• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:


    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!

     

     

Argh! Zombies!

There has been so much talk lately of the colour grey but, let’s be honest, it’s such a boring colour. Comparatively, red is fantastic. It’s bright, attention-grabbing and … bloody.

Which brings me to zombies.  They are covered in the stuff.

Zombies have made a resurgence of late as the face of horror, largely due to the success of The Walking Dead television series and they are the opposite of those sparkly vampires that the tweens love but we have had enough of.  I think that we can all rest assured that zombies will maintain their monster status quo and contain to be the relentless horde that will keep leading the revolt against their emotionally unstable undead cousins. Vampires have gotten soft and cuddly, zombies instill fear and panic. In this time where erotica sells, the undead must rise against it.

Why? Because zombies will never play the romantic lead. Their love of brains doesn’t translate to a love of intellectual conversation and nights in playing scrabble. And their desire to eat you sounds sexy but it’s not going to be a pleasant experience. Although they might give you cause to scream ‘Oh God!’ and leave you panting for breath – it’s not the happy sort of exclamation and its more of a marathon run where you flee for your life than a marathon bonk session that’s going to affect your lung capacity.

In the literary world, Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies took the world by storm in 2009 and only recently (23/8/12) the BBC News have asked  (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-19359570) if literary mash-ups are the next big thing (clearly it took them a while to jump on to the zombie bandwagon — better late than never). A recently published literary mash-up is Corrupted Classics, a compilation of short stories by some emerging writers which will appeal to zombie fiends, corrupting tales from your childhood with a zombie-esque edge like you wouldn’t believe.

Corrupted Classics
is a digital anthology of short stories based on scenes from literary classics that have been twisted into harsh zombie apocalyptic worlds. Now some of history’s best-loved characters face a fate even more cataclysmic than academic obscurity … These are the classics like you have never seen them before, alive and well in the realm of the undead. Alice in Wonderland (becomes Alice in Zombieland) and Peter Pan (becomes Never Neverland) are just two of the twisted tales that are feeding the zombie zeitgeist. Corrupted Classics has some great re-imaginings that would work as full-length novels, even if they are only published as e-books. The world needs more tales of zombies, and the 10 million Walking Dead fans would agree.

One of the best things about zombies are the zombie fans. They totally get it. They are absorbed into the notion of the undead stumbling along the streets, turning the moment they get a whiff of fresh meat, I don’t know many zombie aficionados who don’t have a plan for when the zombie apocalypse begins. In the US, Halloween allows fans to embrace it, with The Walking Dead being a huge influence last year and people happily adorned dangling bits of fake flesh to their face and covered themselves in red corn syrup. In Australia, you have the annual Brisbane Zombie Walk (www.brisbanezombiewalk.com) that not only lets you stagger around the streets but also aptly raises funds for The Brain Foundation of Australia. This year it will be held this Sunday, 21st October and a gold coin donation will get you walking the streets amongst the sea of undead covered in as much gore as you’re comfortable with.

If you haven’t already, check out the Corrupted Classics Facebook page (www.facebook.com/corruptedclassics) and join the horde.

Also, if you REALLY want to survive the inevitable coming zombie apocalypse, there’s loads of resources online-One of our fans sent this link in!

Seeding the breeze with Poet Trees

It’s wonderful when fans take an idea from our books and make it real…

In my Diamond Eyes trilogy, “The Poet Trees” are a crown of old tree houses where the heroine, Mira, once lived as a child. They also symbolise the dream home she keeps alive in her mind. She hopes to escape there some day from the captivity of the Serenity Asylum, where she’s being treated for “delusions” because she can see spectres of people from history.

But the Poet Trees harbour more secrets than anyone can imagine. All of the branches have been embossed with golden braille, quoting wise words from famous books, ballads, poems and scholars. These were collected and left behind by Mira’s parents to help guide her through life – hopefully giving her a brighter future, but also to help her avoid all the “ghosts” from her past.

