think I need to buy myself a nice fat reference book.



At the top part of the mountain there’s a level area full of little puddles and tiny streams, and the area is where many leopard toads breed, as you can see.


And finally, a view from “round the corner”, across False Bay. You can see the tain tracks below – one of the best parts of the southern line is going along the coastal section. The trains themselves may be dreadful, but the view is killer (I have had a wave throw spray right over the carriage to the other side.)