This winter I’ve been spending my weekends looking for fungi to photograph in the Otways National Park in Victoria, Australia. I’ve long had an interest in fungi, but am by no means an expert and am learning as I go. I have picked a selection of my finds and have made an attempt to identify them. There’s a chance I’m completely wrong about many or all of them, but it was fun to have a go.
My eco-punk, science fantasy novel Star-Scorched Fingertips was acquired by Android Press and will be published in mid-2023!!!
Back in February 2020 author Alanah Andrews alerted me to an opportunity to submit a short descriptive piece picturing an element of life 50 years in the future (Australia 2070) for consideration for an upcoming Dystopian/Utopian exhibition at Artisan in Brisbane. The idea was that a visual artist would respond to or use ideas from the piece to create pieces of art.
I took on the subject of an agricultural dystopia and wrote the following short piece.
I can no longer see the mirrors and lights of my cubicle through the green of the chloroplasts in my eyes. The movement of the air changes around me and there is a whoosh and the sound of footsteps. A technician changes my drip. I cannot pull nutrients and water out of the soil like a plant. Not yet. The technicians wear masks to avoid breathing in the carbon dioxide rich air. I soak it in through my skin and combine it with water and light to make sugar for energy. They probably think I don’t understand, that I’m just a child, but I grew up learning about plants and crops. On the farm.
Today it is the quiet technician. I prefer the other, the one who talks to me and explains what she’s doing and the meaning of it all. My dad used to say that plants grew better if you talked to them. The technician leaves and I am alone again.
On the farm I was never alone. I had brothers and sisters from many different parents. We moved and ran and played together. We walked through the crops and removed weeds and insects by hand and picked and sorted produce at harvest time. We grew just enough to feed ourselves and to trade to cover other essentials. There wasn’t enough land to grow the wheat or potatoes or rice that would quiet the gnawing in a growing child’s belly. We were constantly hungry.
I miss the nights when we slept all together in the big room. We’d sneak into each other’s beds for warmth, comfort and protection from the monsters in the stories told by the older children. Am I one of those monsters now? Surely my appearance would scare a small child.
I’m green all over. A drooping membrane of skin hangs between my arms and my body. There’s webbing between my fingers, toes, and legs. Each strand of my hair is a hollow tube lined with chloroplasts. Even with all these photosynthesizing surfaces I only produce enough energy to merely exist and can do no more than stand supported by hooks like a staked tomato plant or a bean growing on a trellis. The parts of my body I no longer need have shrivelled and my bones are dissolving. Still my mouth waters when I remember the foods I used to eat. Biting, chewing, digesting. Hunger wasn’t so bad.
My childhood on the farm ended not long after the corporate military came with their big guns and dusty boots and ripped out every plant and confiscated all our seed, claiming they were stolen technology. After they left my dad explained that the adults had let our ag-tech license lapse due to the outrageous fees. All the government subsidies and grants were being awarded to factories producing food from microbes.
We tried growing free-seeds for a while but they were low yield and more susceptible to root-fungus and insect pests, as well as needing a lot more water. We were hungrier than ever.
Then the military returned, accompanied by suits. The parents called a meeting in the dining hall after they’d left and told us the ag-tech company would provide limitless, condition-free licenses in exchange for a loan of six children for experiments into ecological nutrition research. They made it sound like an adventure. A chance to see the world beyond the farm. We would be well fed and housed in their high-tech facility in the city. When the experiments were complete, we would go home. I was the oldest of the volunteers, on the cusp of puberty. My body would never go through the changes that I feared would end my childhood. It went through other changes instead.
The other five volunteers and I clamoured into the back of the military van and waved a cheery goodbye to our parents. I turned away from the doubt and tears in my dad’s eyes. We were met at the research compound with warm, clean beds, no work to do, plenty of time to play, and all the food we could ever want. We pulled the mattresses off our beds and onto the floor in the middle of our sparkling-clean dormitory so we could all sleep together. At first we didn’t mind the lack of sky and the chemical smell of the air.
Technicians, medics and scientists assessed and monitored our health and returned us to an optimal state. When we had forgotten what hunger felt like they separated us.