As the crowning glory in a field of wildflowers (surrounded by rainforest and overlooking a private cove in Moreton Bay) The Poet Trees also provide far more than tranquil hideaway for Mira after she escapes. For fans, the The Poet Trees provide some of the most memorable scenes of the series. Almost magical, the leaves seem to whisper wise words to Mira on the breeze, and each time a mysterious hero is in the shadows. Not to mention a few sinister secrets.

“Poetry, or Poet Tree?” Not much difference really.

Plato once said: Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.

Each thriller in the Diamond Eyes series features a dozen quotes from the Poet Trees – one for each major turning point in Mira’s life – in order to support one of the main themes that the more things change, the more they stay the same’,even when events seem to be spiralling totally out of control. Since Mira can actually witness past events, and can see the violence of mankind stretching back for centuries, she becomes understandably frustrated at her inability to break free of the cycles that seem to keep her locked into a frightening fate at the hands of her enemies. The ancient Athenian Phaedrus seemed sympathetic when his words echoed across time, embossed forever in braille on the tallest limb in the grove, to warn her that: the only problem with seeing too much, is that it makes you insane. Yet Plutarch warned her that: Fate leads those who follow it, and drags those who resist.

Yet, the primary inspiration for Leopard Dreaming comes from Aristotle: Hope is a waking dream.

All are wise words that have echoed down to us over the centuries, perhaps because they apply so well for so many people in so many instances. And Mira tries to see herself as no different.  As her writer, that’s how it seems, at least.

And the other day I received this picture from a fan who lives in the centre of Australia, over 3000 kilometres away, where the first real Poet Tree has sprouted up at Alice Springs! Thanks to roving reporter Janne Leddin Hardy, the braille on this tree says:
2 C is 2 KNOW… which is amazing, because that nails the motif for the whole trilogy.

And even cooler: This species of tree is a eucalypt, called a ghost gum (because they appear to glow white at night under starlight) which is also reflective of the ghostly yester-world that Mira can see as she looks back through time….

So please feel welcome to share your own favourite quotes with me on twitter @ThePoetTrees … where wisdom grows through sharing. Or at www.facebook.com/anitabell.fanpage

In a perfect world, every city in the world would have its own Poet Tree. A tree of wisdom, where all the locals could share wise words for their coming generations.

Writing the Timestalker series

People always ask me what it’s like writing the Timestalker series. It follows the adventures of a time travelling detective, Kannon Dupree, who solves exotic mysteries set in different times and places. And as the latest book in the series, Coyote, has just come out, I know I’ll need to hone my answer to that question.

But to complicate matters, each book has had its own special challenges. In the first one, Gladiatrix, Kannon journeys to Rome in 8AD and investigates the mysterious rituals performed by an Egyptian Isis-worshipping cult, which in the twenty-first century has become so powerful that it’s challenging Christianity for dominance.

That was a lot of work. I had to set up the foundation for a new series which used time travel, create an alternate present, plus do research on ancient Rome as well as mystical Egyptian cults. Then put it all together in an adventure story.

The next book, Hoodwink, is set in the golden years of Hollywood. After the body of a movie director is found covered in a Mayan occult tattoo and cemented into the floor of his own film set, Kannon Dupree is hired to discover who murdered him. Whilst on the set of Gone With The Wind she stumbles onto a mystery that stretches back to the Civil War.

My research load doubled in Hoodwink. It ranged from 1939 Hollywood, through to the Mayan civilisation via the American Civil War. And, as every good writer knows, you only ever put a fraction of the research you do into your book.

In the latest book, Coyote, Kannon is hired to find the missing diary of a Wild West hero. The chase takes her through the middle of an Indian War, via a mysterious convent of nuns banished to die in the desert and into an ancient pueblo city on a cursed mesa sacred to Coyote, the trickster god.

