Don’t Be A Dick

Let me say that again: don’t be a dick. Four simple words with an equally simple message, but it seems there are those in the writerly community having a really hard difficult time not being dicks – some on a truly epic scale.

I’ve followed for a while the debacle that is the Hugos. I say ‘a while’ because it didn’t take long to become bored and disenfranchised with the whole thing, especially once it devolved into the slinging of poo from both sides. To say the Hugos have been irreparably damaged is an understatement. The honour of having ‘Hugo winner’ or ‘Hugo nominated’ stamped on the cover of your book has been lost. That’s a real shame. Will the awards recover? Only time will tell. Time, and whether Vox Day continues with his toxicity.

It was the perfect example of how ‘don’t be a dick’ would have helped those on all sides of the Hugo debate. Once you devolve into vitriol to further a cause (valid or not), you lose not only any sense of decency, but there’s a real chance you lose your reputation, and for writers, reputation is everything. No matter how good a storyteller you may be, if you’re a dick, you’ll find there are publications and editors that will refuse to work with you.

nice things

If only the dick-ness had been limited to the Hugos, but *le sigh* it wasn’t. Another spat broke out between authors that had political leanings (shades of the Hugos) at its core, which then resulted in one of those involved ‘one-starring’ the other author’s books on Amazon. Apparently this author isn’t a five-year-old child. Other authors were dragged into the mess, and yet again, playground behavior and bullying was the order of the day. Now I’m not saying all involved were ‘dicks’, some of those dragged into this acted with decency, common sense and rose above, but it was enough to spread quickly through the writerly community and draw more sad sighs, eye-rolls and mutterings of ‘again?’ from those sucked pulled drawn into the vortex.

Just recently I became aware of an instance of ‘dick-ness’ that struck a little closer to home, and which raised my ire. A friend and fellow author (who I won’t name for privacy reasons) was at an anthology launch where their story was listed as the lead – a well-deserved honour; it’s a wonderful piece. However another author (well-known in the genre) took it upon themselves to tear into my friend, stating without compunction that they’d paid to have their work included, that the story was shite, as was the antho (apart from dick-author’s work, of course), and that they wouldn’t be promoting it because all of the above.

This tirade was unprovoked and left my friend shocked and disillusioned with their work. I was furious. Still am, hence this post. I’ve little doubt that jealousy and the dick-author’s insecurities led to the words, but that doesn’t make it any way right. Not by any means.


Writers are an insecure bunch, myself included. We’re our own worst critics, and even those of us with publications (big and small) under our belt still have those moments of despair. When author friends have their successes we’re absolutely rapt for them, but there’s also a little stab of jealousy involved with those successes – we wouldn’t be human if that wasn’t the case. But here’s where the ‘don’t be a dick’ comes in (damn, these double-entendres are killing me). It’s simple really. If you feel like being a dick – don’t. Take any negative feelings toward another writer and turn it into the drive to write more, write better. Chanel that energy into non-dickness.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that writers are a solitary folk, that most of our time is spent in created worlds, but there’s a real joy in connecting with like-minded beings, with those who understand the intricacies and quirks that make you a writer. You need these connections, and not just on a publishing platform, but for your sanity. And if the Hugos, Sad Puppies, Rabid Puppies and all the other author-transgressions are anything to go by, that sanity and sense of community is slowly decaying.

We’re in this together, peeps. Writing is truly the best gig in the world; don’t turn it into a toxic playground by being a dick. Simple.

don't be a dick

Feeding the Soul

Saturday night I ventured into the heart of the best city in the world for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, which was set to the backdrop of the festival of lights – Vivid. It was a fantastic night that all started with a forty-five minute walk, and what a walk it was!

Streets were closed from the middle of the city all the way to Circular Quay and around The Rocks, and I can’t explain how much I enjoyed walking down the middle of George Street, surrounded by so many but revelling in the solitary exploration of my home town lit up like magic. Those forty-five minutes, free to walk and explore and indulge on my lonesome was food for the soul.

opera house

Sydney Opera House under lights

I’m not sure how many writers’ festivals have a light, music and ideas festival running concurrently, but more need to. The Sydney foreshore, which is always beautiful, was transformed into a city of the fantastique. There were so many things that drew my attention… and probably why I made it to the auditorium by the skin of my teeth.

I was in the audience for the ‘5 x 15’ – five speakers chat for 15 minutes a piece. No scripts allowed! It was an eclectic lineup, too. A cook, crime writer, investigative journalist, rapper/poet/novelist, and violinist. Something for everyone, I thought, but not everything for all.

I’m happy to say I was wrong.

We began with cook (and MasterChef winner) Adam Liaw. Now I’m not a cook, not by any stretch of the imagination, so I wasn’t quite sure how Adam’s words would apply to me, but… he was great! Sure, a lot of what he spoke about was food related, about breaking food down to its main elements and drawing from there. Pretty much like you do for fiction. Adam was engaging, amusing and more insightful than I imagined.


Next up was US crime writer Michael Connelly. Aah, fiction writer! I admit I haven’t read any of Michael’s books, but that will soon be rectified. He told us about his first novels (ones that will never see the light of day, which is always great to have in common), but I was most impressed with the research he undertook that turned his “crappy” novels into best-sellers. It’s the little things that count, the nuances of character, the attention to detail (no matter how small), that make a story. It’s this kind of information that’s invaluable to a writer, and I thank him for it.

Then came Kate McClymont. I’ve read a lot of her investigative pieces, especially with regard to the political shenanigans of our government – she’s very, very good, but I had no idea how funny she was. I’m sure she ran over time, but it didn’t matter. She had the auditorium in fits of laughter and entertained like a true show-woman. She was definitely going to be a hard act to follow.

