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Wednesday, January 25th, 2017 | Author:

I once read an interview with the wonderful Australian writer Margo Lanagan in which she observed that many new writers approach the publication of their first novel in the same way that many new parents approach the birth of their first child: with all their anxious, exhilarated, terrified attention focused solely on the Big Event. That is, birth/publication. Whereas after publication there are still so many trials ahead for writers, just as there are for parents after childbirth – for decades to come…

At the time I read the article, I remember thinking Margo made a great point.

Now, however, I too can think of nothing beyond publication. I feel like the months I’ve spent polishing my novel, waiting to hear back from readers and agents, have been akin to enduring an unbearably long pregnancy. I’ve forgotten all the fun that comes with embarking on a creative endeavour, I’ve forgotten how sublime the feeling of flow I get from delving into a character’s head. I’ve forgotten that I’m in this for the love of it. For the process, not the product. Now I just want the labour pains to begin, and all this waiting to end.

Hopefully I’ll get some idea of a due date soon. Hopefully then I’ll be able to post more frequently on this website, to think about new projects, to remember the fun.

Saturday, December 13th, 2014 | Author:

 

I’m thrilled to announce that I recently joined the editorial team of one of Australia’s best SF publications, the Ditmar-award winning Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. I’m really excited about having this opportunity to engage in some behind-the-scenes work. I’m sure it will not only enhance my editing skills and my understanding of the writing world, but also my own writing.

ASIM is a great magazine focusing on light-hearted SF tales. I have to admit I have a soft spot for this magazine, because my Aurealis Award finalist ‘The Last Deflowerer’ was first published in ASIM. Founded in 2002, ASIM has a 3-round submission process that is widely regarded as one of the best in the business. According to duotrope.com, ASIM has an acceptance rate of around 0.63%, and if you make it into that 0.63%, you do so knowing your story has made it through at least five readers. To summarise the process: Round 1 readers say yes, no or maybe to a submission. A yes gets the story into Round 2, a maybe gets it read by another reader, a no gets it rejected. In Round 2, three readers read and comment on the story and give it a rating out of 5. Depending on their comments and the total score, the story will then move onto Round 3 or be rejected. In Round 3, the story goes into a pool of ‘good stuff’ for editors to read and select for future issues of ASIM. If the story isn’t selected within 3 months, it’s returned to the writer. Meanwhile the writers, who are nervously twiddling their fingers and waiting to see if their precious baby will be accepted, are kept informed of where their story is up to at every step. That’s pretty rare in this world where getting anything published seems to involve inordinate amounts of time spent waiting alone in the dark!

I’m chuffed that one of my stories, ‘The Matchmaker’s Daughter’, a tale set in ancient China, is currently in Round 3. And that being a member of the editorial team means I get to read the Round 2 comments and scores once my story’s fate is finalised!

Sunday, July 13th, 2014 | Author:

 

As well as the spectacular beauty of the places mentioned in my post The former Yugoslavia Part 1:  The Glorious… I also visited a plethora of tragic sights/sites while returning to the places Lazar once lived and while researching my novel. Here is my list of those I found most affecting. Knin and Sarajevo make it onto both lists, for reasons given below. Again, photos follow the list.

Knin, Croatia

The air of emptiness in some of the villages around Knin is really haunting. While driving through northwestern Bosnia towards Knin, we passed village after village with only a couple of houses still inhabited. The rest were burnt and looted ruins abandoned during the war. I was also stunned by how quickly nature has reclaimed those abandoned houses. Many are smothered in ivy, the gardens overtaken by stinging nettles… I couldn’t help but think it must be difficult for those who’ve stayed or returned to forget the conflict when confronted with such sights every day.

Please see also my new page Lazar’s Story: an Update, 2014 for some news about Lazar’s family house outside Knin.

Sarajevo, Bosnia

Although Sarajevo is today a beautiful city whose inhabitants manage to exude an air of stylish nonchalance despite their economic woes, there are reminders of the war everywhere. Bullet and shell-pocked buildings still abound. Tour companies advertise drives down Sniper Alley and trips to the Tunnel of Hope museum. ‘Genocide tourism’, Lazar dubbed it. Is such tourism a good thing or a bad? Probably a bit of both, I guess.

