I am a Melbourne based writer, primarily of speculative fiction. I find the writing process fascinating; the links below include examples of my work, fiction and non fiction, but also another story. How has a chapter evolved? How have places and the fictions of others informed and inspired my own. How do I research, develop ideas and turn them into narrative? Each page offers a different insight into the work and the story behind the work.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Scaffolds of creation

The Witing Process page of this website is very much at an early stage; it is an area of the website whose genesis requires a lot of careful thinking, so it has ended up cooking at a much slower simmer than many other components of this project.

On this page it is my intention to present my findings from introspecting my own writing process, as a series of concepts or images. For example, the Kernels of Fascination section on the page will be about the way I have found it useful to 
bait the reader's curiousity by seeding unresolved questions or hooks of intrigue into the narrative of a story. 

I was inspired to create this Writing Process page - what is really a mini-project in itself - by reading the two volumes of Doris Lessing's autobiography (more information below), in which there are several extended passages where she introspects her own writing process in considerable detail. Lessing doesn't uses a series of images exactly, but she does at one point discuss the notion of wool gathering, which is what gave me the idea for the Writing Process page. In general this means daydreaming and has a fanciful or pointless connotation, but Lessing shows how for a writer it is an essential, legitimate and productive part of the creative process.

The image above is an example of a writing process image I have been thinking about of late. In this case I have also started to draft some thoughts to explore the image and what it means to me as a writer more fully. 

The image shows, of course, scaffolding being erected in preparation for the construction of a ship. I choose this image because it reminds me of how I may write a lot of prose or entire sections of a novel which do not make it into the finished draft, but they seem to be necessary preparation for the creation of the actual scenes or passages that do.

The path to bringing an artwork into being in many media and forms seems so contradictory, mischievous and even maddening. Sometimes it just happens, but oftentimes it seems to following phases of determination, sometimes premature confidence and delicious delusion punctuated by others of doubt, reappraisal and detachment.

There are times when what seems like a thing or creation in itself, is only the preparation for what finally emerges. When people have not experienced many many of these unpredictable circumstances, and persisted until the final work is before them, they can become terminally disillusioned with what they have done and abandon it. Yet, while it seems like a broken framework, like the bones of something that was once alive, really it is the essential scaffolding for the act of creation.


If you would like to learn more about Lessing's autobiography (and I would certainly recommend these books, particularly if you are interested in writing), below is some information on the books, reproduced from the list of non fiction books on the Researching Fictional Realities page of this website. 

Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 and Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949 -1962: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949-62
Doris Lessing
This is the two volume autobiography of Nobel Prize wining writer Doris Lessing, a white colonial native of the former state of Rhodesia, who has lived in the United Kingdom for many decades and is now in her 80s. She has written both general fiction and science fiction. This might not be specifically useful for building realities, but Lessing is very interested in how writing works, and introspects her own consciousness to discuss the writing process in some depth. I found it useful for understanding more about how writer’s construct realities and themselves through the writing process and hence understand and improve my own writing process.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Maps in the Mind

It is not the first time of course, but recently I was reminded quite vividly of how the maps we hold in our minds, and the true geography of our surroundings, can be rather different things.

The area surrounding the office where I work in Central Melbourne is very much urban in character. There are taller buildings to the south along the northern edges of the CBD, and smaller buildings to the North, at the lower edges of a residential suburb, but really the difference is only a matter of variance of scale.

Urban sprawl near the office

The residential streets north of my workplace

An average work day leaves me with a sense of not having seen much else other than concrete, glass and other architectural components. Although I have ranged fairly far afield on some days, it has always been in a defined area south and to the west of my office. Somewhat forlornly, I have often thought it would be nice if there were a park nearby I could sit in, or stroll through, at lunchtime.

