I am a Melbourne based writer, primarily of speculative fiction. I find the writing process fascinating; the links below include examples of my work, fiction and non fiction, but also another story. How has a chapter evolved? How have places and the fictions of others informed and inspired my own. How do I research, develop ideas and turn them into narrative? Each page offers a different insight into the work and the story behind the work.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Understanding Western Civlisation

I have a polemic post about using Facebook status updates for creative writing in preparation, but for the time being, here is an addition I am making to the new PowerPoint Art page of the website.

The following was created for a purpose I will not elaborate here, it's function as a parody however I think will be reasonably obvious it you look at it more closely (click on image to enlarge).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Scaffolds of creation

The Witing Process page of this website is very much at an early stage; it is an area of the website whose genesis requires a lot of careful thinking, so it has ended up cooking at a much slower simmer than many other components of this project.

On this page it is my intention to present my findings from introspecting my own writing process, as a series of concepts or images. For example, the Kernels of Fascination section on the page will be about the way I have found it useful to 
bait the reader's curiousity by seeding unresolved questions or hooks of intrigue into the narrative of a story. 

I was inspired to create this Writing Process page - what is really a mini-project in itself - by reading the two volumes of Doris Lessing's autobiography (more information below), in which there are several extended passages where she introspects her own writing process in considerable detail. Lessing doesn't uses a series of images exactly, but she does at one point discuss the notion of wool gathering, which is what gave me the idea for the Writing Process page. In general this means daydreaming and has a fanciful or pointless connotation, but Lessing shows how for a writer it is an essential, legitimate and productive part of the creative process.

The image above is an example of a writing process image I have been thinking about of late. In this case I have also started to draft some thoughts to explore the image and what it means to me as a writer more fully. 

The image shows, of course, scaffolding being erected in preparation for the construction of a ship. I choose this image because it reminds me of how I may write a lot of prose or entire sections of a novel which do not make it into the finished draft, but they seem to be necessary preparation for the creation of the actual scenes or passages that do.

The path to bringing an artwork into being in many media and forms seems so contradictory, mischievous and even maddening. Sometimes it just happens, but oftentimes it seems to following phases of determination, sometimes premature confidence and delicious delusion punctuated by others of doubt, reappraisal and detachment.

There are times when what seems like a thing or creation in itself, is only the preparation for what finally emerges. When people have not experienced many many of these unpredictable circumstances, and persisted until the final work is before them, they can become terminally disillusioned with what they have done and abandon it. Yet, while it seems like a broken framework, like the bones of something that was once alive, really it is the essential scaffolding for the act of creation.


If you would like to learn more about Lessing's autobiography (and I would certainly recommend these books, particularly if you are interested in writing), below is some information on the books, reproduced from the list of non fiction books on the Researching Fictional Realities page of this website. 

Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 and Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949 -1962: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949-62
Doris Lessing
This is the two volume autobiography of Nobel Prize wining writer Doris Lessing, a white colonial native of the former state of Rhodesia, who has lived in the United Kingdom for many decades and is now in her 80s. She has written both general fiction and science fiction. This might not be specifically useful for building realities, but Lessing is very interested in how writing works, and introspects her own consciousness to discuss the writing process in some depth. I found it useful for understanding more about how writer’s construct realities and themselves through the writing process and hence understand and improve my own writing process.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Maps in the Mind

It is not the first time of course, but recently I was reminded quite vividly of how the maps we hold in our minds, and the true geography of our surroundings, can be rather different things.

The area surrounding the office where I work in Central Melbourne is very much urban in character. There are taller buildings to the south along the northern edges of the CBD, and smaller buildings to the North, at the lower edges of a residential suburb, but really the difference is only a matter of variance of scale.

Urban sprawl near the office

The residential streets north of my workplace

An average work day leaves me with a sense of not having seen much else other than concrete, glass and other architectural components. Although I have ranged fairly far afield on some days, it has always been in a defined area south and to the west of my office. Somewhat forlornly, I have often thought it would be nice if there were a park nearby I could sit in, or stroll through, at lunchtime.

Only a few weeks back, a colleague and I decided to take lunchtime walks together, inspired by a common desire to instill a slither more of fitness into our ageing frames than had previously been the case. And it so happened that the first day we ventured out, he led the way, and within five minutes we were walking through the trees, lawns and flower beds of... Carlton Gardens - a fairly substantial park with plenty of lawns, trees and other non architectural features... though one's architectural fascinations could be equally indulged given that the centre of the park is occupied by the 19th Century Melbourne Exhibition Centre and more modern Melbourne Museum.

I was quite astounded by this.

I had of course known where Carlton Gardens were... or thought I did. I had in fact spent nearly two years working at a location, unaware the Gardens were a few minutes away, left me feel somewhat sheepish and even a little regretful for lost opportunities to escape the urban sprawl.