I was surrounded by machines that beeped and whirred and flashed. A medic stuck a needle in my arm and I slept. Consciousness came and went. My skin was greener, more porous and less sensitive each time I woke. I never saw any of my siblings after that but the talkative technician tells me they are in cubicles like my own, lined up next to me. If only I had the roots of a plant to sink beneath the concrete floor and join with them. Then I wouldn’t be so alone.
The talkative technician enters to take blood and skin samples for analysis. I feel pressure, but not pain. They once told me they are doing these experiments in the hopes of creating an ecologically friendly human with a patch of skin for energy production from the sun and the ability to pull carbon from the atmosphere.
Today the technician tells me about a new synthetic chloroplast up to ten times more efficient than the one they forced into every cell on the surface of my body. What does this mean for me? Without the power of speech, I cannot ask.
The technician leaves and after a time the lights in my cubicle dim in an artificial dusk. My energy ebbs. Soon I will have not even enough left to think. I will sleep. The dreamless sleep of plants until I am awoken again by an artificial dawn.
Before my brain shuts down I imagine them one day taking me down from these wires and cutting the membrane over my mouth so I can eat real food and get strong again. The green will fade from my skin and my pores will close. When my muscles are strong enough I will walk out of here with my brothers and sisters by my side and we will return to the farm. My dad will hug me and I will see the world in all the colours of the spectrum once again.
The exhibition was postponed and is now taking place on 29th May to 17th of July 2021. You can find out more about the exhibition here.
My agricultural dystopian piece was selected by jeweler Clare Poppi. In response she created these stunning pieces (as photographed by Michelle Bowden)
Bio Headpiece, 2021
925 silver, copper, glass, plants
Seed Fereter I, 2020-21. 925 silver, glass, seeds, QLD sapphire; Seed Fereter II, 2020-21. 925 silver, glass, seeds, QLD sapphire; Seed Fereter III, 2020-21. 925 silver, 9ct gold, glass, seeds; Seed Fereter IV, 2020-21. 925 silver, glass, seeds; Seed Fereter V, 2020-21.925 silver, glass, seeds; Seed Fereter VI, 2020-21.925 silver, glass, seeds, QLD sapphire; Seed Fereter VII, 2020-21. 925 silver, glass, seeds.
Seed Reliquary I, 2020-21. 925 silver, seeds; Seed Reliquary II, 2020-21. 925 silver, glass, seeds, cork, QLD sapphire; Seed Reliquary III, 2020-21. 925 silver, glass, seeds
Clare’s artist statement:
Mel Ferguson’s story connected with me because it highlights some of the fears that I hold around corporate agriculture, seed sovereignty and individual agency and power. I responded to the story through my own interpretation of the green-hued, chloroplasted boy character by creating a child sized bio headpiece. Though this differs visually from the narrative in the story, it reminded me of a childhood conversation I had with my father (a scientist) about the hypothetical possibility of humans photosynthesising sunlight and the imagery this put in my head of people walking around with plants growing out of their skulls.
The part in the story which affected me most however was not the plight of the small boy, taken from his parents and subjected to a period of scientific experimention but the mention of seed licensing and the subjugation of small scale family farms by large corporate agriculture. To me this was so scarily realistic and utterly believable – indeed we are already experiencing the headwinds of this now with the patenting of heirloom varieties, buy ups of land by corporate investors and mono-culture cropping with multi-national company seeds, pesticides and fertilisers.
So in fifty years time what will we value most? What will be treasured and shared with communities as a symbol of hope? Historically, reliquaries hold sacred and treasured relics, and fereters are small transportable versions of these ornate vessels, moving from community to community to share the knowledge, stories and power of the object contained within. In a dystopic future where our food system is controlled by large corporate entities, it is small communities and individuals who can subvert the status quo and the simple act of seed saving and sharing can become a powerful symbol of resistance.
