Never give up 

My sister Alli and I wrote a piece for the lovely folk at the Romance Writers of Australia about not giving up on your writing. You can have a read below. 


Which is all fine and good, except they didn’t use this photo… 

I can’t imagine why. 


City of Literature, City of Books: The Libraries of Melbourne’s CBD

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Love a library, me.  I mean, how could you not?  An endless supply of the possible and impossible, all within your reach, neatly organised for your personal edification.  How many lifetimes would you need to give it a decent going over?  Well, it depends on the library, doesn’t it?

I work in the city of Melbourne, and to say I’m spoilt for choice is an understatement.  Within just a couple of blocks I have access to four amazing libraries.  There’s a reason Melbourne was chosen by U.N.E.S.C.O as a city of literature (here).

In writing this blog, I visited them all.  Each one had its own story to tell…

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Continue reading


Dressed to Kill

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Is it possible to write a crime story in under one thousand words?  

I thought I’d try and find out.

“Smyth, with a P,” I said urgently.

Behind the rope the Neanderthal checked his clipboard and furrowed his brow, which appeared to be his default expression.  He gave the distinct impression of someone that would be confused by vowels.

“Rhymes with Klaus,” I shouted over the relentless base from the club.

His razor-blade slit of a mouth creased in frustration.  I seized the list from his grasp and pointed to a name at random.  “There. Victor Manning, that’s me.”  I smiled for effect.  I didn’t receive one in return.

He looked me up and down.  I cut quite the figure in my tuxedo.  I could have been Fred Astaire if I lost forty kilos and didn’t dance like a tasered alley cat. He eyeballed his clipboard again to see if it held resolution to his conundrum.  I doubted it.

The club was strictly low rent.  The line consisted of skinny bimbos and meat-heads.  The girls were all teeth, boobs and Chernobyl fake tan, wearing what could be generously referred to as sequinned hankies.  The blokes wore t-shirts to show off their tattoos, had necks as thick as elephant legs, and were about as intelligent.

I was might overdressed.  Then again, if I was going to be killed tonight – a distinct possibility – at least I’d go out in style.  It wasn’t even my tux, so a few bullet holes wouldn’t worry me so much.  Except for the agonising death, of course.

Captain Neanderthal lifted the rope and jerked his neck towards the door.  He muttered something unintelligible which I assumed was a critique of dialectical materialism or a diatribe about the lack of strong feminist role models.   I slipped him fifty bucks for his trouble.

After paying an entry fee more akin to extortion, I stepped into the club.  It smelt of stale beer, chlorine and desperation.  Much like home, really.

Absentmindedly I tapped my jacket for a revolver I knew wasn’t there.  I hadn’t carried one in years.  Hercule Poirot didn’t, so why should this private detective?  Given the fact that he was fictional and didn’t have half the Melbourne underworld after them, the point seemed moot.

With the combination of stifling heat and gyrating nubile flesh, I grew increasingly nauseous.  I fought my way through the pretty things to the back of the club.

Either Captain Neanderthal moved like lightning or he had a twin.  A similar looking thick jawed thug stood at the fortified office door.

“Hello,” I said jovially.

“What do you want?” was his witty rejoinder.

At least this one could form sentences.  Sure, not up there with Wilde, but what was these days?

“I’m here to see Knuckles,” I said nice as pie.  Two pies in fact.

“He expecting you?”

“No, but he’ll want to see me.”

“They all say that.”

“Well, I’m reasonably sure he’ll want a chin wag,” I said nodding at the door.

“Yeah?  Why?”

“I just shot his brother.”

Without delay, or due concern for the non-refundable deposit on my suit, I was hauled through the door and unceremoniously thrown at the feet of Knuckles Kane.

Placing the delicate china teacup on the imposing mahogany desk in the equally imposing mahogany lined office, Knuckles casually tutted. Built like a whippet, his beady eyes drilled into me.  In a jockey-like voice, he said, “I hired you to look after me little brother, not shoot him.”

“If it’s any consolation, I only shot him a bit.”

“A bit?”

“A little bit,” I said closing the gap between my thumb and forefinger.  “I could have sailed off into the sunset…”  That was a lie, I got seasick looking at pictures of rowboats.  “…but I came here to let you know what happened.”