The photo of me frowning outside the town of Coyote in New Mexico, was taken when I was trying to work out where the hell to locate one of the only truly fictional places in the book – Big Sun Canyon. America’s Southwest is a patchwork of sites sacred to the local Native American nations. (The photo of mesas is from one of these sites – Monument Valley) So I had to work out how to respect their beliefs and still write an adventure story that roamed across their territory. (I’m smiling in the other photo because I’ve just worked out what to do.)

Looking at the series as a whole – all the Timestalker books are basically adventure stories where complex mysteries are solved. It takes a huge amount of planning to tell an exciting story and at the same time unveil clues along the way. Add time travel to that mystery setup and there’s another equally intricate layer of planning. You can’t turn the reader off by making them question why the mystery wasn’t solved in one quick visit to the past rather than a journey that takes around 150,000 words.

So I do the all the planning and research and then I let my imagination take over… You’ve got to love speculative fiction. It’s as exciting to write, as it is to read.

Curiosity

So you’re into sci fi? But what about sci fact? Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction…

Each month our very own Voyager Science Queen* will bring you interesting, quirky and downright bizarre tasty morsels from the world of science. And its all completely, totally, 100% true!
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Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
                                                                        Albert Einstein 

This past July and August was a very exciting time for the scientific community, with the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle and a photograph of an atom (see last month’s Science Page).  One of the high points for me was the landing of NASA’s Curiosity on Mars. I am a big fan of the rovers, but Curiosity has captured my imagination in a way the other rovers never did. I think it is the name; was ever an exploratory robot craft ever given a better title?

Curiosity has four main scientific goals:

1/ Biological – to keep looking for evidence of organic compounds and biological processes;

2/ Geological – investigate the minerals and non-organic chemicals of the Martian surface;

3/ Climatological – determine water cycle and carbon dioxide cycle in an attempt to understand the Martian atmosphere; and

4/Radiation – to record the spectrum of radiation at the Martian surface.

From my personal viewpoint, it is the hunt for biological signatures that is the most interesting. It isn’t just intelligent life that fascinates me, though a positive SETI result would thrill me beyond belief, because all the forms that life can take are complex and unique. I consider all four of Curiosity’s goals are a link back to the search for evidence there is, or was, life on Mars.

To put things into some perspective, let’s contrast the known conditions for life on Earth with the possibility of life on Mars.  Life on Earth can’t exist without water; so the theory goes that the presence of water would increase the probability of the presence of life. This meant I found the discovery of a stream bed by Curiosity very exciting. There can been evidence for free-flowing water gathered before, but it was ambiguous. Now there can be no doubt that Mars does have periods where water flows just like here on Earth.

Life went a long way to changing the face of our planet Earth. The increase in oxygen cause by the respiration of living organisms, and many new minerals were formed by the processes of oxidation. Bacteria, microbes and lichens changed the chemical composition of some types of rocks. Limestone is the remains of billions upon billions of skeletal fragments of ancient marine organisms; coal is the remains of Carboniferous-era peat bogs and forests; and oil and gas are the fossilised remains of zooplankton and algae. So, it seems self-evident that the presence of similar minerals on Mars would indicate life was present once, if lo longer, on the Red Planet.

It may seem to the observer that Mars is too hostile an environment to life, with its lack of water and atmosphere, extremes of temperature and high levels of radiation. However, here on Earth, microorganisms are found in almost every habitat present in nature. On Earth we have extremophiles; life forms that exist – nay, thrive – in the harshest and difficult environments.  The surface of Mars is comparable to some of the niches that are exploited by microorganisms here on Earth.

On the down side of discovering these tough organisms on Mars would be the risk of disease or cross-contamination if we ever send a team of astronauts to Mars. Such organisms might find our warm and watery bodies the perfect substrate for reproduction, a luscious paradise after struggling to thrive under arid conditions. Alternatively, the organisms might find our bodies too different to adapt too – instead, our own organisms might escape into the Martian environment and overwhelm the native population of organisms and create a tragedy of the scale of the introduction of smallpox to the American native peoples.

The history of exploration isn’t always a happy one.