Clare Poppi is a South-East Queensland artist with a Master of Visual Art from Griffith University. Her primary practice is in jewellery and small object making, with a focus on sustainable design and wearables. She uses a combination of recyclable and biodegradable materials, adopting a cradle-to-cradle mentality in her exhibition and production work. As part of her Masters work she undertook research into collaborations between jewellers and wearers with the aim of fostering meaningful relationships between the wearer and their jewellery collections. Her work critiques the fast fashion model and seeks to examine and improve the sustainability of jewellery production. Instagram: @clarepoppi
When Melissa Ferguson was a kid she wanted to be an author because she loved reading. When she was a preteen she wanted to be a choreographer because she loved dancing, or a zoologist because she loved animals. When she was a teen she wanted to be a dietitian because she loved food. She ended up obtaining qualifications in biology and human nutrition and found herself working with things she didn’t love, like blood, faeces, placentas, cancer cells and flesh-eating bacteria (okay, maybe she loves blood a little bit). She didn’t return to her love of writing until she was in her thirties and her debut science fiction novel, The Shining Wall was published in 2019. She still loves food and animals but doesn’t get to dance as much as she’d like to. You can connect with her on twitter @melissajferg
1. Tell us about your recent publications/projects?
View original post 411 more words
I was thrilled to be included in a line-up of amazing Australian authors on one of my favourite podcasts, The First Time , in April 2020
This week the hosts give recommendation for thing that they think are great.
- Kumon (a maths tutoring program for kids)
- Having monitor that’s separate to your laptop
- Sarah Sentilles’s four questions (as discussed in this interview with Charlotte Wood)
- CorePlus online pilates, which is free! AND they do daily live lessons AND you can download them.
- This trampoline. Yes, it’s expensive.
- Taking cuttings of plants
- The Australian Ballet has a digital season! i.e. you can watch online. Hard recommendation for Sleeping Beauty
- Elizabeth Gilbert’s Instagram – she’s answering writing questions. One great answer : Write ONE (no more hour per day.
- Fires (controlled ones in your backyard)
- Buying delicious and unusual things locally rather than going to the big stores.
Then Katherine talks to author Melissa Ferguson.
Some links to things they talk about:
View original post 60 more words
I began writing about cloned Neandertals after Harvard geneticist George Church claimed it could soon be possible to bring the archaic species of human back from extinction. In my research I found that recent evidence shows Neandertals weren’t all that different from us. To find out more about what we know about Neandertals you can read my blog posts In Defence of Neandertals and Facts about Neandertals. To find out more about the scientific process of cloning Neandertals you can read my blog post How to Clone a Neandertal.
Recently I gave a Deep Dive presentation on Neandertal Depictions in Pop Culture at Continuum 15 Convention in Melbourne. Below is a list of the movies and books I spoke about.
Neandertal depictions have been influenced by the scientific evidence available at the time of creation, as well as the political and social climate. Depictions have ranged from brutish ape-men to just-like-us. Our depictions of Neandertals reflect how we define humanity, intelligence, wisdom, and progress, they highlight our prejudices and concepts of Same and Other, reveal our difficulties in comprehending that other humans used to coexist, and remind us there’s a lot we still don’t know about human evolution.
The popular view of Neandertals as ape-like, was largely influenced by this reconstruction (above) of the La Chapelle-aux-Saints skeleton by French palaeontologist Marcellin Boule in 1911. This Neandertal was actually an arthritic old man. Boule exaggerated the stooped posture with his face thrust forward and embellished with thick body hair and the brutish club-wielding stance, despite the lack of scientific evidence for these things.
Neandertals were first characterized during the late 1800s and early 1900s when colonialism, scientific racism, and eugenics were in full swing. This climate influenced attitudes and interpretation of Neandertals remains.
Books depicting Neandertals:
The Quest for Fire by J.H. Rosny was published in Belgium in 1911 and was not published in English until 1967. Seems to be the origin of the enduring trope of Neandertals having no mastery of fire.
The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was published in 1912 and is an example of the type of story where Neandertals have lived isolated somewhere in hiding until modern times. It represents them as threatening and savage ape-men. Early depictions like this were influenced by the colonial mentality at the time of conquering the world for the ‘civilized man’.
In The Grisly Folk by H.G. Wells (1921) Neandertals steal the children of men when they venture too far from home. Describes warfare and the conquering of the grisly beasts by Cro-magnon man . Neandertals are portrayed as speechless, clumsy and not quick enough to hunt men.