Mostar, Bosnia

I’m glad the Stari Most (Old Bridge) has been rebuilt, but what a tragedy it was blown to bits in the first place! Once the new stones take on a bit of a patina, it should be less obvious that the bridge is not as ancient as its surroundings.

Srebrenica, Bosnia

Even discounting the Potočari Genocide Memorial with its 8372 white gravestones poking from the soil, there’s an air of desolation about Srebrenica. Would I feel that way if I hadn’t read so much about what happened there? I don’t know. Of late, another issue facing the residents of Srebrenica is that the recent floods have washed out many of the uncleared minefields, strewing mines in places previously thought safe. I saw several billboards around the town warning people to beware of shifting mines.

Kosovska Mitrovica, Kosovo

Lazar’s family lived for a year here in a kindergarten/refugee centre after fleeing Knin. Today Mitrovica is a divided city. The Serbs in the northern part are separated from the newly independent southern half of Kosovo by a bridge blocked to traffic at both ends by armoured vehicles and patrolled by international KFOR troops, Italian carabinieri and assorted other foreign peacekeepers. I saw more Serbian flags on the drive into Mitrovica than I did in all of Serbia: many Serbs and the Serbian government refuse to recognize Kosovo’s independence because it’s seen as the heartland of ancient Serbia.

Nis, Serbia

Niš and much of the southern part of Serbia is noticeably poorer than the north. There’s a saying that the further south you go, the sadder things get. It rhymes in Serbian: što južnije to tužnije. Niš is also home to two pretty harrowing sites. The first is the Crveni Krst (Red Cross) Concentration Camp, one of Europe’s best-preserved Nazi concentration camps, right down to the graffiti prisoners scratched into the walls. Also in Niš is the Tower of Skulls, erected by the Ottoman Turks following a Serbian rebellion in which a Serb duke blew up the Turkish powder stores, killing 10 000 Turks, 4000 Serbs and himself. The Turks then beheaded and scalped 952 Serbs and plastered their skulls all over the outside of the tower as a warning to any other locals who might have been harbouring rebellious thoughts. Now housed in a chapel, the Tower was originally situated in open air. Apparently the whistling of the wind through the skulls’ empty eye sockets and lipless mouths was terrible to hear. Today there are only 58 skulls left, but that doesn’t make the Tower any less horrifying.

 

 

Sunday, July 13th, 2014 | Author:

 

Having just returned to Australia from a 4000-km family reunion/research trip through 5 of the 7 countries that once upon a time belonged to the former Yugoslavia, I thought I’d list a couple of each country’s highlights. So here they are, in the order that we visited them. A few of my photographs appear afterwards.

Balkan Highlights

Sarajevo, Bosnia

We stayed in Baščaršija, the old part of the city. Imagine lots of tiny, cobbled alleys filled with brass and silversmith stores and courtyard restaurants where tourists and locals sip Turkish coffee and puff away on hookahs. And poking up above the minarets and steeples, the gorgeous fir-clad peaks that enfold Sarajevo. Magical.

Knin, Croatia

Knin itself is a pretty uninspiring place these days, but I loved wandering around Kninska Tvrđava, the enormous fortress that looms above the town. Parts of the fortress date from the 9th century; in the 11thcentury, it housed the King of Croatia. During the wars of the 1990’s, the Serb paramilitary captain Dragan Vasiljković and his Kninjas took up residence here, and war crimes allegations against Vasiljković hold that he tortured prisoners within the fortress walls. It’s a massive complex, replete with ancient latrines, dungeons and awesome views.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Boasting city walls that are perhaps the most impressive I’ve ever seen, the old city of Dubrovnik is a spectacular conglomeration of orange-tiled roofs, steep alleys and cobbled courtyards. It’s also packed with tourists. I heard more Aussie accents here than I’m used to in Sydney. Dubrovnik boasts some great museums; I particularly enjoyed the Ethnographic Museum, which features articles used in the production of various local staples like homemade wine, bread, olive oil and so forth. To escape the crowds, we stayed in a private villa in the far quieter but equally spectacular coastal town of Mali Zaton, 10 minutes outside Dubrovnik.

Kotor, Montengro

Set in the deepest, longest fjord in southern Europe, Kotor is a small town sandwiched between the cerulean waters of the Bay of Kotor and the ‘foothills’ of Mt Lovćen, the black mountain from which Montenegro gains its name. The mountains aren’t really black. But they are incredibly craggy limestone behemoths coated with cypresses, magnolias and patchy grass, through which goats and goat herders wind their way. Kotor features a walled Old City just as picturesque as Dubrovnik’s, although far more intimate in scale. The hike up the ancient walls to the ruined fortress above the city offers sublime views of the bay and city walls.