But I am an optimist.  I hope we do find life on Mars. This would greatly increase the probability that life appears wherever possible. In our galaxy alone, that would mean thousands, maybe millions, of other planets would contain and sustain life. And I love the idea that our planet isn’t the only one to have a rich and wonderful ecology. There should be analogues to butterflies, penguins and camels on other planets … and maybe even people analogues.
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*The Voyager Science Queen is also known as Lynne Lumsden Green- find out who she is in About Our Contributors!

Sara Douglass- In Memoriam

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since Sara died. It’s not that the reality of her death isn’t apparent; the ache of her absence is constant and painful. Rather, I think it’s because through her books, short stories and lingering cyber-presence she continues to touch, challenge and move us.

In some ways, it’s as if she’s still here.

Like many of her friends and fans, I’ve been reading her books again – it’s a way of bringing her closer, providing comfort in bleak and sad times. What re-reading her novels has also served, is to remind me of what an astonishing talent she possessed.

From her very first novel, Battleaxe (which changed the landscape of fantasy publishing in Australia) right through to her final books, The Devil’s Diadem and the posthumously published collection of short stories, The Hall of Lost Footsteps, the breadth and depth of her work, the way she used and transformed history, invented complex and rich societies; the liveliness and courage of her characters, their weaknesses and strengths, passions and foibles, are all there to enjoy whenever we want.

The problem with this, of course, is that the experience is bitter-sweet. On the one hand, you plunge into a novel (actually, you’re grabbed by the throat and dragged into the world between the pages whether you’re ready or not) and lose yourself in an astounding tale. On the other, once the final line is finished, there’s the cruel reminder that never again will there be the opportunity to dive into a new Sara Douglass invention.

Every day around the world, someone who has had the Douglass experience wakes to the knowledge that they won’t again – at least, not in the same, thrilling way that first encounters engender – and they too mourn what we’ve all lost.

For those who are Sara Douglass worlds’ virgins, understand how much you’re envied.

But how lucky are we that she’s left behind such a legacy for us to discover or revisit over and over and extract whatever pleasures, memories and wonder we can? That was Sara’s gift to all of us; one she willingly and lovingly gave.

Then, there’s also the powerful truths contained in her blogs, like the one reproduced below, “The Silence of the Dying.” Here, Sara discusses death, giving voice to those who cannot speak for themselves as well as bearing her heart and fears in such a raw and frank way. Reading it again isn’t easy, but it is a privilege; a difficult, demanding one, but a privilege nonetheless and I’m grateful to Harper Collins and Voyager for this.

Sara’s words, the lyrical, sensual, sorrowful and authoritative, however, are only one aspect of Sara’s life and thus death. For those who truly knew and loved her – those few whom she admitted into her extremely private world – her loss is both a yawning chasm and a constant whisper, a murmur in the heart and soul that reminds you of the joy her love bestowed and the anguish it’s no more. The song of her surcease should be sung – not as a dirge, but as a sweet refrain.

In commemorating Sara’s death, I think it’s more appropriate we remember her life. We should, on this day especially, celebrate her accomplishments. But let’s not forget the amazing, beautiful woman behind the words – her knowledge, compassion, honesty, empathy and her delight in a life cut brutally short.

We’re so fortunate Sara’s spirit lives on her words. Every time we read or recall these, it’s comforting to know that, like her characters, she is also brought to life again and again and again….

Karen Brooks
September 2012

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Originally from blog “Notes from Nonsuch”

The Silence of the Dying

By Sara Douglass

Many years ago I did an hour long interview on Adelaide radio (with Jeremy Cordeaux, I think, but my memory may be wrong). The interview was supposed to promote one of my recent publications, but for some reason we quickly strayed onto the subject of death and dying, and there we stayed for the entire hour. I proposed that as a society we have lost all ability to die well. Unlike pre-industrial western society, modern western society is ill at ease with death, we are not taught how to die, and very few people are comfortable around death or the dying. There is a great silence about the subject, and a great silence imposed on the dying. During the programme a Catholic priest called in to agree with the premise (the first and last time a Catholic priest and I have ever agreed on anything) that modern society cannot deal with death. We just have no idea. We are terrified of it. We ignore it and we ignore the dying.

