A friend’s baby turns one this weekend, so I thought I’d make a gift for him rather than buying one. I then spent many (!) minutes scrounging around on craft sites, knitting sites and pinterest, hunting for a simple project. As always, I found the sheer volume of ideas for make-and-do overwhelming and stalled out more several times. But in the end I came across some adorable little crocheted animals. It turns out that they’re called amuragmi – and they’re really cute.

This is about when I reminded myself that the last time I made soft toys I vowed to never do so again… but 2012 is a whilxmasknits_dec2012e ago now… and amuragami are quite small… and there are heaps of free patterns available on the internet…. and I managed to talk myself into giving it a go.

The only tricky part, really, is that I’m not really much of a crocheter. I have crochet hooks, but only because I inherited them. To date I’ve made a few granny squares (in the dim and distant past) and a pair of glovens (last week), so making a crocheted toy was an interesting decision. Nevertheless, I boldly chose a simple pattern for a roly poly cat, then set about a YouTube video to teach me how to make a magic loop – which is the first stage of the process.

A few binned attempts later I now have all the elements crocheted and final assembly has commenced. So far the critter doesn’t look a whole lot like a the pattern, but it is kinda cute and I think 1-year-olds tend not to be too judgey, so I’m hopeful it’ll do the trick. Next time a smaller hook size, perhaps, and finer yarn.

Roly Poly Cat - construction phase

For many years I was convinced that living rurally would be fun, that moving to a lifestyle/hobby farm and getting back to basics Some of the backyard trees at Menagerie10would suit me to a T. I’d have the space to do my own thing, perhaps set up a proper art studio, get involved in the Country Women’s Association, start a co-op. The children could have horses and help in the veggie garden and we might even get a small cow… the possibilities seemed endless.

But by the time we moved to Australia (20+ years ago), I’d come to realise that I’m better suited to being a backyard farmer. I enjoy growing things on a small scale, so we planted lots of fruit trees and set up a vegetable garden. Since all of that keeps me on my toes, it’s pretty clear that the sheer scope of the day-to-day work entailed in establishing and maintaining an acerage would leave little time for anything else.

So why do people choose to move to the country? Is it because land is more affordable further from the city,  living costs can be relatively low and that living on an acreage promotes a task-focused approach? Perhaps it’s because of reduction in distractions allows one to live the dream… but is that enough? It’s such a huge step, often impacting work, family and social networks. Then there are issues such as whether the property is part of the integrated water supply scheme – and whether a dam or borehole is feasible if it isn’t (and even if it is). What about public transport, access to the nbn and availability of emergency medical and/or veterinary help?Gallifrey Forest Farm chickens and guinea fowl

I thought about all this quite a lot whilst house-and-animal sitting at Gallifrey Forest Farm for DaughterDearest over Easter. Relaxing on the verandah, gazing out across their small farm in the Perth hills, I could finally absorb just how much she and K have achieved – and understand their move more clearly.

From the first they devoted large chunks of time to laying the foundations on which to create their future food forest. Whilst this may sound straightforward, it was anything but as they were still living in the city. This meant that for a few years most weekends involved very early starts, filling water barrels, loading up gear and heading out for yet another day of improving the soil, digging swales, planting, watering, maintenance  work on the firebreaks, fencing, chasing the kangaroos and whatever else needed doing that particular week.

They put in beehives and planted more seeds, trees and shrubs, erected sheds to store their equipment – thereby limiting the amount of loading and unloading required each week, and put in their first water tank to reduce the need for weekly water deliveries for the plants. They made friends with their neighbours, erected chicken runs and, in due course, designed, built and moved into their house. This was the last step in the transition from being city-dwellers to living an hour outside the city in a semi-rural environment. They’ve solved so many of what I thougGallifrey Forest Farm Permablitz Dayht might be overwhelming problems with sheer determination, inventiveness and networking – and they’re having fun doing it.