That and Knuckles would have hunted me down like a dog if I hadn’t.

He shrugged.  “The way I see it, shooting someone’s a bit is like being a bit pregnant.  Either way someone’s been fucked.”

The mixed metaphor didn’t quite work, but I let it slide.

“You hired me to keep him out of trouble and he was about to step into a huge steaming pile of it.  There’s a job going down at the Crown Casino tonight, he’d agreed to drive the getaway van.  I got wind of it and crashed their little planning session.”

“And?”

“The other gents present were none too pleased with this turn of events.”

“And?”

I had the distinct impression Knuckles had heard this tale before.  He was far too calm.

“There were a couple of tussles.”  I showed him my bloody fists.  “I managed to spirit your brother away.  He decided to pull a gun on me, quite discourteous, if I’m honest.  I’d stuck my neck out for that little…cherub and he does that.”

“So why exactly did you shoot him?” Knuckles said eying one of the opened doors.

The fix was in and my fate was sealed.

“Because your brother was adamant he was going to make a name for himself and I was equally adamant he wouldn’t.  In the end, shooting him in the leg seemed better than getting his head blown off.”

Seemingly unsurprised with my story, Knuckles asked, “Why you all dolled up like that?”

“I had a date.  To the opera.”

“Like opera do you?”

“Hate it.”

“Well, then this will be a relief.”

I turned to see Knuckles’ little brother holding a big gun.  He had a heavily bandaged leg and a face of barely contained rage.  No Christmas card this year.

When the bullet entered my belly it was like all the pain of my life was relived in an instant.  Don’t let anyone tell you being shot is like the movies where you shrug it off.  It hurts like hell and you scream like a banshee, no matter who you are.

As I lay dying in a pool of my own blood, every hacking cough bringing me closer to death, one thought kept running through my brain.

I really tipped that bouncer too much.


A Tribute to my Grandmother – Why I write Strong Female Characters

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One thing I’ve been asked many times is how I write such strong female characters.  None of my heroines ever lie down or give in.  They always at least keep up, but mostly surpass, my male leads.  It took me a long time to actually realise I was doing it.  I find it extremely difficult not to write a strong female character.  Even the ones I need to be weaker always have some key strength, rather than just some paint-by-the-numbers cardboard cut-out female cliché.

Why do I write like this?

It has taken me a long time to understand (I never said I was smart) that I’ve always been surrounded by strong female role models.  Whether it’s my sister, or mother, I’ve always had strong women in my life.  None, however, are as strong as my maternal grandmother, nan.  Singlehandedly she raised two children on her own, having kicked my alcoholic and abusive grandfather to the curb at a time when being a single mother wasn’t the done thing.  All the while she kept her wicked sense of humour, her love of a good story and her mischievous ways.

A natural born storyteller, she could have a whole room wrapped in awe with one of her tales.  It didn’t matter if you’d heard the story a million times (believe me, some of them seemed like it), she would always have you in stitches.

She died yesterday at the age of 95.

She packed a lot of life in.  Her first child died at an early age, while at the dentist (I was given his name, David).  She raised a son and a daughter singlehandedly, who gave her many grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Steadfastly refusing charity, she worked most of her life supporting her family.  After a lifetime of dreaming, she obtained her first passport at 76 and flew on her first plane to the UK – by herself.  She gave up smoking in her 80s, after having taken it up at the age of 16.  Mind you, fifteen years after the fact, she could still be seen sitting in her armchair, foot tapping away with her hand in the air holding an imaginary ciggie.  She refused to go into a home (‘That’s for old ducks”) and looked after herself until her late 80s.

She was so supportive of my sister and I becoming writers, having never had the chance herself.  The woman could spin a yarn.  She used to tell sweeping epics to her young children off the top of her head, sometimes spanning weeks.  She’d wanted to write, but never got around to it, it wasn’t the done thing for a mother to take time for herself.  I often said the storytelling gene skipped a generation.

I now have two girls of my own.  They will be raised in her spirit, knowing that they can achieve anything and to never accept anyone telling them what a female can’t do.  They have inheriting strong genes with both their great grandmothers living well into their 90s, but there’s much more than that.  They’re inheriting strength of character and an example of what a strong woman can achieve.

