The Writer and the Critic: Episode 8


The latest episode of our podcast is now available for direct download and streaming from our brand new Podbean website or via subscription from iTunes.

Due to ongoing technical problems at Posterous, we decided to move over to Podbean which is designed for exactly the sort of thing we do. We will leave the old Posterous site online for archiving purposes — especially as we haven’t as yet been able to import our lovely listener comments into the Podbean site — but if you’ve subscribed to our RSS feed there, it will no longer be updated. All iTunes subscriptions should continue without interruption, although you might find duplicate listings of Episodes 1-7 on your subscription. No need to download them again — the audio files haven’t changed.

Feedback on the new site or the podcast itself is most welcome!

And now, without further ado, here are the show notes for Episode 8:

This month The Writer and the Critic comes to you as a LIVE record from Continuum 7 — Melbourne’s own speculative fiction and pop culture convention — with the incomparable Catherynne M. Valente as special guest podcaster. Ian, Kirstyn and Cat discuss the problems and politics involved when writers review the work of friends and the need for honesty in online opinion. Cat talks about the popular and critical response to her own work, why sad pandas make everyone else sad as well, and why she is currently taking a break from writing negative reviews on her blog. Rose Fox’s recent article about the necessity for candour in reviews is also briefly mentioned.


(photo: Art Bébé Promotions)

The first two books up for discussion are Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King (recommended by Kirstyn) and Among Others by Jo Walton (Ian’s pick). This review of Among Others is pointed as being one Jo Walton herself particularly likes, whereas these two became the subject of reader vitriol over at her LiveJournal — an incident which Cat, Ian and Kirstyn talk about at length in regards to the writing of memoir and authorial responses to critics. For those wishing to avoid spoilers and skip ahead, discussion of Full Dark, No Stars begins at 19:00, while Among Others starts around 40:50.


The trio then turn their attention to the newly released Embassytown by China Mieville — selected by Cat — which Ian and Kirstyn possibly manage to make sound a little more boring than it actually is. You don’t need a degree in linguistic theory, honest! (China himself has provided a far better summary of the book.) The discussion of Embassytown, including a rather heated debate between Ian and Kirstyn about post-colonialism, begins at 1:07:40.


Check back in at the 1:35:00 mark for some (very brief) final remarks.

Next month The Writer and the Critic will feature Melbourne author Cameron Rogers, who has chosen World War Z by Max Brooks for Ian and Kirstyn to read.

Ian’s recommended book will be a short story collection, Eclipse 4 edited by Jonathan Strahan, while Kirstyn’s pick is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Read ahead and join in the spoilerific fun!

Continuum, Quilts and Chronos Awards


I had a fantastic and satisfyingly exhausting time at Continuum 7 over the long weekend. The panels I saw were entertaining and engaging and Catherynne M. Valente was one of the most gracious and erudite and downright fun-to-be-around Guests of Honour a convention could hope to have. She was also a special guest on The Writer and the Critic podcast that Ian Mond and myself recorded live at the con — it will be available very soon; I just need to get some more sleep before finishing post-production — and one of my team-mates on the Great Debate. Which we won. Immortality for everyone! I also loved the enthusiastic, intelligent and impassioned discussions that took place during almost all of the panels I participated in — among panelists and audiences alike. It’s invigorating and inspiring to be in a room full of people so keen to discuss and debate and contribute. Possibly the highlight of the convention for me was the Dark Delights panel which explored the links between beauty and horror. Kyla Ward performed one of her poems with her usual aplomb and Talie Helene knocked everyone’s socks off with a stunning a cappella rendition of an old ghost ballad. (Talie’s working on an exciting new multi-media project … more details soon.)

Chronos Award 2011

Oh, and I won a very pretty Chronos Award for Madigan Mine! Karen Healey‘s Aurealis Award-winning novel, The Guardian of the Dead, was nominated in the same category and I was fortunate enough to meet and have dinner with Karen on the Sunday night. She’s witty and delightful and I’m looking forward to reading her new novel, The Shattering, which is due for release in July. (I was so very good and only purchased that one book at the convention — my To Be Read pile is already structurally unsound!)