Only a few weeks back, a colleague and I decided to take lunchtime walks together, inspired by a common desire to instill a slither more of fitness into our ageing frames than had previously been the case. And it so happened that the first day we ventured out, he led the way, and within five minutes we were walking through the trees, lawns and flower beds of... Carlton Gardens - a fairly substantial park with plenty of lawns, trees and other non architectural features... though one's architectural fascinations could be equally indulged given that the centre of the park is occupied by the 19th Century Melbourne Exhibition Centre and more modern Melbourne Museum.

I was quite astounded by this.

I had of course known where Carlton Gardens were... or thought I did. I had in fact spent nearly two years working at a location, unaware the Gardens were a few minutes away, left me feel somewhat sheepish and even a little regretful for lost opportunities to escape the urban sprawl.

The trouble was, I knew Carlton Gardens from taking a particular route into Central Melbourne and travelling that route by Tram - for 18 months I did this almost every weekday. Since moving to a different part of Melbourne, I also traveled to my office by Train and Then by tram. The long ingrained habit and experience of encountering the park through a particular route and via public transport, had somehow left me with map of the City in my head, such that two locations almost next to one another were fifteen or more minutes apart in my imagination. The map below demonstrates this.

It is not that I don't know Melbourne pretty well, it is just I know parts of it in different ways because of particular paths and purposes I have followed.

The maps of reality we make in our mind, are often it seems, maps of habit, which in turn it seems can become limited realities.

I am sure I am not alone in this sort of thing. So perhaps you too might want to take 5 mins walk in a direction not usually traveled. Who knows what other reality, there all this time, you might discover.

Here are some photographs of what I now get to enjoy across more than a few lunch breaks these days.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The archaic world of the Facebook status update

I realised something today that has been glaringly obvious for quite some time but for some reason had not become clear in my mind. Whenever you type anything in Facebook you are essentially stuck in a kind of pseudo pre-computer era of typography and communication. The more I think about it the more bizarre it seems. 

Facebook has been around since 2004. Yet, x million-billion whatever users are still stuck with typing in one font, with the same line space and in black and white. Actually it is even more primitive than that. At least with an old fashioned typewriter you could bold words by typing over again, adjust line spacing and underline.

Most computer screens today are capable of 24 bit colour, allowing for millions of displayable colours and you have to go back over 20 or 25 years to reach an era when most computer screens were only capable of black and white, which is one bit colour.. well allowing for the fact in those days it was usually white, green or orange on a black background, which is the same thing in bit terms. 

Even allowing that crazy colour choices and whacky fonts - which many will use like rabid addicts if given the chance - potentially make messages hard to read, given Facebook is such a widespread means of communication, it is startling that even rudimentary means of indicating meaning through typeface such as bold and italic are missing. You can of course uses CAPS, but that hardly seems like a leading edge innovation.

Facebook; the state of the art in modern communication; any colour you like, as long as it is black. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Desktop street art

I am not an artist, but I once was to some degree; many years ago I drew quite regularly, created illustrations for my fiction and painted in water colour and sometimes in oils. Later I worked as a computer graphic artist for a number of years. While most of my work was various types of corporate design and animation, after work hours and during lunchtimes I also experimented artistically with the computer graphics software of the time.

One of the reasons I suspect I was drawn to street art and ended up creating the Melbourne Street Art 86 site, is that it reminded me a lot of the sort of work I did on early computer graphics systems (this is the late 1980s and early 90s I am talking about). Those early systems were 8bit, which only allowed you 256 colours, but you could create vignettes of 10-15 colours at a time and use shapes filled with these to create an illusion of shading. The later systems were full 24 bit or 32bit, as all paint software is these days. On those more sophisticated systems you had airbrush tools, which are a kind of electronic version of the aerosols paints most street artists use.

Another similarity is that the colours on a computer screen are luminous, as is the paint used in many street art peices. I suspect this is because some of the paint they uses is fluorescent - fluorescent paint includes particles whose molecules are 'excited by some spectrum of the suns rays and actually give off visible light. So when some street art looks as though it glows in sunlight, it probably actually is.