So, next time I’m asked why I write strong female characters, I’m pretty sure I have the answer.


Books every man should read

Perhaps it was my last blog about the Romance Writers that inspired today’s topic, but I’ve been thinking about bloke books.

Not your Matthew Reilly/Clive Cussler “Hey I know there’s no plot, but hey lookit ‘splosions” books.  And not your Tom Clancy/James Patterson “Give Dad one every Father’s Day because otherwise it’s socks again” kind of books either.  No, I’m talking about novels that delve deep into the male psyche.  Books that are raw and unflinchingly male and force you to grow a Grisly Adams-esc beard by the time you’ve turned the first page.

The list is far from complete, but I’ve presented books that mean something to me and made me want to go wrestle a bear.  Or maybe not an actual bear, more like look at YouTube clip of someone wrestling a bear.  Same same.

Charles Bukowski – Ham on Rye

In this semi-autobiographical coming of age piece Bukowski spits venom on the page with an unlikable, morally reprehensible erasable drunkard; and it’s a brilliant ride.  Only Bukowski could conceive of a thoroughly vile main character (I mentioned autobiographical, right?), who does appalling acts, and, makes it utterly compelling reading.

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson

In this autobiographical piece about Hunter S. Thomson’s alter ego, Raoul Duke, attempts to cover a motorcycle race in Vegas.  It quickly descends into a glorious comical farce of drug binges, car wrecks and the loss of the American dream.  Thompson not only steps over the line, he pole vaults over it into the abyss.

If you’ve only seen the so so Terry Gilliam movie starring Jonhny Depp, then you haven’t experienced a tiny fraction of the experience.  Thompson’s prose, his wit, his sense of the absurd makes this (despite the overused cliché) unputdownable.  It also makes you wonder how a human being can cast themselves into a debauched few days like this and not only survive, but come out the other end with a novel as clever, sharp and jaw dropping as this.  The bats!

(Also, notice how I wrote about Hunter S. without once using the word “gonzo”….except here, obviously.  Bonus point!)

For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway didn’t just face down life’s adversities; he punched them in the throat.  He practically lived his life to the extreme of what it is to be an old school M.A.N. (here).

In this 1940 novel Hemingway tells the tale of a republican guerrilla in the Spanish Civil War.  It’s gritty, real and emotional.  For the uninitiated, Hemingway’s clipped prose can be challenging at first, but very soon the man shines through.  A life lived to the fullest bleeds from every page of a Hemingway book.  In a style that is deceptively simple, when you reach the last page you can’t help realise you’ve just finished a work of staggering genius.

(This just pipped A Farewell to Arms, which may very well be a better read).

The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler

The first and best Philip Marlowe novel, Chandler literally wrote the book on hardboiled crime, and all that followed this 1939 classic owe a great debt.  For the time it is surprising that the themes of sex, violence, double-crossing, and pornography are all laid out in the open.  At the centre of the storm is the always cool and calm Marlowe.  There’s a reason Bogey was the only choice for the film version.

Read it and you’ll know why Time selected this baby in the list of 100 Best Novels (here).

The Outsiders – S.E Hinton

Gang fights, greasers, violence, and betrayal; what more do you need? If you smile when I say Ponyboy and Sodapop, you know how impactful this often cynical coming of age book is.

The fact that Hinton started this book when she was 18 only makes it stronger.  Yes, she.  I’m very happy to have a female writer is in this list.

Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk

A fist in the face about what it means to be a modern male.  It provides a (literally) brutal outlet for men who have lost their way and choose to embrace chaos – such as the urge to “destroy something beautiful”.  It is a scream into the void about the lost nature of what it is to be a man in the world.

One of the few books on the list that the movie lives up to the book, thanks to David Fincher’s brilliant adaption.

Catcher in the Rye – J.D Salinger

There seems to be a theme to this list – the novels are either semi-autobiographical or coming of age.  Salinger’s classic firmly sits in the latter.  Holden Caulfield is full of angst, cynicism and anger.  There’s a reason this book has sold a staggering 65 million copies – it resonates with the reader, back to their youth when teenage rebellion seemed like the only viable option.  Deceptive genius.