The full list of 2011 Chronos Award winners are:

  • Best Long Fiction: Madigan Mine, Kirstyn McDermott (Pan MacMillan Australia)
  • Best Short Fiction: “Her Gallant Needs”, Paul Haines (Sprawl, Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Best Artwork: Australis Imaginarium cover, Shaun Tan (FableCroft Publishing)
  • Best Fan Writer: Alexandra Pierce
  • Best Fan Written Work: “Review: The Secret Feminist Cabal by Helen Merrick”, Alexandra Pierce
  • Best Fan Artwork: Continuum 6 Props, Rachel Holkner
  • Best Fan Publication: Live Boxcutters Doctor Who at AussieCon IV, Josh Kinal and John Richards
  • Best Achievement: Programming: AussieCon IV, Sue Ann Barber and Grant Watson

I should also remind you that the Conquilt fundraising auction is now up and running on eBay with some impressive early bidding. It’s an amazingly gorgeous quilt — after seeing it on display at Continuum, I’m half-tempted to bid on it myself. Honestly, the photos really don’t do it any justice at all.

I’m already very excited about attending Continuum 8 next year. Not only is the NatCon but it has Kelly Link and Alison Goodman as Guests of Honour. Huzzah!

Finally, on matters unrelated to Continuum, I was interviewed by the Adventures of a Bookonaut blog as part of an ongoing series featuring Australian spec fic authors. The questions were about authors and social media, and I had a lot of fun answering them. Next time you have a few minutes to spare, wander across and have a read. Sean’s blog is a treasure trove of news and reviews and other SF tidbits — well worth following!

In Melbourne this Weekend: Continuum 7


I’m spending the long weekend at Continuum 7, Melbourne’s own Speculative Fiction and Pop Culture Convention. If you haven’t yet purchased your membership, you’re most welcome to come along on the Friday night — it’s free! You’ll have a great time and you might even want to purchase a full or day membership for the weekend.

Here’s what I’ll be getting up to:

  • 9.00pm — Friday 10 June –Earth/Fire Room
    Great Debate: Immortality – There’s No Future In It
    Who wants to live forever! No, really, who does? Is eternal life all it’s cracked up to be? Which is worse, death and the great unknown or hanging around for all eternity as a head in a jar? Our two teams of crack debaters will tackle this topic – but who will triumph? Hosted by Jack Dann, Debated by Catherynne M. Valente, Dave Freer, Narrelle Harris, Richard Harland, Kirstyn McDermott, Heath Miller
  • 11.00pm — Friday 10 June — Sun Room
    Dark Delights
    Take your place, on the chaise lounge, pop a chocolate and enjoy the recitals, readings and discussion. Just how can something horrific be depicted as beautiful? Talie Helene, Kirstyn McDermott, Kyla Ward
  • 6.00pm — Saturday 11 June — Fire Room
    What’s Happening to the Bookselling Industry?
    Borders and Angus & Robertson, gone! Is it the end times? Why are booksellers collapsing & what is replacing them in popularity? Justin Ackroyd, Crisetta MacLeod, Kirstyn McDermott, Julia Svaganovic
  • 2.00pm — Sunday 12 June — Sun Room
    Vampire Circus
    Where the vampires go, other monsters seem sure to follow. Werewolves, ghouls, fairies and all manner of supernatural creatures populate the vampire circus, but do we we really need them? Can — should — monsters take centre ring without inviting all their friends? Jason Nahrung, Narrelle Harris, Kirsytn McDermott, Heath Miller, Julia Svaganovic
  • 5.00pm — Sunday 12 June — Harmony Room
    Author Reading (20 minutes)
  • 8.00pm — Sunday 12 June — Fire Room
    Writer and the Critic
    The Writer and The Critic presents its first ever live-in-front-of-real-people podcast. Kirstyn McDermott (most definitely the Writer) and Ian Mond (not much of a critic, but we’ll make do) discuss books they have recommended to each other. Things might get fiery, offensive and painful, but it will also be an eloquent and erudite deconstruction of genre. Or something. Special guest podcaster: Catherynne M. Valente.  Kirstyn selected “Full Dark, No Stars” by Stephen King, Ian has chosen “Among Others” by Jo Walton, and Cat’s pick is “EmbassyTown” by China Meiville. Warning: There will be spoilers! Come and listen and throw things at Ian. You know you want to.
  • 12.00pm — Monday 13 June — Earth Room
    Crones, Witches and Marginalised Power in Fairytales
    Witches dominate as fairytale villains; how did older women get such a bad rap? Why is age and power in women something to fear and is that notion being changed in modern retellings? Let’s talk about fear, death, and post-menopausal sexual agency–and some good old fashioned crones. Catherynne M. Valente, Kirstyn McDermott, Emily De Rango, Kirsty Sculler, Julia Svaganovic