A couple of weeks ago was testament to this. They held a permablitz event, inviting like-minded people to come round to help out on the property and to enjoy morning tea, lunch and camaraderie. And people came… even some complete strangers (who are no longer strangers) came. They (we) planted trees & seedlings, pulled out weeds, moved piles of sand and gathered fallen timber from the wooded areas. We got rained on from time to time. We met new people, laughed, ate delicious cake and generally had fun.

And I guess this is what makes it all worthwhile. It’s seeing a dream come to life, enjoying the magical sunsets and the quiet, kicking back in a hammock after a days work and sharing a meal at least part-made from what their land has produced. They’ve dared to dream big, they’re working hard to achieve their goals – and they remember to take time out, make new friends, connect with old friends, get help when they need it (permablitz days), hold dinner parties – and to pat their kittens.


Sunset at Gallifrey Forest Farm


This week I received a most beautiful and unexpected letter in the mail. Opening the plain brown envelope, I found an actual thought-out, pen-to-paper wonder that left me speechless and teary. It was from a fabulous young man, one I love dearly and who has been part of my ‘pack’ for almost two decades. When I first met him, he was finding his way – uncertain as to his path and about his prospects for the future. It was a joy to watch him become confident in so many different spheres, not the least of which was his welcome in our home. We witnessed him start to build a secure footing in the world and then embarking on journeys both emotional and intellectual that have shaped him over the intervening years. He always showed such promise – and this letter, this beautiful and moving missive, is indicative of just how very far he has travelled. My heart is full.

I’m often met with puzzled looks when I mention that I’m involved with a group called GenghisCon. “What on earth is that?” or “Did you say Genghis Khan?” or “Say what?” are fairly standard responses. Despite the relative frequency with which I get those responses, I’m always slightly taken aback. After all, it’s been part of my milieu for about 16 years…

So what exactly is a GenghisCon and how did it start?

Essentially, it’s a low-cost, max-fun 3-day geek annual convention. GenghisCon provides a range of activities from table-top gaming/roleplaying/LARP/console gaming to panel discussions on technology/gaming/geek culture/science/etc., as well as hands-on creative workshops. There’s even a one-day marketplace with traders and stalls, selling a wide range of geek loot, books and handcrafted items. We sometimes have water-balloon and water-pistol fights (because we can), tend to eat junk food and have been known whack each other (gently) with foam rubber swords 🙂

It all started in 2001 with DaughterDearest. A science fiction enthusiast and, at that time, a member of MARS (the Murdoch Alternative Reality Society), she’d become increasingly indignant at the cost of the then one-and-only science fiction convention in Perth.

“It’s iniquitous!” she ranted. “How do they expect students to afford those prices? And it’s not like it’s even fun anymore!”

As the annual convention drew closer, her litany of irritated exclamations escalated. Dinnertime conversations centred on the topic long enough for the parental unit (me) to eventually find it tedious. We’d thrashed the topic to death, we all agreed on the basic points and I was over it. So I suggested that instead of complaining, perhaps she should do something about it – perhaps start her own (low cost, max fun) convention…

One thing about DD – she does rise to a challenge – and this time she did so in spades. The next day she thrashed the idea around with some friends at MARS, several of whom were very keen to roll with it, and invited a few of them over to the old homestead to take the discussions to the next level. Before we knew it, we’d been invaded by a flurry of students and our whiteboard was being colonised with ideas, strategies, timelines and possible convention names.

deej at gcon1_2002This group included Danielle Linder (aka DaughterDearest), Mark Turnley, Douglas Linder (aka Boychilde), John Blahusiak, Wendy Macdougall, Colm Kiely, Mike Fineberg and Dean Caruana. By the second meeting they’d been joined by Zara Astle, Robyn Creagh and Msquared – who also thought the idea of an all-new max-fun convention rocked. Together, this happy band made up the first committee.

A lot of brain storming later the name GenghisCon emerged – a nod towards Genghis Khan, who’s empire changed the face of the world…logo_gcon banner3Having a name anchored the convention as a reality, after which things rapidly gained momentum. Robyn drew a Mongolian horse-shield/UFO logo, which remains the identifiable GenghisCon image. Grant Stone  agreed to be our Patron Saint and his tacit support of the new convention helped it to gain traction with the broader SF community. An affordable venue was found, a programme of events – with a strong focus on interactive fun – was devised, and some fundraising was undertaken to pay for the venue and to keep costs down.