Enter Omar Musa. Another Australian novelist/poet/rapper not on my radar. Now Omar had cheat cards, of which he readily confessed (but rarely looked at). Against the rules? Maybe. Did any of us care? Nah-ah. Omar is a finalist for the Miles Franklin Award for his novel Here Come The Dogs, and what he gave us was amazing. Part poetry slam, part biography, it was a feast of rhythm and verse and lyrical beauty told with an honesty that had me buy his book (and have it signed – he’s humble and happily chatted to all who came to him). It was brilliant. Just brilliant.

Here Come the Dogs

When the last speaker, concert violinist Richard Tognetti took the stage, he told us his 12-year-old son told him he’d better be funny as the previous speakers were amazing. Pressure much? Richard is one of the top violinists in Australia, and boy can he talk a million miles a minute! Nerves were definitely there, and at times, so fast did he speak it was difficult to keep track of where he was taking us. He had with him an extremely rare violin that was hundreds of years old – the history behind it (rapid though it was), was interesting, but when he put that instrument to his chin and played for us all… magic. He was transposed from this almost manic dialogue into a virtuoso of calm and beauty as he seemed to romance music from the violin. Such a fitting end to an incredible panel of speakers.

A special shout-out to the always lovely and quick-witted Diana Jenkins who emceed the event – amazing job!

After having my newly-purchased book signed by Omar Musa, it was off for drinks until there was only two of us left – me and my mate, Deb. We had a great (if not cold) stroll around the harbour foreshore, taking in the sights of Vivid, discussing the speakers and just generally laughing our arses off (as we tend to do when together).

peacock feathersfaces

The Argyle Cut and Martin Place Faces

For those of you who haven’t attended The Sydney Writers’ Festival, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a week-long event, with days and nights chock-full of panels and discussions, book launches, culture and heritage… there really is something for everyone. If you’re a reader, it’s a chance to connect with favourite authors and discover new. For writers, who really do tend to be solitary creatures, it’s a place to revel in your passion, to talk about stories and the realness of your characters (without those strange looks you sometimes get from non-writerly peeps), and connect with those who love what they do as much as you do.

For me? Well I got all of the above, and so much more. I’m inspired, determined and I learned – something a writer never stops doing. And I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

pyschedelic building

Now get thee to a writers’ festival!

Awards and Such Things

I meant to write this post before I left for my holiday but having two kids who’d rather video game than pack meant all my days blurred. But now it’s time to have a little chat about awards and such things most writers say they care little about but secretly (and sometimes not-so secretly) want. Sure, we write because we love it, because we’re driven to create words and worlds, because we’d go crazy if we didn’t, but recognition, be it via a sale, a kick-arse review, an award or recommended read is something every writer craves – that external validation that tells us we’re better than that little voice inside telling us we’re shit.

The first six months of the year are filled with awards (too many to list here), and the Australian Shadows Awards are the latest to hit my shores. Run through the Australian Horror Writers Association, it’s the premier awards for Australian and New Zealand horror that always presents really cool trophies – a different one each year, so you never know what you’re going to get.


I had a pony in this race under the ‘edited works’ banner as co-editor (with Geoff Brown) for SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror. It was a strong field, up against Simon Dewar’s Suspended in Dusk anthology, and SQ Mag (issue 14) edited by Sophie Yorkston, and with just a week to wait from finalist announcements to the reveal of the winner, it was Sophie Yorkston and SQ Mag who took out the win.

Was I bummed? Sure – who doesn’t want to win an award for the work they’ve put in? Did I edit the anthology with the hopes of winning an award? No. I edited the antho because I got to work with some amazing authors with equally amazing stories. Of that I’m proud. An award win would have been a nice shiny cherry atop a kick-arse cake.

SNAFU cover art

There were four other categories: short fiction, long fiction, novel, and collected works – all with diverse and strong entries, and I was crossing my fingers and toes that two of my buddies (and fellow Sydney SHADOWS boozers) would take out a win.

Huzzahs happened when Andrew J McKeirnan won for his amazing collection Last Year When We Were Young. This is a fantastic collection of shorts that I reviewed here. If you haven’t read it, get off your bum and seek it out – you won’t be disappointed. Andrew’s been a Shadows Award finalist… well, heaps, so it was about time he took out the win. I’m sure he felt the same.

True to form, Alan Baxter took out the win for the short story category with Shadows of the Lonely Dead. He had two nominated works in this category, so that just shows you how much of a damn fine writer he is. Head over to his website and check out his work then buy it. Go on. What are you waiting for?

The novel category was taken out by Aaron Sterns and Greg McLean for Wolf Creek Origins (yes, of the Wolf Creek cinematic fame). Nightmare-inducing fun this! Fun? Okay, so maybe my idea of fun is a little different from yours…

Shane Jiraiya Cummings won the recently renamed Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction with Dreams of Destruction. While I haven’t read this story, I’ve read Shane’s work and I’m not at all surprised he took out this category.

So I didn’t win an award this year – that’s okay. I’ve been a finalist for the Australian Shadows Award, had SNAFU listed as a recommended read on the Bram Stokers’ ballot list, and the reviews for SNAFU have been incredible. I call that a win. I’d be lying if I said it was the ‘win’ I was looking for; you see, I’ve won a Shadows Award for my short fiction, and that’s an addictive high. I want to win another. Hell, I want a win a slew of awards. When I get hit with that writer-imposteritis, the trophy that sits atop my desk tells me I can do this writing thing; that I’m good enough to win an award, no matter what that inner voice says.


The big winner here, though, is Aussie horror fiction, which is going from strength to strength, with recognition and appreciation for the power of Australian storytelling making those around the world sit up and take notice. And well they should.