The full program is available here at the Continuum website. See you there!

Galactic Chats, Zombie Signings and Emerging Writers


While I was over in Perth at SwanCon, Alisa Krasnostein interviewed me for Galactic Chat, the sister podcast of Galactic Suburbia. The Chat podcast is an ongoing series of lengthy interviews with Australian authors and it’s well worth catching up on if you’re not already a regular listener. My interview is now available for downloading or streaming here. It runs for about half an hour wherein I talk about various writing-related matters including my novel, Madigan Mine, how writing a story can be likened to making a patchwork quilt, and why the imperfect truly is beautiful.

If you’re in Melbourne this weekend, get your zombie on and stumble along to Dymocks Southland on Saturday 28 May to celebrate International Zombie Awareness Month with author signings and a zombie shuffle! The timetable for the day will be:

11am-12 noon: Local horror authors Kirstyn McDermott (Madigan Mine) and Bob Franklin (Under Stones) will be signing copies of their books. Be afraid!

12 noon-1pm: Bestselling author James Phelan will be signing copies of his YA zombie novel Alone #1: Chasers (plus copies of his adult thrillers!).

1-2pm: ‘The Walking Dead’ Zombie Shuffle! Turn up to Dymocks Southland in full zombie costume for your chance to win a fantastic The Walking Dead prize-pack (courtesy of our friends at Madman Entertainment). Best costume wins, prizewinner announced 2pm.

Also in Melbourne, the Emerging Writers Festival starts tomorrow with a plethora of panels, conference, launches and other literary delights. I’ll be appearing on a panel next Tuesday evening to chat about speculative fiction with Alison Croggon, Paul Haines and Rjurik Davidson. Here’s the nitty-gritty:

Get Into Genre: Spec Fic
6:00 PM, Tuesday 31 May 2011
The Wheeler Centre — 176 Little Lonsdale Street

We all know genre rocks, right? For writers and lovers of fiction, Get Into Genre is an opportunity to hear from our sepculative fiction writers and industry professionals. Our panellists discuss how they got started in their writing field, and the challenges and opportunities of their writing forms. All sessions are interactive, so you can ask the questions you want answers to.

(no subject)


Aurealis Award 2010
The Aurealis Awards were announced in a glittery — and, at times, shoeless — ceremony in North Sydney on Saturday night and I was absolutely thrilled that Madigan Mine won Best Horror Novel. So thrilled that the just-in-case list of names I’d been intermittently rehearsing all day flew out of my head and the first thing I managed to say after been handed the award by the inimitable Kaaron Warren was, “Wow, it’s heavy.” In my defense, it is quite heavy. It’s also very, very pretty. :-)

But I did manage to thank everyone I needed to thank and surprised myself by becoming just a wee bit emotional up there on the stage. I’m really, really grateful to receive this particular award. Madigan Mine took so long to go from initial spark of inspiration to final publication — a time which spanned some very difficult years in my life, personally and creatively — and to be awarded the Aurealis at the end of all that … well, I am so very happy right now.