In The Inheritors by William Golding (1955) Neandertals are no longer simply brutish and primitive. Rather are childlike and gentle. Story is told from a Neandertal perspective. The men practice telepathy and there is fertility cult. Still contains the idea of antagonistic confrontation and extermination of Neandertals by modern humans. Which has never been proven to be the reason for the disappearance of Neandertals but seems most easily imagined by artists.
Michale Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead (1976) reimagines Beowulf with Neandertals as the monsters and is one of several texts that imagine Neandertals as the source of troll and monster myths and legends.
The 1980 book The Clan of the Cave Bear was the first in the Earth’s Children series by Jean M. Auel who, reportedly, extensively researched the evidence about Neandertals available at the time. It’s kind of an ugly duckling story. The Neandertals call the Cro- Magnon orphan Ayla ugly, but when she strikes out and finds other Cro Magnon people after the end of the first book she finds out she’s actually really hot.
Early in the new millennium we saw the first of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series of novels. In this world Neandertals have been cloned to act as medical test subjects and following a public outcry are released to fill low-paying jobs. They have an excellent ability to read body language and produce abstract art.
In Hominds (2002), which is the first novel in the Neanderthal Parallax series, Neandertals exist in a parallel universe where they are the dominant species of human. They live in a kind of environmental and social utopia with no concept of religion. Despite this, they are still technologically advanced.
In Shaman (2013) the Neandertals are called the Old Ones and are assumed to be not as bright as the modern human protagonist. They communicate in broken phrases, whistles and clicks, and are intelligent but different from humans.
In American Neolithic (2014) a band of Neandertals have survived in secrecy and now live in squats in New York, dumpster diving and sleeping in a pile. There is a Neandertal protagonist who is portrayed as fairly intelligent. He has the ability to read, but has difficulty with numbers and abstract concepts. He’s not as adept with tools and speaks with a whistling slur. The Neandertals have a matriarchal society and are very timid and gentle. They have excellent eyesight, are prolific artists and good dancers.
The Last Neandertal (2017) has a modern day narrative alternating with the story of a Neandertal woman set 40,000 years in the past. It is a motherhood story that underscores how humans and Neandertals share much in common genetically, how we once lived together and even interbred.
2019 Read first chapter
Movies Depicting Neandertals:
1953- The Neanderthal Man
By the 1950s scientists widely believed Neandertals may be the ancestors of modern Europeans and more evidence had proven them less-apelike than first assumed. However it seems that public perception and pop culture was still stuck in the ape-man paradigm.
Neanderthal Man is about a scientist who turns himself into an ape-man who kills men and carries off women.
1977 The Ugly Little Boy
The Ugly Little Boy was originally a short story by Isaac Asimov, written in 1958. In the story the Neandertal child is 3 years old and stays for four years where he learns to speak and read and is very much like a human child.
In the 1977 short movie the Neandertal child is played by an actor with the stage name of Guy Big who was actually a thirty something with dwarfism. The boy is portrayed as very ape-like, barely able to walk and with a limited ability for language.
1981 Quest for Fire
Based on the 1911 Belgian novel discussed above. The story is set 80 000 years ago and shows a number of different hominin species co-existing. The Neandertals are portrayed with squatting, grunting, mouth breathing, sniffing, spear wielding, simple, they wear animal skins, child like, ape-like movements and noises. The replication of Neandertal facial features earned the makeup department an Oscar for this moviw.
The movie also portrays the exchange of culture and technology (fire and spear throwers) between Cro Magnons and Neandertals, as well as interbreeding. And demonstrates the trope of rampant and patriarchal Neandertal sexuality.
Iceman is a Neandertal fish out of water story. Set in modern times it features a Neandertal, Charou, miraculously thawed from an ice block. The Neandertal doesn’t have the typical facial features, but he does display the typical squatting, grunting, mouth breathing, sniffing, spear wielding, loin cloth wearing, he’s simple and child like with ape-like movements. Charou displays a knack for art, hunting and has ritual, spiritual beliefs and alludes to a nuclear family structure. The tropes of rampant sexuality and patriarchal ideas are also evident in Iceman. There are also colonial themes at play, for example they anglicize his name from Charou to Charlie and equate his culture with that of nearby indigenous people.