Today I’d like to take that conversation a little further, discuss modern discomfort with death, and discuss the silence that modern western society imposes on the dying. Recently I’ve had it hammered home on a couple of occasions how much the dying are supposed to keep silent, that ‘dying well’ in today’s society means keeping your mouth firmly closed and, preferably, behind closed doors.

Never shall a complaint pass your lips. How many times have we all heard that praise sung of the dying and recently departed, “They never complained”?

Death in pre-industrial society was a raucous and social event. There was much hair-tearing, shrieking and breast beating, and that was just among the onlookers. Who can forget the peripatetic late-medieval Margery Kempe who shrieked and wailed so exuberantly she was in demand at all the death beds she happened across? Suffering, if not quite celebrated, was at least something to which everyone could relate, and with which everyone was at ease. People were comfortable with death and with the dying. Death was not shunted away out of sight. Grief was not subdued. Emotions were not repressed. If someone was in pain or feeling a bit grim or was frightened, they were allowed to express those feelings. Unless they died suddenly, most people died amid familiar company and in their own homes amid familiar surroundings. Children were trained in the art and craft of dying well from an early age (by being present at community death beds). Death and dying was familiar, and its journey’s milestones well marked and recognizable. People prepared from an early age to die, they were always prepared, for none knew when death would strike.

Not any more. Now we ignore death. We shunt it away. Children are protected from it (and adults wish they could be protected from it). The dying are often not allowed to express what they are really feeling, but are expected (by many pressures) to be positive, bright and cheerful as ‘this will make them feel better’ (actually, it doesn’t make the dying feel better at all, it just makes them feel worse, but it does make their dying more bearable for those who have to be with them).

When it comes to death and dying, we impose a dreadful silence on the dying lest they discomfort the living too greatly.

I have done no study as to when the change took place, but it must have been about or just before the Industrial Revolution — perhaps with the mass movement into the cities and the subsequent destruction of traditional communities and community ties, perhaps with the rise of the modern medical profession who demanded to control every aspect of illness, perhaps with the loosening grip of religion on people’s lives during the Enlightenment.

Certainly by the nineteenth century silence and restraint had overtaken the dying. The Victorian ideal was of the dying suffering sweetly and stoically and silently (we’ve all read the novels, we’ve all seen the paintings). Those who didn’t die sweetly and stoically and silently but who bayed their distress to the moon generally ended badly by dropping their candle on their flammable nightgown, and then expiring nastily in the subsequent conflagration which took out the east tower of whatever gothic mansion they inhabited. The lingering commotion and the smouldering ruins always disturbed everyone’s breakfast the next morning. There was much tsk tsk tsk-ing over the marmalade.

By the mid-nineteenth century, if not earlier, the lesson was clearly implanted in our society’s collective subconscious.

Death should be silent. Confined. Stoic.

Sweet, stoic and silent was the way to go. (Again I remind you that a sweet, stoic and silent death is still praised innumerable times in today’s society; by the time we have reached early adulthood we have all heard it many, many times over.) The one exception is the terminally ill child. Terminally ill children are uncritizable saints. The terminally ill adult is simply tedious (particularly if they try to express their fears).

All this silence and stoicism scares the hell out of me.

In that radio interview many years ago I spoke as a historian. Today I speak as one among the dying. Two years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. Six months ago it came back. It is going to kill me at some stage. Now everyone wants a date, an expected life span, an answer to the ‘how long have you got?’ question. I don’t know. I’m sorry to be inconvenient. I am not in danger of imminent demise, but I will not live very long. So now I discuss this entire ‘how we treat the dying’with uncomfortable personal experience.