It truly was a fantastic night. SpecFaction in Sydney have taken over the running of the Aurealis Award from Fantastic Queensland — who did an extraordinary job of hosting them up in Brisbane for the past six years — and it was wonderful to see the baton passed to such and enthusiastic and hard-working team. Nathan Burrage, Susan Wardle and the rest of the organising committee deserve huge kudos for putting on such a great show. Highlights included Garth Nix‘s dry humour as MC, Rob Hood‘s quirky visual presentation slideshows, the divine Angela Slatter accepting not one but two awards in bare feet, and Tansy Rayner Roberts gracious and moving  — and well-prepared! — acceptance speech upon receiving the award for Best Fantasy novel.

Wine was drunk, carousing was had, old friends were caught up with and new friends were made. It reminded me once again how special, close-knit and supportive the Australian speculative fiction community really is. As I possibly failed to articulate clearly enough in my acceptance speech, I feel proud and honoured and so very grateful to be able to count myself among their number.

As has become customary on such occasions, the multi-talented Cat Sparx was on hand with her trusty camera to provide a superb pictorial chronicle of the evening. The full set lives over on Flickr but I want to include this photo of myself and my beloved, Jason Nahrung, right here. (Thanks, Cat — you always take the best photos of us!)
Kirstyn McDermott and Jason Nahrung at 2010 Aurealis Awards

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Don't Scare the Children?


Last week I finished a short story which proved very different from anything else I’ve done.  It was written for a children’s anthology of ghosts stories with the target reader age range of 10-13 years. It was the first time I’ve ever written for such a young age group and so I spent quite a lot of time thinking about subject matter, language and tone. I considered The Graveyard Book and noted how Neil Gaiman was able to get away with some really, really awful subject matter by employing both judicious language and a tone that makes the reader — regardless of their age — feel very safe. I also tried to recall the types of stories I loved to read when I was that age and kept coming back to two primary emotional elements: fear and wonder. (Nothing much has changed.)

I had a character in mind — who I loved — and a vague of idea of how her story would unfold, and generally that’s all I need before I start actually putting words on screen. So I started and was promptly met with a near constant series of roadblocks and dead ends. Most of these related to content. There were plot elements and complexities I had to abandon due to lack of space, resulting in character dynamics that needed to be recalibrated. There was also a poignant climactic scene which I regretfully set aside because it necessitated the body of an eleven year old being found buried in her own back yard — and there is simply no way for an eleven year old girl to be found buried in her own backyard without A Very Bad Thing having happened to put her there.

(Normally, Very Bad Things are my stock in trade. But this time I wasn’t writing that kind of story — I was trying for quirky and optimistic — and the prospective weight of A Very Bad Thing was causing a fatal imbalance in the narrative, so the envisaged scene was never written. I’m sure it will find its way into another tale somewhere along the line.)

The ending itself took ages to find. I wasted a couple of frustrating hours one evening writing and deleting — and rewriting and redeleting — before realising that I’d already stumbled across the finish line a few paragraphs before and all I was doing was trying to manufacture an unnecessary coda. And the reason it took me so long to see this was that the ending was a happy one. I have a natural distrust of happy endings. They very often don’t feel right to me. They don’t feel genuine. They lack resonance. But this ending was right for this story, even if it wasn’t the kind of story I usually write. So I trusted it and tightened the narrative in a few places to provide better support and . . . I think it works well.

It’s not a particularly scary story, because ghosts don’t have to be scary, but it has fear and it has wonder. And it has a happy ending. (Stranger things have happened.) Best of all, I’ve heard back from the editor and he loves it. There’ll be some tweaks to make in copy editing — a couple of minor points that I need to be less subtle about, exposition wise — but it’s basically living and breathing on its own. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience and writing for kids is definitely something I’d like to do again if I get the opportunity.

But for now, it’s back wrestling with Novel the Second.

Against Professionalism, Craft and Story


Over at Booklife, author and editor Nick Mamatas has written a thought-provoking series of three posts concerning certain aspects of writing (or being a writer) that tend to get bandied around a lot these days. Since I’ve got no time to make words of my own here today, may I humbly suggest you wander over there and read Nick’s instead. I agree with roughly 91.732% of them.