A Brains Trust was set up: Himself had attended the very first Swancon (back in 1976), Sibling#1 had served as Treasurer on various Swancon committees, DrMark – a regular visitor and a long-time Swancon-er – had been on the Board of WASFF, Boychilde had uber computer skills, and I had helped to establish a couple of not-for-profits in the past. Between us we could offer suggestions on incorporation, insurance, finances and venue options when needed.

From there it was a relatively short step to the realisation of DaugterDearest’s core idea: a small, student-and-impoverished-fan oriented science and speculative fiction convention, with a strong emphasis on interactive fun. GenghisCon is now a Perth institution, with successive volunteer committees keeping to the basic premise of providing a small, friendly, fun, and inexpensive annual event.

It goes to show that a small group of people with a cool idea can make things happen. If you have an idea, why not start a club, build a convention, join a committee – get involved and create the culture you want to enjoy. If not you, then who?

GenghisCon 15 runs from 15-17 January 2016. Bookings are open now.genghiscon2004_M2pie2

After something of a hiatus, my epic-tome is finally moving forward again. My adventures in Tasmania have left me renewed, refreshed and only somewhat exhausted – but ready to focus on the final stages of production.

Since my plan is now to try self-publishing the tome as an eBook, there are a few hoops I need to jump through to get to launch point. First of these is to make some tough decisions about the cover design.

Given the number of eBooks in the market place, I feel that my cover image will need to be really eye-catching. This will (hopefully) get potential buyers to pause for long enough to become actual buyers. This sounds easy in concept but, for a first-timer in particular, it’s a little less so in implementation.

As is my way, I’ve spent an awful lot of time on the research phase, looking at book covers, both in book stores and online. Whilst there seem to be just about as many different styles as there are books,  only a fairly narrow range of these appealed to me and this had led me to the following conclusions:

  • there really isn’t enough space on a cover for more than a single image, the title and the author’s name
  • there needs to be a reasonably clear link between the cover image and the title – otherwise the potential reader is likely to move on to something less challenging/confusing (I certainly do)
  • the image needs to ‘pop’ as a thumbnail, to be sufficiently clear and eye-catching as to attract attention
  • the font selection needs big enough and clear. Crisp lines seem to work better, overall.
  • likewise, the cover needs to be one that can look good in colour (if used) and also in greyscale.

No presPhoto with permission, Lisa Ryesure, really…

Luckily it’s the end of the convention season, which meant that the creative talents of Lisa Rye have become available – much to my delight. Based on discussions over lunch at our first business meeting, she roughed out seven thumbnails and emailed them through for me to look through while I was in Tasmania. Super efficient.

Suddenly the tome has taken on a whole new dimension – it looks like a real book!

Choosing which image to run with took me much longer than expected, which is amusing since I ended up choosing the one I’d liked best when I first saw them! Lisa is currently developing the concept and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with. Watch this space for the grand reveal soon…

Of course, once a potential buyer has paused for long enough to admire the cover they need to find the text engaging as well. To this end, editiPhoto courtesy of Sandy Limng is all-important. I had the manuscript professionally assessed over a year ago and have had feedback from a number of beta readers since then, resulting in a number of minor revisions for clarity or consistency.

I think I’m on the home stretch now, with the help of talented writer/artist Sandy Lim. It’s been very interesting to have a fresh set of eyes on the manuscript. Sandy’s careful, professional editing and comments – some of which also reached me on holiday (!) – are proving to be most insightful and will result in a tighter, more readable product. No wonder she’s in demand 🙂

With all of this in mind, I’m off to a half-day self-publishing expo this coming Saturday. I’m hopeful that some gem(s) of information/insight will be forthcoming to push the process along. Maybe I’ll see you there…

writers expo_5dec2015