1986 The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Clan of the Cave Bear was the only of the Earth’s Children books to be made into a movie. Ayla, the Cro-Magnon orphan, is depicted as much smarter than her Neandertal clan. Neandertals can no longer change or develop whereas Ayla is creative and represents progress. The clan is depicted as a patriarchal with women subservient and forbidden to hunt or touch weapons. There is an interbreeding event between species- Ayla has a half Neandertal child.
In this movie Neandertals have limited speech and vocalizations and communicate primarily with sign language. They have a knowledge of fire and medicine, they wear and make jewellery, and have a belief in spirits and magic.
The rarely spotted female Neandertal!
1992 Encino Man
People assume Link in Encino Man is a Neanderthal. I always thought he was supposed to represent a Cro Magnon man until I saw the poster (below) that uses the word Neandervision. Franky I don’t think the people who made the movie really thought too much about what it’s actually about or did any research. The movie does include the Neandertal tropes of obsession with fire, loin cloths, squatting, grunting, rampant sexuality. As well as being a fish out of water story is also a makeover story as they turn Link into a Californian teen.
2006 Night at the Museum
In this movie four Neandertals on display in the American Museum of Natural History. Along with everything else on display in the museum they come to life at night. The Neandertals are played for comedy value with all the tropes of fire and grunting and spear wielding and childlike stupidity. They set themselves on fire when night guard Larry gives them fire and one of them is shown drinking from the fire extinguisher. They also fight with the other exhibits.
2014 Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
In this installment of Night at the Museum the Neandertal exhibit is given a new addition in the form of Laaa. It’s the same depiction 8 years later, stupid, childish, barely able to speak, but he does get a love interest in the form of a security guard played by Rebel Wilson and from memory he is not at all rapey with her which is a nice change.
The Ridiculously Photogenic Neandertal
In 2016 this ridiculously photogenic wax Neandertal from a museum in Belgium was the subject of many an internet photoshop makeover
The Comments Section
Comments found after a Neandertal documentary on Youtube
Disclaimer: This is not an exhaustive list of Neandertal depictions and inclusion on this list does not equal endorsement or recommendation
On Wednesday the 29th of May I spoke to Rashelle McHugh on 3RRR FM’s Backstory program about my debut novel The Shining Wall. You can find a recording of the broadcast here.
This week I was over at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald talking about books that changed me
On the 4th April I was interviewed by David McLean on 3CR 855AM Community Radio Station about The Shining Wall.
David McLean, Melissa Ferguson, Andrea Goldsmith, and Jan Goldsmith at 3CR studio in Fitzroy
The Shining Wall was chosen for the Kill Your Darlings April First Book Club. Ellen Cregan interviewed me at Readings Carlton Branch on the 24th of April at 6.30pm. I read from The Shining Wall and our conversation was recorded for a podcast.
I also contributed a blog post on Writing a Plausible Future: Sci-Fi Futures and Imagined Realities and a Shelf Reflection post about my reading habits.
My Year of Writing and Other Writing-Related Activities- 2018 Edition
The Shining Wall:
Now available for pre-order!
(TL;DR- I signed a publishing contract with Transit Lounge!)
I started the year with a big decision to make. My Australian agent hadn’t been able to sell my manuscript Barely Human (AKA Day of the Neandertals) and thought that my new (and I think much better) manuscript The Shining Wall, which was set in the same world, would receive a similar reception from Australian publishers. Their advice was to put the manuscripts in the drawer and write something new.
But I still believed in this world I’d created and wanted to keep trying. If not in Australia then in the US or the UK or with a small press. I was sure there was a publisher out there for my dystopian, futuristic, cloned Neandertal stories. So I went off on my own and started querying The Shining Wall.
One of the first places I queried was Transit Lounge. Barry Scott from Transit had shown interest in Day of The Neandertals when I’d met him at the HARDCOPY Program at the ACT Writers Centre in 2016. Transit ultimately decided Day of the Neandertals wasn’t for them, but I had come away from my meeting with Barry with the impression that he really understood what I was trying to do with the manuscript.
So I queried Barry and he immediately requested a full manuscript. Within a couple of weeks Barry got back to me concerned about the ending of the story. I had tried to write a stand-alone novel, but the ending I’d initially written had intersected with the ending of Day of the Neandertals. I then spent a month writing another 10K words onto the end of The Shining Wall. Not long after submitting this revised manuscript I was signing a publishing contract for my debut novel to be released in April 2019 with Transit Lounge Publishing in Australia.