Against Professionalism:

It’s all rather nightmarish: don’t complain about rejection letters or reviews, don’t talk about editors and agents on Twitter or your blog, wear khakis and not blue jeans to conferences and bring plenty of business cards, keep away from politics except for the fannishly correct (and legitimate) concerns about diversity in publications in your public utterances. This advice is the new currency in the community of aspiring writers because it’s easy to give and easy to follow. What’s hard is writing.

Against Craft:

“Craft” today is not a counter to the Romantic vision of an artistic elite chosen by the Divine, it is a quasi-proletarian flinch often designed to protect one’s work from being compared to art, thus protecting it (and one’s ego) from its near-inevitable failure to stack up to the idea of art as a superlative.

Against Story:

What do people want? “A good story.” How do we know? People can barely say anything else. When editors describe the sort of material they’re looking to acquire, they want “a good story.” Readers are always on the hunt for “a good story.” Good stories are also useful for shutting down a variety of discussions. Are there not enough women being published, or people of color? Who cares who the author is, so long as he or she writes a good story? Can writers do different things with their stories—create new points of view, structure words on the page differently, work to achieve certain effects not easily accessible with more common presentations? Why bother—a good story is the only important thing.

Not so much walking, as talking . . .


So I read this article about the “SlutWalk” phenomenon today in the Sydney Morning Herald. I wasn’t going to blog about the whole SlutWalk thing, because my thoughts are complicated and the issue deserves some fairly nuanced treatment and I really don’t have a day to spare writing a complicated, nuanced blog post right now. Besides, there are other people already doing a good job of it and I’m sure you all know how to google.

But I read the article because someone tweeted it and then — stupidly — I started to read the comments. Here’s a selection of some the more offensive examples of what is clearly a major theme among the commenters:

“My dear old mother used to say: “They that lack respect for themselves and throw themsleves away, get treaded upon”. Smart lady my old mother.” (posted by: The Beak)

“But it is funny, isn’t it, how for the most part men don’t feel the irresistible urge to frolic around in public in skimpy clothing.” (posted by: Lee McSwain)

“Fine, dress like a slut. It’s a liberal democracy. But don’t expect to be taken seriously like women who don’t dress like sluts.” (posted by: Jason Decliner)

“Sure express yourself, but take care for how some men are wired, and may express themselves, if provoked. Give their nature as much respect as you give your own.” (posted by: AuDasign1)

“What is also ironically not acknowledged is that those who do dress provocatively are also often into power, the projection of sexual power. Unfortunately those who live by the sword sometimes die by the sword. So many of these comments take me back to Wimminism 101. What a nostalgia trip!” (posted by: adamjc)

I’m still not intending to write a lengthy post about the whole SlutWalk thing. (Seriously, I do not have the time.) But here’s the thought that always pops in my brain whenever I read tired old comments like those above: surely men should feel insulted almost as much as women.

I mean, seriously, guys. I don’t have a penis, I’ve never had a penis, and I don’t expect to acquire a penis anytime soon. But if I did have a penis and was essentially being told that — because of said penis — all it took to provoke me into committing a sexual assault against another person was a pair of tight pants or a short skirt or six inch heels or — gasp! — a flash of cleavage, that in fact I wouldn’t be able to control myself in the face of such titillation, I’d be feeling pretty fucking pissed off right now.

And what I really can’t understand is why it is so often men who make such comments. Not exclusively, sure, there are always women  eager to tout the “just can’t help themselves” line as well, but it comes with such casual regularity from men as to baffle the mind. Or, at least, my mind. When I come across a derogatory generalisation regarding my gender, it makes me furious. (You might have noticed.) And this generalisation is surely one of the vilest.

You are a man. You cannot control yourself. You are a slave to your base desires. You are not to be trusted. You are not safe. That thing in your pants? It’s a loaded weapon utterly beyond your ability to command. You are not a man — you are a threat to be avoided, appeased and guarded against.