Now, with death lurking somewhere in the house, I have begun to notice death all about me. I resent every celebrity who ‘has lost their long battle with cancer’. Oh God, what a cliché. Can no one think of anything better? It isn’t anything so noble as a ‘battle’ gallantly lost, I am afraid. It is just a brutal, frustrating, grinding, painful, demoralizing, terrifying deterioration that is generally accomplished amid great isolation.

Let me discuss chronic illness for a moment. As a society we don’t tolerate it very well. Our collective attention span for someone who is ill lasts about two weeks. After that they’re on their own. From my own experience and talking to others with bad cancer or chronic illness, I’ve noticed a terrible trend. After a while, and only a relatively short while, people grow bored with you not getting any better and just drift off. Phone calls stop. Visits stop. Emails stop. People drop you off their Facebook news feed. Eyes glaze when you say you are still not feeling well. Who needs perpetual bad news?

This is an all too often common experience. I described once it to a psychologist, thinking myself very witty, as having all the lights in the house turned off one by one until you were in one dark room all alone; she said everyone described it like that. People withdraw, emotionally and physically. You suddenly find a great and cold space about you where once there was support. For me there has been a single person who has made the effort to keep in daily contact with me, to see how I am, how I am feeling, and listen uncomplainingly to my whining. She has been my lifeline. She also suffers from terrible cancer and its aftermath, and has endured the same distancing of her friends.

The end result is, of course, that the sick simply stop telling people how bad they feel. They repress all their physical and emotional pain, because they’ve got the message loud and clear.

People also don’t know how to help the sick and dying. I remember a year or so ago, on a popular Australian forum, there was a huge thread generated on how to help a member who was undergoing massive and life-changing surgery that would incapacitate her for months. People asked what they could do. I suggested that if one among them, or many taking it in turns, could promise this woman two hours of their time every week or fortnight for the next few months then that would help tremendously. In this two hours they could clean, run errands, hang out the washing, whatever. And they had to do all this while not once complaining about how busy their own lives were, or how bad their back was, or how many problems they had to cope with in life. Just two hours a fortnight, with no emotional-guilt strings attached. Whatever she wanted or needed. Freely given.

Bliss for the incapacitated or chronically ill.

But that was too difficult. Instead the poor woman was buried under a mountain of soft toys, dressing gowns, bath salts and bombs, daintily embroidered hankies, a forest’s worth of Hallmark cards, chocolates and flowers and exhortations that everyone was ‘thinking of her’.

None of which helped her in any way, of course, but all of which assuaged the guilt of the gift-givers who mostly promptly forgot her and her daily horrific struggle through life.

Modern attention spans for the chronically ill are horribly short, probably because chronic or terminal illness in today’s society is horribly tedious. Tedious, because we are all so uncomfortable with it.

Instead, too often, it is up to the sick and the dying to comfort the well and the un-dying.

Just take a moment to think about this, take a moment to see if you have ever experienced it yourself. The dying — sweet, stoic, silent — comforting those who are to be left behind. I know I experienced it when first I was diagnosed with cancer. I found myself in the completely unreal situation of having, over and over, to comfort people when I told them I had cancer. In the end I just stopped telling people, because almost invariably I was placed into the bizarre situation of comforting the well by saying everything would be all right (which, of course, it won’t, but that’s what people needed to hear to make them comfortable about me again).

The dying have been indoctrinated from a very young age into this sweet, stoic and silent state. They earn praise for always being ‘positive’ and ‘bright’ and ‘never complaining’. Perhaps they are bright and positive and uncomplaining, but I am certain they lay in their beds with their fear and anger and grief and pain and frustration completely repressed while modern expectation forces them, the dying, to comfort the living.

I am sick of this tawdry game. I am sick to death of comforting people when all I want is to be comforted. I am sick of being abandoned by people for months on end only to be told eventually that ‘I knew they were thinking of me, right?’ I am sick of being exhorted to be silent and sweet and stoic. I know I face a long and lonely death and no, I don’t think I should just accept that.