Having spent many hours photographing and 'curating' street art on Melbourne Street Art 86, I was curious to see what happened when I tried to envisage some art of my own, using some of the 'vocabulary' of the art I have seen recently.

I sat down at lunchtime today and freeform sketched a few ideas. The page is shown below.

I have now spent a bit of time working up some rough colour versions of the ideas I had sketched.

Here, for better or worse, they are.

The first one started out as a idea for a solar system like an eye and I had sketched an eyebrow above it on the sheet above. The tears came quite spontaneously after I created the basic shapes and once I had added them, it seems natural somehow to evolve the image into a kind of cosmic face.

The end result is too dark really, but seems reminiscent of the work of James Reka, which I often enjoy when I come across it.

But I came back to it a bit later in evening and tried some other variations, until I ended up with something more less elaborate.

I think this is a kind of play on ancient Greek architecture and the fascination of some philosophers with  geometric forms. It also perhaps echoes the characters that often accompany the elaborate calligraphic names street artists uses. I didn't have time to create something that elaborate though.

Here is a version that is simpler...

This seems to echo the stencil form in street art.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Urban fairies in the mirror

Yesterday I walked along Little Lonsdale Street, along near the top edge of the central area of Melbourne. I had noticed earlier in the day how many mirrored windows there are on the RMIT campus where I work (the three photographs above). I and had spent a short time photographing some of them on my way back to the office from delivering some documents. I gained a taste of the reflected world during those few minutes, but I was rushed and it was not enough.

I have been spending so much time with my eye and camera lens focused mainly at street level of late I think whatever part of my consciousness is involved with discovering and capturing the world in the photographic frame, needed to experience a certain sense of liberation. Yet somehow photographing aspects of the city above eye level directly felt unsatisfying, and the reflections I had seen earlier were still intriguing me.

Reflections are always less bright than their original twins, and they are a kind of illusion, so in a sense it is a little strange that I might try to find liberation in them... or was I seeking escape?

But I suppose mirrored surfaces also transmit a sense of expanded dimension and of angles and views that cannot be otherwise experienced from where one is standing. This is especially the case with reflections in mirrored glass high up on tall buildings; sometimes there is a sense as though one can see what only a soaring bird might see.

There were many examples of reflections, both closer to the ground and upon surfaces a dizzy distance above the head along Little Lonsdale Street and I hungrily sought them as I progressed from east to west across the city.

There are a selection of the photographs I took below.

When I look at most of them I experience a warm feeling of intrigue and even a little dash of mischievousness.  I cannot quite explain why, but somehow it feels as though these are photographs of fairies or unidentified and mysterious beings, not precise lines of architecture and inanimate artificial surfaces.

But then, the glass is not perfect and the reflections shimmer and even sparkle at times. The city may not have any fairies and magical beings, but in these reflections, for me at least, are glimpses of a city that has.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A scientific synergy that is like Christmas morning

Synergy is one of those words that sounds almost wonderfully onomatopoeic in a shiny abstract sort of way, and it should really be quite a wonderful word given it means to bring often unrelated things together, to make more in the whole than existed in the components. Indeed, in the contemporary sense it can also be used to describe emergent properties that could not have been predicted from the ingredients and might be something entirely new and surprising.

The process of creativity is in many respects one of synergy.

Nevertheless, if you have worked in the corporate world as I have, you have probably heard the word 'synergy' a fair bit, and If you have worked in the corporate world long enough you might well get rather fed up of hearing it at all. Rather like words such as "proactive' it gets used to the point where it becomes a kind of beads and bells mantra for folks in suits that is more about corporate mysticism that corporate strategy.

But let's forget the corporate world and synergies of teams and markets and all that. In fact, for a short period let's forget people other than oneself, or at least a self.

Synergies most certainly happen in and to people.

For some reason I have found there seem to be periods - in my life at least - where synergies happen rather more often than in other more lacklustre or mundane personal eras. For me, one of them is going on around about now. I wrote about an example in a post or so back; I wanted to take some photographs, get some exercise and had some vague notions of doing some projects, community and commercial based, during 2013 -  but wasn't quite sure exactly what.

