My Fellowship at KSP

 

IMG_0836
A room for writing.

It feels like only yesterday, but it’s actually just over a week since I finished my Fellowship at the KSP Writers’ Centre. What’s a Fellowship? I hear you ask. Actually, I didn’t hear you, but I do hear voices in my head – no, I have an adequate sufficiency of matches, so be quiet. Anyway, I applied for a writing retreat to focus on (finishing….) my novel Evil Corp. Twelve-and-a-half days to do nothing but writing in a purpose built hut.

The writing huts are modeled after Katharine Susannah Pritchard’s own writing retreat and are very much focussed on having a room to write in. Your desk faces out onto the garden – I had a view of a gum tree with a beehive in its trunk – you have amenities for snacks and drinks, a chair for quiet contemplation, and a bed for… well, you know what beds can be used for.

IMG_0838
I had a whiteboard… which I didn’t end up using. And a giant pencil… which I also didn’t use.

The hut was quiet and felt ideally suited to writing. Or painting. Or reading. Or slowly going mad and deciding to live like a hermit. All good options.

IMG_0837
Yes, I brought a guitar.

The best feature was definitely the lack of adjoining accommodation for young children, who slowly steal your hopes and dreams as they consume more of your life than you’d ever imagine, such that you wake up at 40 wondering why you haven’t published a novel yet.

IMG_0835
Welcome Pack: Welcome letter, KSP sticker, KSP Fellow card, CHOCOLATE!

With the welcome letter in hand, my computer set up, I was ready to right write!

Getting my author on

Reading Anne's story at KSP Open day 2018
Not sure if I made this picture blurry by drinking too much caffeine, or if it was the wrong lighting for the camera to focus.

For my stay at KSP I had set a few hard and soft goals. Hard goals were things like: relax and enjoy being able to pursue my hobby uninterrupted for a fortnight; not wake up at 5am because my kids weren’t going to be there; refrain from buying a beret and neck-scarf; write more than 1,000 words per day. Soft goals were things like: wake up before noon; eat properly; get some exercise; try not to feel guilty about leaving my wife alone with our kids; write 20,000 words during my stay. Try to guess which goals I achieved.

I didn’t want to place too much pressure on myself to, say, “finish my novel” or “write 5,000 words a day”, because that would have sucked the fun out of the Fellowship. Having previously won NaNoWriMo, I knew I could write 2,000 words a day for a sustained period, but I was surprised at how having more time to write didn’t necessarily increase output. I’m going to claim that it was higher quality than NaNoWriMo writing though. A low bar I’m willing to jump over. But I did manage to write 20,000 words, do some plotting, create a few characters, outline several chapters for the future, review a couple of books, and come up with two plots for other projects, so it felt productive.

On the first weekend of my Fellowship the KSP Writers’ Centre held their open day. It was a fun event and well attended despite the threats of rain. As the above photo shows, I was asked to do a reading for the event on behalf of one of my writing groups. I read Werespoon by my fellow Fantasy Sci-Fi Horror group author Anne Forbes. Gillian Clarke read on behalf of my other author group, the Thursday Night group.

Another thing that made me feel authorly was mingling with other authors.

Surrounded by other authors

Me Kaaron Warren and Rachel Mead
Rachael Mead, Kaaron Warren, me being told to smile more.

Writing is generally regarded as a lonely occupation. Well, unless you take your laptop to a coffee shop so you can tell anyone who has the misfortune of coming too close that you’re an author and that sitting in a coffee shop telling people about your WIP counts as writing. The KSP cabins were decidedly setup for writing. On your own. Uninterrupted. I brought a guitar. But I still managed to hang out with other authors.

Kaaron Warren and Rachael Mead were also at KSP doing a Residency and Fellowship respectively. Kaaron has been publishing stories since before I’d figured out Coco-Pops didn’t need extra sugar. She was shortlisted for an Australian Shadow Award while she was in residence, and just last week released Tide Of Stone. One evening we were discussing awards (she is a judge for the World Fantasy Awards this year) and she casually mentioned being beaten by luminaries Stephen King and KJ Parker… I’m not sure that counts as losing.