I don’t think I should keep silent about it.

I have witnessed many people die. As a child I watched my mother die a terrible death from the same cancer that is going to kill me. As a registered nurse for seventeen years I have seen scores of people die. I have watched the dying keep cheerful and reassuring while their family were there (forced by modern expectation of how people should die), only to break down and scream their terror when the family have gone. The one thing they all said, desperately, was “Don’t let me die alone.” But mostly they did die alone, doors closed on them by staff who were too frantically busy to sit with them, and relatives who have gone home and not thought to sit with their parent or sibling. People do die alone, and often not even with the slight comfort of a stranger nurse holding their hand. If you put your relative into a hospital or a hospice or a nursing home, then their chances of dying alone and uncomforted increase tremendously. I want to die at home, but I am realistic enough to know that my chances of that are almost nil as impersonal ‘carers’ force me into a system that will remove me from any comfort I might have gained by dying in familiar, loved and comforting surroundings.

My mother, who died of the same cancer which will kill me, kept mostly stoic through three years of tremendous suffering. But I do remember one time, close to her death, when my father and I went to visit her in hospital. She was close to breaking point that evening. She wept, she complained, she expressed her fears in vivid, terrifying words. I recall how uncomfortable I was, and how relieved I was when she dried her tears and once more became cheerful and comforting herself. I was twelve at the time, and maybe I should feel no guilt about it, but I do now, for I know all too well how she felt, and how much she needed comforting far more than me.

She died in her cold impersonal hospital room in the early hours of the morning, likely not even with the comfort of a stranger nurse with her, certainly with none of her family there.

The great irony is that now I face the same death, from the same cancer.

That is the death that awaits many of us, me likely a little sooner than you, but in the great scheme of things that’s neither here nor there. Not everyone dies alone, but many do.

Not everyone suffers alone, but most do it to some extent.

It is the way we have set up the modern art of death.

I am tired of the discomfort that surrounds the chronically and terminally ill. I am tired of the abandonment. I am tired of having to lie to people about how I am feeling just so I keep them around. I am tired of having to feel a failure when I need to confess to the doctor or nurse that the pain is too great and I need something stronger.

I am tired of being made to feel guilty when I want to express my fear and anguish and grief.

I am tired of keeping silent.

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Thank you for reading this far, and being my companion this far. I promise to be more stoic in future. But just for one day I needed to break that silence.

May 22nd, 2010

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Many, MANY thanks must also go to our Voyager friend Lindsay who helped find this post by Sara in the Internet archives.

Predicting the future

I’ve been writing my Diamond Eyes trilogy for the last few years about a girl who is blind, but can see the past through various different shades of sunglasses, which act as filters for “slower” light frequencies. She can also glimpse the future at times, painfully through tears when she cries, so I’ve needed to research a lot about future technologies and “tomorrow” style living so I can create settings which are believable. And it’s been so interesting! Some of the gadgets I predicted now really exist, like electronic “google map sunglasses” and the talking GPS walking cane for blind people – both of which are greatly needed by two elderly members of my family.

And that’s not all. I’ve been basing the trilogy’s overall story arc on the premise of rising hostilities between China and Japan… which has become a real issue in the news this week. The third book, Leopard Dreaming, is out on October 1 and the plot twists are very close to the frightening news headlines.

This is not the first time I’ve been the victim of my own thorough research.

The last time it happened, I was writing a thriller on the premise of a massive earthquake and tsunami (after interviewing some of the world’s top geologists who advised me that the most likely place in the world for it to happen would be in the ocean trench off Aceh) and then unfortunately it really did happen.