Somehow or other, by wandering around Melbourne taking photographs and gradually more and more of Street art, I ended up quite spontaneously creating a entire website around the concept of a guide to Melbourne Street art on the 86 tram route. I also developed some budding skills in photography and a mild but functional level of fitness I very much doubt I would have if I had set out to do so intentionally - at least during the same relatively short period of time.

Wether a little me in my unconscious put these elements together with a quiet sense of purpose, I couldn't entirely say, but it doesn't seem unlikely there was a bit of that going on. Like many who have spent a significant proportion of their lives working on and writing novels, I am very used to taking images, themes, threads of experience and imagination and gradually weaving them into the whole interconnected system of ideas and meaning that is a finished novel. And no novel you work on turns out quite how you imagine it might when you first set out to develop and write it.

I may not have planned consciously to create a website and get enough exercise to loose weight and develop a particular sort of project I had never done before, but those desires were definitely there and it's not that unlikely I unconsciously figured out a way of putting all those elements together to generate a whole that pulled me forward. rather than saw me pushing and grunting ineffectually from behind.

Yet there is another example of a synergy that has been happening to me more recently that I can quite certainly say I did not engineer unconsciously or otherwise. It is something I rather enjoy because it indulges that fond personal Christmas morning streak of "may be there is magic in the world after all".

It is an example of a synergy between what I do for kicks - writing novels - and what I have ended up recently doing for a living for some of my professional time at least- market research for technology commercialisation.

To give a bit of context first - I was struggling over the past two or three years to learn more general science, physics in particular, as I have to develop some fairly complex but plausible science fiction idea for a novel I am working on - The Devil's PA, in which a young woman develops superpowers, but powers based on advanced manipulation of reality by a kind of wish fulfilling consciousness technology.  Towards this I have been poking at Wikipedia articles on energy and such, and bits and pieces of popular science books and more recently trying to make my way through a giant text book on the natural sciences called The Material World. I was getting there slowly, but It was proving slow going and it was all feeling a bit like the sort of homework I might want to avoid getting down to doing by playing computer games.

It so happened however, that part of my new job is to do market research reports on patented technical and scientific inventions. To be able to figure out what markets an invention might be suitable for and the sort of opportunities and hurdles it faces out there, I do have to understand a reasonable amount of the science behind the invention. There is no flicking over to wander around picking flowers in a computer game world at work, I have to get down to it and figure it all out. And though it is tough going at first, it becomes more and more enjoyable as it goes.

The synergy - what seems to be happening anyway, is that rather than having to plough through that impossible text book, different market research projects are intersecting various branches of natural science at angles and beginning to build up the general framework of scientific knowledge essential to refine the ideas for the novel. 

I only realised it today, but boy did I smile when I did - may be not quite the same as I might have on Christmas morning when I was young, but not far from it.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A consumable with a major impact

Slow motion bullet through various objects from Youtube

I have had this little snippet of the beginning of a post sitting around for weeks. Rather than develop it into a full post, it just felt like time to fire it off - shooting from the hip, so to speak.

Bullet points:

  • silver bullet
  • take a bullet
  • bite the bullet
  • faster than a speeding bullet
  • bullet time
  • magic bullet
  • calibre
  • bullet point
  • dodge a bullet
  • bullet proof...

...except none of us are.

Estimated number of bullet produced each year: 12 billion
Value of global ammunition trade each year: US$4 billion

Source: Oxfam

This final view clip isn't pretty like the one above, but I don't suppose it is beyond being important to remember that bullets might be used to shoot at deer and bottles, but those are not the uses for which they were principally designed.

Warning, extremely graphic scene of bodily harm:

Fun with Photography

I have added a new Photography page to the site. It has a selection of the photographs I have taken since first setting out with a small digital camera last November. Here are a selection of the photos that appear on the page.