Throughout 2018 I was occupied with other The Shining Wall related pre-publication activities such as:
- An edit with Penelope Goodes. Turned out to be nothing more terrifying or arduous than a line edit, thankfully!
- A proof read. My mum has informed me that one (easy to miss) typo has made it through the process- see if you can spot it- where’s Wally style.
- Got blurbs from two of my favourite writers Meg Elison and Marlee Jane Ward (I can’t tell you how terrifying and exhilarating that was!)
- Discussed back cover copy and cover options with Transit
Other Writing in 2018:
- I wrote and polished a 30K novella, The Unnaturals, set in the same world as The Shining Wall (currently out on submission).
- I wrote another 30K novella to second draft stage. Set in a completely new world. Still scifi with apocalyptic themes. The working title is ‘The Vine’ or ‘The Vine of Death’ if I’m feeling dramatic. This may yet become a novel.
- Wrote a couple of short stories that nobody wants to publish.
Writing related activities that required me to be sociable in the real world:
- Gave a 20 minute presentation on ‘Bringing Back Extinct Species Through Cloning’ at Continuum 2018 in Melbourne.
- Recorded a podcast episode about one of my favourite books, ‘The Book of the Unnamed Midwife’ by Meg Elison, with Marlee Jane Ward for her Catastropod podcast (due to be released early 2019).
- Volunteered at the inaugural Speculate Literary Festival in Melbourne (mostly I showed people to their seats and handed around a microphone).
Goals for 2019:
- Launch The Shining Wall (around April).
- Figure out how to promote The Shining Wall.
- Hopefully attend some festivals and conventions.
- Finish my novella that may become a novel.
- Give up on writing short stories because they’re obviously not my strength.
- Start on something new and exciting (TBA).
So I received my author copies of The Shining Wall this week.
My Favourite Books Read in the Last Five Years
If you’re anything like me you’ll just scroll through this waffle at the top to get to the list.
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
by Claire North 2014
After every death Harry returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of the lives he has already lived. So begins a mind-bending, mind-boggling and truly genius plot that left me considering quitting writing because I could never achieve something so perfect.
The Wolf Road
by Beth Lewis 2016
When Elka learns that the solitary hunter who took her in as a child is a murderer she flees into the vast wilderness. Set in a post-apocalyptic world The Wolf Road is dark and gritty with survivalism and a complex female protagonist.
Welcome To Orphancorp
by Marlee Jane Ward 2015
In a near-future dystopia driven by corporate greed Mirii, a defiant and big-hearted teenager, navigates oppression, identity and sexuality in an industrial orphanage. Short and sweet read with a voice that grabs you at the first page and doesn’t let go as you laugh and cry all the way to the end.
By Ilka Tampke 2015
Set in Southwest Britain, AD 43. Skin follows the story of outcast, Ailia, who has been chosen for a spiritual path by tribal ancestors. Part fantasy, part history, part romance and all compelling female protagonist, page-turning storyline and skilful writing.
by Sarai Walker 2015
While Plum Kettle is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery she is drawn into an underground community of women who live life on their own terms. Dietland takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and weight loss obsession and opened some new doors in my mind. I’ve also recently heard that Marti Noxon is making a tv series based on this book.
The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
by Meg Elison 2014
In the wake of an illness that killed women and children and made childbirth deadly, the midwife struggles and survives and finds her place in the dangerous new world. Unputdownable and thought provoking.
by Naomi Alderman 2016
Women, starting with teenage girls, develop the power to cause agonising pain and even death. With the power in their hands the world changes completely. The Power asks difficult and important questions about our contemporary world and the myth of gender essentialism. And, yes, there are apocalyptic themes too.
by Margo Lanagan 2007
A dark retelling of the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. Full of Margo Lanagan’s characteristic lush and evocative prose.
Into the Forest
by Jean Hegland 1996
Two teenage sisters, Nell and Eva, struggle to survive alone in their Northern California forest home as society collapses around them. It has an apocalypse, survivalism, a forest and sisters. What more could you want?