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To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Can a lawyer be a real man?  If you have to ask, you haven’t read this book.  This 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning novel basically sets the template for being a man in the ‘civilised’ world.  Atticus Finch is a man of morals, integrity and unwavering strength.  He is the man all fathers strive to be.

Lee is also the second woman on the list!

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig

Intensely philosophical, this novel asks questions you never thought to ask about yourself.  It is a powerful and touching novel on what it is to be a man, and how we can do it better.  The story is about a father and son travelling across America’s Northwest and asks the big questions on life without interfering with the narrative.

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All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarq

A war novel that depicts how war can and will destroy a man. Written about a German in World War 1, it follows a naive eager soldier’s descent into the madness of trench warfare.  Leaving his innocent behind in the hell of the battlefield, he is left shell shocked and numb.

Even in translation this is profoundly moving stuff, even nearly a century on.  Try this on for size: “I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”


Novel Adventures

Oh lookit!

I’m guest slutting blogging over at Novel Adventures.

Check it out.

http://noveladventurers.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/melbournes-laneways-love-story.html


Coffee in Melbourne – an obsession

There are many things certain Melbournians refuse to take seriously; politicians, public transport timetables, Adelaide.  But there is one thing we do take deadly seriously – our coffee.

I’m not sure how it started, but the city is obsessed.  We’re bordering on fanatical now.  A recent survey* found that within 18 months, every second business in the CBD will be a coffee shop.

I’ve walked out of cafés before when I’ve seen them reheat the milk or they didn’t clean the filter.  And I’m nowhere near as obsessed as many out there. I’ve seen a barista throw a hissy fit because he couldn’t change the settings on his grinder to suit the atmospheric conditions.  I’ve seen two staff almost come to blows when I asked if the latest single origin was suitable for a long black.

A hard core coffee drinker from Italy, who like to count themselves as aficionados of the coffee arts, said to me (and I quote), “You guys are fucking intense with your coffee”. But he said it in a far more swarthy and sexily accented way.

Even the almighty global juggernaut of Starbucks was driven out of Melbourne on a rail. It stuck its claws all over Melbourne, but nearly all of them failed miserably.  If they hadn’t folded, someone somewhere was going to get stabbed – there’s no room for a Venti non-fat half white mocha, half cafe vanilla, on ice, with 2 shots pour, 2 pump hazelnut with whipped cream and a chocolate drizzle.  Not in my town.  The only two remaining Starbucks are in high tourist areas catering for American vacationers and those who listen to Shannon Knoll and believe Daryl Somers still deserves a career.

It’s only a matter of time before there’s a coffee related murder.  As they dragged the barista away, he screamed, “He asked me if I had caramel flavouring, caramel!”

And speaking of baristas – they have been elevated far beyond mere café staff in this city.  They’re the 21st century cocktail makers.

They’re hip.  They’re cool.  They have respect.  But there’s a danger.  Barista’s can take it too far; they can start believing their own hype.  Hipster glasses are stylish, as is a scarf.  But there’s a limit.  Two scarves and an additional set of glasses doesn’t make them any cooler.  I once saw a barrister with 3 scarves, glasses, a monocle and a beret.  That’s beyond cool; it’s heading towards pretentious and an AVO.

There was an Oslo Davis “Overheard” comic from The Age that summed up this city’s obsession perfectly, but I haven’t been able to find it online, so I’ve hacked my own.  It goes like this:

Overheard in Sydney – “You’ll be fine in Melbourne.  Just don’t tell them you like Nescafe.”

Have we gone too far?  Is Melbourne too obsessed with its coffee?

The obvious answer is, no.  The only conceivable way forward is to take it to the next level.

Compulsory coffee breaks for all.  Death penalties for cappuccinos. Mandatory barista courses as part of VCE.

So, if you decide to visit our fair city any time soon, please, for the love of all things holy, don’t walk the streets with a cup from Starbucks in hand.  I don’t want to have to step over your cold lifeless body – I might spill my coffee.

*From the research company of Falsehood, Fabricated and Phony.