It’s just awful. And it certainly doesn’t describe any of the men I’ve known and loved in my life. (It doesn’t even describe any of the men I’ve known and loathed.) Yet I’ve heard some of the men I’ve loved spout similar, if sometimes diluted, sentiments to those found in the comments section of the SMH article and this I do not understand. You are tarring your own gender. You do not get a Get Out of Jail Free card. You do not get to be the self-proclaimed golden exception to the vile rule. Think better. Expect better. Demand better.

Yes, this a feminist issue. But, like so many other feminist issues, it’s not just about women.

And that’s my vague non-post about whole SlutWalk thing.

SlutWalk Shoes

Photobombs . . . 1915 Style!


My husband is currently compiling a book about his great-great-grandfather, Konrad Nahrung, who emigrated to Australia from Germany back in the 19th Century. Most of the book consists of an annotated transcription of Konrad’s memoirs, along with whatever supporting documents my husband has been able to dredge up from various people and places. One of these documents is a 50th Wedding Anniversary portrait of Konrad and his wife, Wilhemina, photographed with the extended Nahrung clan on 9th July, 1915:

Nahrung 50th Wedding Anniversary

I love this photo for many reasons. It is old — the actual card-mounted print we have is faded and chipped, with the surface flaking off here and there — and seeing all those grim, unsmiling faces reminds me of just what a serious business photography once was. And time-consuming: look at those couple of blurred babes who simply could not sit still enough for the time it took the shutter to close.

But my very favourite part of this photograph is the little head peeking out from inside the building that forms the backdrop. (You’ll probably need to click on the image and bring it up full-size in order to make him or her out.) We have no idea who this early 20th Century photobomber is — she or he is not mentioned in the accompanying document that names the members of the family pictured — but I’m very pleased to see that the solemnity of the occasion was maintained. There were no cheesy grins, crossed eyes or cheeky rabbit ears from this interloper!

I do wonder who it is, though. A disgraced black sheep determined to get in on the family portrait no matter what? A farm worker or unrelated visitor intent on seeing their image preserved for posterity? At this late date it will likely be impossible to ever find a name to match that half-concealed face. But, almost one hundred years later, she or he is still there. Still being noticed and pondered and smiled over well into the next century.

Job well done, young photobomber. Job well done!

The Writer and the Critic: Episode 7


The latest episode of our podcast is now available for direct download and streaming from the website or via subscription from iTunes. Feedback is most welcome!

Here are the show notes:

This month’s episode of The Writer and the Critic sees your hosts, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond, discuss the results of the recently announced Ditmar and Tin Duck Awards and dissect the almost inevitable Great Ditmar Controversy of 2011 that exploded onto the interwebs soon afterwards. For those interested in reading further, Kirstyn has blogged about the issue here and here.

The books up for discussion on the podcast this month are The Resurrectionst by Jack O’Connell (chosen by Ian ) and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (recommended by Kirstyn ). Ian mentions a review by Andrew Wheeler when speaking about the O’Connell novel and Kirstyn vaguely remembers this online argument while arguing an Atwood tangent of her own. For those wishing to avoid spoilers and skip ahead, discussion of The Resurrectionist begins at 30:00, while Oryx and Crake starts around 47:00.


They then turn their attention to a book which was recommended by one of their lovely listeners — Tansy Rayner Roberts. Or maybe two books. Or possibly one book which has had a run-in with a guillotine: Black Out and All Clear by Connie Willis. Ian steals his best lines quotes extensively from this review by his new Bestest Twitter Friend, Jonathan McCalmont. Ian also gets very, very frustrated and swears quite a bit. The discussion of Blackout / All Clear begins at 1:09:09


Check back in at the 1:27:15 mark for some listener feedback and final remarks.

Next month The Writer and the Critic will hit the road once again to record their first episode live in front of an actual audience at Continuum 7 in Melbourne! Their very special guest will be the brilliant and awe-inspiring, Catherynne M. Valente, who has picked Embassytown by China Mieville for Ian and Kirstyn to read.

Ian’s recommended book for June will be Among Others by Jo Walton, while Kirstyn has chosen Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King.

Read ahead and join in the spoilerific fun!