Parable of the Sower
by Octavia E. Butler 1993
In 2025 the world is slowly, apocalyptically, crumbling. Lauren Olamina, a hyperempath, is forced from her home into a dangerous world. This book and its sequel Parable of the Talents have attracted renewed interest lately due to their parallels with the Trump presidency. A few years ago I discovered Octavia Butler when I first read her vampire novel Fledgling. I promptly got hold of as much of her work as I could and read it all. I love everything she’s done, but Parable of the Sower is my favourite. Probably because of the survivalism themes (a favourite reading topic of mine for reasons unknown even to me). Her work resonates with me in a unique way. Octavia’s understanding of humanity is so accurate and so beautiful and her prose so clear and precise, yet evocative.
Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near
Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Written in Red by Anne Bishop
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Dog Boy by Eva Hornung
Among Others by Jo Walton
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Dawn by Octavia E. Butler (Soon to be brought to the small screen by Ava DuVernay!!!)
The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell
Reflections on HARDCOPY 2016- Part 2 Going Public
After the first round of HARDCOPY participants were invited to apply for the Going Public Weekend in November. Only 10 of the 30 writers would get the opportunity to receive industry level feedback from a group of publishers and agents.
I didn’t get through to the Going Public weekend. So I let myself sulk for about a week. I’m no stranger to rejection though and I soon moved forward with a new plan, which involved querying agents until one of them fell in love with Day of the Neandertals.
My plan was in full swing when I got a call from (the wonderful) Nigel Featherstone. One of the (many) rising stars of our group had been offered a publishing contract and was withdrawing from the Going Public weekend. And I was next in line. It took me about 10 seconds to accept the offer and run off to book another flight to Canberra.
Preparing for Going Public was quite different to the other two weekends, in that there was actually some preparation required. I had to know how to talk about my manuscript and I had to know who I was talking to. It was a bit like studying for an exam, lucky for me the other participants had already done some research and I could copy their notes.
The actual weekend was exhausting, exciting, nerve-wracking, exhilarating, sometimes devastating and ultimately wonderful.
These are the things I learned and the feedback I got from HARDCOPY Going Public 2016:
- HARDCOPY is well regarded in the Australian publishing industry
- In terms of cover letters and pitches agents want to know your ideas on genre and comparison books, however the publishers wanted to make that decision for themselves and didn’t like being told (this seemed particularly so in the case of whether something is YA or adult).
- A lot of them don’t like synopses. Two industry professionals told me they thought they would hate my story based on the synopsis, but then ended up loving the extract.
- Agents and publishers genuinely want to help new writers succeed.
- Not everyone is going to connect with your work. You need to keep trying until you find someone who does (bearing in mind to act on any advice and criticism that feels true to you along the way).
- Write what you want to write in the way you want to write it rather than trying to fit into a particular box or market.
- Don’t implement changes to fit a particular agent/publisher unless they really fit with what you are trying to do
- The publishing industry is difficult and bleak for debut authors in Australia/ It is a great time to be a debut author in Australia. Still not sure what the take-home message was on this issue.
- Publishers and agents need writers.
- Persistence is key
- Response to your work can be crazy-subjective
- Examples of wide range of feedback I got for Day of the Neandertals:
- The prose– perfectly serviceable/ crisp/ accessible/ great just as it is/ needs polishing/ nothing fancy/ evocative/ needs refining
- The story– seems very plot driven/ seems very character driven/ a page turner/ a wild ride (which in this particular case was euphemistic for ‘WTF did I just read’)/ suspenseful/ needs streamlining
- Worldbuilding– fantastic/ confusing
- Structure– Works well/ confusing/ changes between characters too abrupt
- Exposition– take some out/ put more in
- Characters– use more introspection/ use less introspection
- Genre– YA crossover exists/ YA crossover doesn’t exist/ I think this is adult/ have you tried writing it for an even younger audience?
- Comparisons– Your book comparisons are spot on/ I’m not familiar with any of your book comparisons/ I think it’s like Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things/ I think it’s like Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things/ Hunger Games meets Jurassic Park/ Has anyone ever compared it to Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things?
- Themes– fresh/ topical/ very dark/ suitable for school reading lists/ I think there is too much dystopian fiction about
- Most perplexing feedback– Does it have to be about Neandertals?