Sveti Stefan, Montenegro

So beautiful it doesn’t quite seem real, Sveti Stefan is a tiny island housing a former fishing village/former and present day resort, connected to the shore by a narrow walkway.

Montenegro’s roads

Definitely one of the highlights, given the endless twists and tunnels and the insanely reckless local drivers (many of whom, judging from the number of roadside crosses, pay the ultimate price for their recklessness). We drove from Cetinje, the 18th century capital of Montenegro, to Kotor via Lovćen National Park, along a road that has 28 hairpin bends in a row as it corkscrews down the mountainside. Each bend is numbered, so you can count how many more twists your bewildered stomach has to endure! Driving from Ostrog Monastery to Visegrad in Bosnia, we wound our way through more than 50 often dripping and unlit tunnels. That road snakes through the Tara Canyon, which is just 200 metres shallower than the Grand Canyon in the US!

Tara National Park, Serbia

Gorgeous alpine scenery and wonderful hiking country. One of the many benefits of having a husband for a local guide was that we enjoyed a private farm stay here, and partook of plenty of our host Obrad’s homemade rakija. The traditional steep-roofed wooden houses of this region are really picturesque.

Studenica Monastery, Serbia

Built in 1190 by Stefan Nemanja, father of the first Serbian king, Stefan Nemajić and of Sveti Sava, the saint who was the first archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox church, the two churches within the Monastery complex house some incredible frescoes. There’s a portrayal of a pregnant Virgin Mary reclining, smiling, while another lady holds her hand. There are also paintings of her bathing the infant Jesus and another of a man and a woman kissing. Scandalous! We stayed in the monastery’s guest accommodation — simple but adequate meals included in the price — and we were lucky enough to bump into a very enthusiastic local guide who shared with us his love of the monastery’s uniquely ‘human’ frescoes.

Belgrade’s Skadarlija district, Serbia

I spent my last night in Belgrade’s Skadarlija district being serenaded by Roma musicians in a restaurant called Tri Šešira which opened in 1864. Skadarlija is Belgrade’s cobbled, flower-bedecked Bohemian quarter, home to many writers and poets in the past. Today it’s filled with galleries, cafes and restaurants, many of which feature live Roma music as you dine. Perfect!

So those are the highlights of my trip. Please also see my post The Former Yugoslavia Part 2: …and the Tragic for my list of some of the most heart-wrenching places I visited in the former Yugoslavia.

 

 

Monday, March 17th, 2014 | Author:

 

We’ve booked flights for a family holiday/research trip to the former Yugoslavia and to China.

After flying out of Sydney on the 24th of May, we’ll have one week visiting our second (or third, in Lazar’s case) ‘hometown’ of Wuyishan in China. Then it’s on to Serbia. From there, we plan to spend about four weeks driving through Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Kosovo before heading back to Serbia for our flight home on June 30th. Along the way, we’ll visit all the major settings featured in my novel — among others, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Priština and Belgrade.

As well as providing an opportunity to undertake further research for my novel, this will also be the first time our children have seen their father’s birthplace. There are so many cousins, aunts and uncles for them to meet. And of course, they’ll get to visit all the special places Lazar remembers from his childhood.

 All in all, we’re looking forward to an exciting and educational trip!

Wednesday, April 03rd, 2013 | Author:
 

 

We are settling into our new life in beautiful Canberra and I am thrilled to report that the family’s Chinese lessons are continuing ‘down under’. We have enrolled the girls in Sunday morning Mandarin classes at the Australian School of Contemporary Chinese and joined the Australia China Friendship Society. The ACFS held a lantern making workshop where we all made paper lanterns prior to the Lantern Festival. And ― big thanks here to the lecturers in Mandarin at the Australian National University ― we have met three lovely international students with the English names of Sandy, Bob and Emma who have very kindly volunteered to tutor the girls in Chinese. So while we’ve accepted the fact that the kids will lose some of their Mandarin now they’re out of their 24/7 Chinese environment, at least they will keep their toes in the water of bilingualism here!

 

The girls with their wonderful lanterns after the workshop