Such things aren’t really coincidence, luck or supernatural foresight though… For Leopard Dreaming, I researched international politics well enough to set them against a believable back-drop of conspiracies. It didn’t take much research to find that China, Japan, the Soviets, Vietnam, Korea and even Indonesia have been disputing over islands in that region for over 2000 years. But the details about their amazing reasons were in the back stories, recent developments, and strategic troop movements that were much harder to find – but, after I did, it wasn’t hard to notice that certain things were likely to boil to a head. Naturally, in my thriller, I have factions working behind the scenes as well…
It saddens me that I’ve been able to see this coming for so long, and yet all of the parties involved continue to move dangerously closer to war. But hopefully, life can imitate art closely enough to aim for a peaceful resolution.

So is this just luck, coincidence or something else? The research techniques I used earlier in my life to understand the property and stockmarkets well enough to enable me to purchase my first investment as a teenager and retire within a decade are the same skills I use with every book in the Diamond Eyes series to project the future. Or, in other words, I take an educated guesstimate — simply a calculated forecast based on probability, historical trends, observations, politics, studies of human nature and good ol’ common sense.

As Mira would say; “I don’t need to see the future to know how this ends. I’ve seen all the patterns of the past and the direction it’s sweeping us.”

So I don’t believe predicting future events is an uncommon phenomenon for writers who really take their research, settings and backstories seriously, and I’d love to hear if anyone else has similar experiences.

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Writing Coyote’s Sacred Landscape

I always try to visit the landscape that my characters explore if I can. There’s nothing like filling your senses with its unique essence. What does it sound like? Is the light the same as at home? And so it goes…

So far I’ve written three of the adventures of Kannon Dupree, the time travelling detective. In Gladiatrix, Kannon paced the streets of ancient Rome investigating a shadowy Egyptian cult. In Hoodwink she lurked around glamorous Hollywood in 1939, to find out who murdered a famous movie director and why he died with a Mayan occult tattoo engraved on his chest. And in Coyote, which came out this month, Kannon is hired to find the missing diary of a Wild West hero. The chase takes her through the middle of an Indian War, via a mysterious convent of nuns banished to die in the desert and into an ancient pueblo city on a cursed mesa sacred to Coyote, the trickster god.

Without a doubt, the fieldwork I did for Coyote will always be one of my greatest adventures. Coyote is set in New Mexico, one of the states that make up the USA’s famous Southwest. It’s an arid, sparsely populated state with natural wonders around every bend, sprinkled with the mysterious ruins of ancient pueblo cities, criss-crossed by the trails of gold-hungry conquistadors and home to some of America’s largest reservations including those of the Apache and the Navaho. It’s also a landscape marked by the roughest edges of the Wild West, holding the remains of besieged forts, the tracks of dashing stagecoaches and frontier towns once ruled by the gunslinger.

Travelling the Southwest filled every sense. The rough touch of the ancient pueblo walls at Bandelier and Aztec Ruins, the gritty taste of the sandstorm that over took me near Farmington, the sight of the incredible red pinnacles of Monument Valley, the smell from the bunches of chillis hung to dry over old Spanish balconies in Santa Fe and the chillingly sweet sound of a Native American’s flute in Mesa Verde.

However… As every writer will tell you, each book presents its own special difficulties. As I wandered around the Southwest, gasping in awe at the landscape and interviewing every different kind of inhabitant that would talk to me, I came to realise that I had a problem.

I could really feel just how sacred this land was.

The Southwest is sacred to many different Native American nations, some of whom have lived there since the last Ice Age, and every natural monument is part of a wealth of mythologies and religious beliefs. The more I was included in this world, the bigger the problem became. How to put an adventure story into a sacred landscape without being disrespectful of those who hold it in such reverence?

Now I’m certainly not saying that my solution is the only one, nor that it works perfectly. Just that it was right for me when I wrote Coyote. My resolution was to make the sacred location I wrote about in Coyote – Big Sun Canyon and everything in it – a fictional composite of impressions taken from different places across the Southwest.

But when I explain this to people, I’m always struck by the paradox in what I’m saying.

The nations of the Southwest hold their land as sacred, but in the end what place on our gorgeous planet shouldn’t be? I guess it all comes down to what each culture decides to hold as precious. I’d love to hear what place or landscape is sacred to each of you.