The trouble was, I knew Carlton Gardens from taking a particular route into Central Melbourne and travelling that route by Tram - for 18 months I did this almost every weekday. Since moving to a different part of Melbourne, I also traveled to my office by Train and Then by tram. The long ingrained habit and experience of encountering the park through a particular route and via public transport, had somehow left me with map of the City in my head, such that two locations almost next to one another were fifteen or more minutes apart in my imagination. The map below demonstrates this.

It is not that I don't know Melbourne pretty well, it is just I know parts of it in different ways because of particular paths and purposes I have followed.

The maps of reality we make in our mind, are often it seems, maps of habit, which in turn it seems can become limited realities.

I am sure I am not alone in this sort of thing. So perhaps you too might want to take 5 mins walk in a direction not usually traveled. Who knows what other reality, there all this time, you might discover.

Here are some photographs of what I now get to enjoy across more than a few lunch breaks these days.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Peculiar World of PowerPoint Art

My Facebook portrait for Christmas 2012

I spent many years working on presentations in PowerPoint. It's not exactly a leading edge design tool, but it has a range of decent functions for handing shapes and text, and a library of clip art big enough to convey most common objects and concepts.  If you are reasonably proficient in it, it's easy to quickly throw together a visual idea that looks polished enough to have a certain sheen of authenticity. It can be done in a few minutes usually and certainly in less than an hour, unless you are attempting something hideously complex.

In the process of writing, I find I end up with lot's of snippets of ideas that do not really have enough gravity or are suitable to build a complete narrative around, and of course one just gets little ideas and notions anyway. Over the past few years, on a rainy evening, or occasionally at work when I have been roadblocked with whatever project I have been working on or needed to get my mind into a different space for problem solving, I have taken some of these snippets and created PowerPoint 'Art' with them. Sometimes I have also done messages or little electronic cards in the same way, the image above is an example; I substituted my own photograph on Facebook with this self portrait during Christmas last year.

Besides getting an outlet for some of those unused ideas, working in a visual medium where one can create a finished piece in minutes or an hour or so, as opposed to the days or weeks it takes to create a story or part of one, can be liberating and refreshing.

Following are a selection of these PowerPoint images. Some are just gimmicky or silly thoughts, some are complete stories. I add a bit of explanation here and there. This will also be added to the website as a page shortly.

As ever, click on an image to enlarge it

Loch Ness Road Sign
This is one of a number of imaginary road signs I did a few years back while I was working on a rather tedious project and needed a break every now and again doing something more imaginative. Something like this only takes a few minutes to do, if you have the right clip art, so it's a good quick breather from a monotonous task.

I like the way using our familiarity with the visual language of officialdom makes something unreasonable seem almost perfectly reasonable.

No Smiling 9-5 Weekdays
Another sign, but done two or three years after the one above. This was done as a bit of ribbing of a colleague who was constantly optimistic. She responded by creating her own version that said pretty much the opposite, and blu tacking it to my computer. Touche!

Grumpy Self Development Poster
I am sure most of us know those posters you sometimes see in offices, ostensibly to encourage us and the world to be a better place. I have often found them to have a naive and somewhat irksome dimension, hence this rather sarcastic take on the genre. Again, this is an example of how you can co-opt or subvert something by using our familiarity with its conventions but changing the meaning.

Super Scapegoat Poster
This is similar to the above, except it is actually using the same kind of format to convey what many might feel is a valid point about office life or life in general.

I-Phone Worship
I don't have an I-Phone and to me a phone is just a thing that I talk on periodically and I use instead of a watch and an alarm clock. Hence the unbridled fascination others have for Apple's latest walkie talkie gadget of all things feels a bit peculiar. The piece below is an expression of how passion for the device appears to an unbeliever... or at least THIS unbeliever.

Politics and PowerPoint Art
The following two images are gut reactions to current affairs I posted up on Facebook rather than a rant in words. The first was done during the recent US presidential election and the second during the Japanese 2011 earthquake and Tsnami. As to what they mean, I will let them speak for themselves.

Percy Smythe-Higgins and the Eye of the Needle
This is actually a story idea I didn't feel I could make work as a complete written story, or at least have not found a way yet to do so. A colleague of mine uses colour print outs of some of these PowerPoint images as an ice breaker or initial talking point when meeting with scientists and engineers, and I created the image below specifically for that purpose.

Project X
The following two images are actually visual clues for a game I have been developing over the past year or so. I won't say exactly what they are for or what they mean, as it is something that might have a commercial dimension, but I guess they kind of work on their own as whacky and intriguing images.

Shape Talk
And finally, a little cartoon. I have never really got the hang of the cartoon medium, but this is a little stab at it I made one day when the rather odd thought occurred to me of what shapes might say to one another if they were just like people.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The archaic world of the Facebook status update

I realised something today that has been glaringly obvious for quite some time but for some reason had not become clear in my mind. Whenever you type anything in Facebook you are essentially stuck in a kind of pseudo pre-computer era of typography and communication. The more I think about it the more bizarre it seems. 