As a direct result of contacts made during HARDCOPY 2016 I accepted an offer of representation from Danielle Binks of Jacinta di Mase Management just before Christmas 2016 (still waiting for official paperwork, but I think it’s pretty safe to disclose this now).
2016 was a pretty good year for my writing. Meanwhile disturbing trends in world politics could see an increase in interest in dystopian fiction like Day of the Neandertals (always looking for a bright side) and hopefully a resurgence in punk rock music!
Special thanks to Nigel Featherstone, Mary Cunnane, Sarah Mason, Sophie Mannix, the HARDCOPY selection committees and all the industry professionals and writers who participated.
2016 has been a year of ups and down, both personally and globally. All over social media people are welcoming the death of 2016 and while I can see where they are coming from, on the whole 2016 has been a fantastic year for me, mostly because I participated in the ACT Writers Centre HARDCOPY professional development program.
Weekend One- Manuscript Development Masterclass:
HARDCOPY began with a manuscript development masterclass with editor Nadine Davidoff on an icy May weekend in Canberra.
I must admit once all the participants started talking about their manuscripts (ranging from YA to crime to historical to humour to fantasy and literary and some genres in between) my imposter syndrome set in. Everyone’s work seemed much more grown up and serious than my little story about cloned Neandertals fighting for freedom in a post-apocalyptic world (really that just sounds like a pulpy sci-fi novel or a bad action movie). But then Nadine got us to think about what had compelled us to write our story and the emotions behind the writing.
So let me explain what came out of that exploration-
In 2013 Harvard geneticist George Church claimed that he could clone a Neandertal. This intrigued me. My first thought was Hell yes. Somebody please clone a Neandertal. I wanna see that. So I decided to write about it. In order to write about Neandertal cloning I had to think about why we would clone Neandertals, how they would be treated, what they would be like and also how the science would work. The science part was fairly straight forward (for a biological scientist such as myself) and I learned that George Church was being extremely optimistic, but there is a chance in the future that we will be able to reverse engineer a Neandertal genome from a modern human genome. So to be plausible I set my story in the future. Extrapolating current social and technological trends into a future world brought up interesting themes and possible scenarios. Working out what Neandertals were like required research into the fossil evidence and as a result I became a staunch defender of the reputation of Neandertals. I get quite offended now when someone uses ‘Neandertal’ as an insult. Thinking about how cloned Neandertals would be treated and why we would clone them really took me into sticky ethical areas and brought up issues of prejudice, exploitation and identity. I also chose female main protagonists because I am inspired to improve the representation of women in science fiction. Through all this I came to realise the writing of this seemingly superficial sci-fi adventure was driven by frustration, anger and sadness at the shortcomings of the human race. (Phew- and I thought it was just an exercise in imagination!).
But enough about me and more about HARDCOPY. While the manuscript development class got me thinking about my manuscript in new ways and re-iterated important aspects of craft, one of the most valuable aspects of this weekend was the sense of community I got from meeting the other participants. I think we all felt somewhat validated to have made it into the program and were all excited and happy to be there. Everyone I met was kind and funny and interesting and genuinely easy to get along with. I got a sense, even from that first weekend, that the connections made would be permanent and we’d all be, at the very least, following each other’s careers closely into the future.
I left Canberra, that weekend in May, on a high and full of inspiration and motivation.
Weekend 2- Intro2Industry:
The into2industry weekend in September was a further opportunity to hang out with my cool group of new writer friends. It was also an opportunity to hear from writers, publishers, agents, booksellers and other industry professionals. For me the publishing industry was demystified. Throughout the weekend my emotions ranged from hope to a complete absence of hope and back again (regarding the chances of having a successful career as an Australian author). And I went home each night with a thumping headache from listening so hard. The most salient messages for me were that there is no one path to publication and that getting your first book deal is just the beginning.
After an interesting discussion of social media, I think most participants started a Facebook author page or opened a twitter account (it was twitter for me and I’m still not sure I’m using it correctly).
Then we all went home and applied for Round 2, where 30 would be whittled down to 10 (well actually 11 in this instance). More on that to come…
HARDCOPY is an initiative of the ACT Writers Centre and has been supported by the Australia Council for the Arts