Rachael has a PhD in creative writing and, like Kaaron, an impressive list of awards to her name. She has published multiple poetry collections, including one that came out earlier this year, and regularly contributes arts reviews to magazines. She also writes short stories and was working on what appears to have become a collection themed around paramedics during her time at KSP.

Which made me the bumbling rookie trying not to sound like an amateur around the two pros.

It was invaluable to chat with them over dinner, or at drink-o-clock, or at procrastination time. For example, Rachael helped me with a chapter I was headed in the wrong direction with. But it was also good just to be able to have a chat and socialise, including catching up with an old friend who is a mutual friend of Kaaron’s. If that wasn’t enough wordsmiths to hang out with, we also had a lovely dinner out with some other KSP Fellows. See the blurry photo below that proves kids aren’t necessarily good with technology.

2018-05-10 20.10.41
Dinner with some other KSP Fellows.

Summary

It was great to have the opportunity to feel like a writer and make some progress on (one of) my works in progress. I met some lovely people, got some writing done, and didn’t get woken up by a toddler wanting to find the teddy that is lying right next to them in bed even once. I very much appreciate the board and staff at the KSP Writers’ Centre for awarding me the Fellowship.

Advertisements

Book Review: The Hoodoo Man by Steve Harris

The Hoodoo ManThe Hoodoo Man by Steve Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Budgie as a weapon? Sure, why not.

Danny Stafford was an ordinary kid until his brother shot him in the face. It was an accident that changed Danny, but it isn’t until his 30s that the change fully takes hold. Now in a stable relationship, renovating a house, and working a dead-end job, Danny’s life is turned upside down. And that’s before the Hoodoo Man starts coming for him.

Back in my formative years, the local librarian introduced me to the adult section of the library after I’d read everything on offer for young adults and kids. This novel, The Hoodoo Man, was the first she pulled off of the shelf for me to try. A brand new horror novel by a UK author. Bit of a leap. But I was hooked. I clearly remember devouring this book, to the point that I missed at least one meal.

Twenty-six years later I wanted to test if my memory of this novel held up. Was The Hoodoo Man as good all these years later, or was I just an impressionable kid who had just discovered his first horror novel? Oh, it stands up alright. It has aged very well and I wasn’t disappointed at all. My immediate response upon finishing was to exclaim “Well, I’m going to have to find more of Steve Harris’ books.”

This is where this story becomes interesting. The Hoodoo Man was Steve’s third novel and it was his most successful, it put him on the map, and became his website’s name. But his career was all but over by the time his seventh novel was released and he retired at the end of the 90s. His career came to an end after his publisher was bought out and he was dumped. He had one completed novel he was shopping around, another in the works, and a third that had originally been intended as his sixth novel but was deemed too terrifying*. Harris’ novels went out of print and after no success in finding a new publisher, he retired from writing and ran to the hills**.

In this day and age, a writer in this situation would probably take their back-catalog and self-publish, then release their new material. Of course, a publisher would be unlikely to let an author go out of print. But it does make me wonder how many authors are in a sense lost to us because of the machinations of the publishing world. I guess they won’t be getting any money from me*** hunting down Harris’ back-catalog in the secondhand stores.

*The Switch was an attempt by Steve to bring the reader as close to feeling actual pain as possible. Back when his website was active I read an excerpt and can confirm that he succeeded. I have never looked at liver the same since.
**This bad reference to Iron Maiden’s bass player of the same name brought to you by the number 666.
***Obviously, Steve won’t be either.
http://www.shadow-writer.co.uk/kinter…

View all my reviews

Book Review: Riot Act by Zoe Sharp

Riot Act (Charlie Fox, #2)Riot Act by Zoë Sharp

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Those in council housing shouldn’t throw stones. Molotov cocktails are much better.

Charlie Fox is dog and house sitting in a rough neighbourhood for her friend. After some kids manage to seriously injure her neighbour during a robbery, a vigilante mob and a security group move into the area. Ulterior motives abound and Charlie is stuck in the middle of it all as the violence is let loose.