Facebook has been around since 2004. Yet, x million-billion whatever users are still stuck with typing in one font, with the same line space and in black and white. Actually it is even more primitive than that. At least with an old fashioned typewriter you could bold words by typing over again, adjust line spacing and underline.

Most computer screens today are capable of 24 bit colour, allowing for millions of displayable colours and you have to go back over 20 or 25 years to reach an era when most computer screens were only capable of black and white, which is one bit colour.. well allowing for the fact in those days it was usually white, green or orange on a black background, which is the same thing in bit terms. 

Even allowing that crazy colour choices and whacky fonts - which many will use like rabid addicts if given the chance - potentially make messages hard to read, given Facebook is such a widespread means of communication, it is startling that even rudimentary means of indicating meaning through typeface such as bold and italic are missing. You can of course uses CAPS, but that hardly seems like a leading edge innovation.

Facebook; the state of the art in modern communication; any colour you like, as long as it is black. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Desktop street art

I am not an artist, but I once was to some degree; many years ago I drew quite regularly, created illustrations for my fiction and painted in water colour and sometimes in oils. Later I worked as a computer graphic artist for a number of years. While most of my work was various types of corporate design and animation, after work hours and during lunchtimes I also experimented artistically with the computer graphics software of the time.

One of the reasons I suspect I was drawn to street art and ended up creating the Melbourne Street Art 86 site, is that it reminded me a lot of the sort of work I did on early computer graphics systems (this is the late 1980s and early 90s I am talking about). Those early systems were 8bit, which only allowed you 256 colours, but you could create vignettes of 10-15 colours at a time and use shapes filled with these to create an illusion of shading. The later systems were full 24 bit or 32bit, as all paint software is these days. On those more sophisticated systems you had airbrush tools, which are a kind of electronic version of the aerosols paints most street artists use.

Another similarity is that the colours on a computer screen are luminous, as is the paint used in many street art peices. I suspect this is because some of the paint they uses is fluorescent - fluorescent paint includes particles whose molecules are 'excited by some spectrum of the suns rays and actually give off visible light. So when some street art looks as though it glows in sunlight, it probably actually is.

Having spent many hours photographing and 'curating' street art on Melbourne Street Art 86, I was curious to see what happened when I tried to envisage some art of my own, using some of the 'vocabulary' of the art I have seen recently.

I sat down at lunchtime today and freeform sketched a few ideas. The page is shown below.

I have now spent a bit of time working up some rough colour versions of the ideas I had sketched.

Here, for better or worse, they are.

The first one started out as a idea for a solar system like an eye and I had sketched an eyebrow above it on the sheet above. The tears came quite spontaneously after I created the basic shapes and once I had added them, it seems natural somehow to evolve the image into a kind of cosmic face.

The end result is too dark really, but seems reminiscent of the work of James Reka, which I often enjoy when I come across it.

But I came back to it a bit later in evening and tried some other variations, until I ended up with something more less elaborate.

I think this is a kind of play on ancient Greek architecture and the fascination of some philosophers with  geometric forms. It also perhaps echoes the characters that often accompany the elaborate calligraphic names street artists uses. I didn't have time to create something that elaborate though.

Here is a version that is simpler...

This seems to echo the stencil form in street art.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Urban fairies in the mirror

Yesterday I walked along Little Lonsdale Street, along near the top edge of the central area of Melbourne. I had noticed earlier in the day how many mirrored windows there are on the RMIT campus where I work (the three photographs above). I and had spent a short time photographing some of them on my way back to the office from delivering some documents. I gained a taste of the reflected world during those few minutes, but I was rushed and it was not enough.

I have been spending so much time with my eye and camera lens focused mainly at street level of late I think whatever part of my consciousness is involved with discovering and capturing the world in the photographic frame, needed to experience a certain sense of liberation. Yet somehow photographing aspects of the city above eye level directly felt unsatisfying, and the reflections I had seen earlier were still intriguing me.

Reflections are always less bright than their original twins, and they are a kind of illusion, so in a sense it is a little strange that I might try to find liberation in them... or was I seeking escape?

But I suppose mirrored surfaces also transmit a sense of expanded dimension and of angles and views that cannot be otherwise experienced from where one is standing. This is especially the case with reflections in mirrored glass high up on tall buildings; sometimes there is a sense as though one can see what only a soaring bird might see.

There were many examples of reflections, both closer to the ground and upon surfaces a dizzy distance above the head along Little Lonsdale Street and I hungrily sought them as I progressed from east to west across the city.

There are a selection of the photographs I took below.

When I look at most of them I experience a warm feeling of intrigue and even a little dash of mischievousness.  I cannot quite explain why, but somehow it feels as though these are photographs of fairies or unidentified and mysterious beings, not precise lines of architecture and inanimate artificial surfaces.

But then, the glass is not perfect and the reflections shimmer and even sparkle at times. The city may not have any fairies and magical beings, but in these reflections, for me at least, are glimpses of a city that has.