It has been awhile since I’ve picked up a Zoe Sharp thriller. After reading a couple several years ago I went on a spending spree, but haven’t gotten to them until now. I do enjoy reading a female lead thriller written by a female author. Zoe brings something very different to the story that you don’t get from her contemporaries in the genre – her writing has been compared to Lee Child, similar to how all comedy shows are compared to The Office.

Riot Act keeps the intrigue and action coming in steady measures. This was an enjoyable thriller.

View all my reviews

What genre is the 2008 book Outliers in? What are some similar books in that genre?

efc6e32f85a3821257e73ea41733271737e761e4853c341459263864ed2e6483

The book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is a popular example of fiction.

Outliers is probably most famous for promoting the idea of the 10,000 Hour Rule based on how many hours it will take you to get good at doing something. But like all good fiction, it ignores the reality of how skills are acquired.

Unfortunately, many people have mistakenly assumed that Gladwell’s writing should be classified as non-fiction pop-science, or even worse, factual. This has lead many researchers to waste time and resources showing that the 10,000 Hour Rule is nonsense, and that Outliers is pop-science at its worst – i.e. incredibly influential despite being clearly nonsense.

Reviewers of the book have noted the flaws in calling this book non-fiction*:

In an article about the book for The New York TimesSteven Pinker wrote, “The reasoning in ‘Outliers,’ which consists of cherry-picked anecdotes, post-hocsophistry and false dichotomies, had me gnawing on my Kindle.”[20]

In a review in The New Republic, Isaac Chotiner called the final chapter of Outliers “impervious to all forms of critical thinking”.[21]

And several researchers have debunked many factual claims made in the book*:

Case Western Reserve University’s assistant professor of psychology Brooke N. Macnamara and colleagues have subsequently performed a comprehensive review of 9,331 research papers about practice relating to acquiring skills. They focused specifically on 88 papers that collected and recorded data about practice times. In their paper, they note regarding the 10,000-hour rule that “This view is a frequent topic of popular-science writing” but “we conducted a meta-analysis covering all major domains in which deliberate practice has been investigated. We found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued”.[24]

Statistical analyst Jeff Sauro looked at Gladwell’s claim that between 1952 and 1958 was the best time to be born to become a software millionaire. Sauro found that, although the 1952–1958 category held the most births, “[a] software millionaire is more than twice as likely to be born outside the 1952 to 1958 window than within it.” Sauro notes that Gladwell’s claims are used more as a means of getting the reader to think about patterns in general, rather than a pursuit of verifiable fact.[25]

In fact, the 10,000 Hour Rule seems to irk people in the social sciences quite a bit. E.g. Practice Does Not Make Perfect – We are not all created equal where our genes and abilities are concerned.

Are there similar authors and similar books using misleading, cherry-picked, and tenuous research to make broad sweeping pop-science claims that make people feel good? Of course. Plenty of them. It is a minefield in the non-fiction section of bookstores, which I think should be more accurately renamed “Boring Fiction”. So I think it would be negligent of me to recommend more books like Outliers or authors like Malcolm Gladwell.

*Quotes taken from Wikipedia.

This answer originally appeared on Quora.

How can someone from Australia, get into an American University such as Harvard?

Widener Library, Harvard University
Widener Library, Harvard University

Australians have a proud history as the descendants of convicts. As such, there is no place we can’t break into if we so desire.

The first thing is the loooonnngg plane ride from Australia to the US. Due to US Customs, it is advisable not to bring your B&E equipment with you but rather acquire it from those new-world criminals in the USA.

The second thing is staking out the campus. Surveillance is the key to any decent break-in. You will need good notes from your observations to use in the next step.

The third thing is to have a plan for your break-in. Know your target, ingress point, egress point, contingencies, and make sure you have a cover identity setup just in case things go south.

The final point is to make sure your risk:reward ratio is balanced enough to make the operation worth it. There is nothing worse than putting the time and front money in place for low returns, especially if the penalties are high.

Of course, you could just send in an application to Harvard like every other Aussie student who applies to US universities. Maybe the ex-Harvard Student Association in Australia could be of help.

This post originally appeared on Quora.