Chocolates on my desk

A bag of chocolates is sitting on my desk. I can’t decide whether it’s being cruel to me, or kind.

I don’t particularly like chocolate; I’ve never been a sweet tooth. Always more of a savoury person. This bag of chocolates, though, was a gift. From a chocolate factory down south.

From her.

The pain, when I think of her, is excruciating. The fog of self-pity rises around me, thickens, threatens to drown me.

The bag might as well say, “My soon-to-be-ex went on a holiday, and all I got was this bag of chocolates.” All I got after thirty years. From “soulmate” to “so long, mate”.

It’s not really fair of me to say it like that. But the word fair has lost all meaning. Who is fair anymore? What is fair anymore? Is it fair that football players on the world stage get to cheat the ref and not suffer any consequences? Is it fair that world leaders get to bully and belittle, to do nothing about incompetence and greed and instead encourage racism, sexism, and xenophobia, to be the worst kind of role model? To rip apart agreements that tried to set the world on a better path and to rip apart families whose only sin was to seek a better life for their children? That those who screech “Immigrants out!” conveniently forget or ignore their own ancestry?

Is it fair that I, who never strayed, who believed with all my heart that our love was strong enough to withstand anything, whose love didn’t stop, who dedicated all my loyalty and devotion to my family, should now… should now… damnit, here comes the fog again.

I think I need to take a break from writing for a short while. Not that this was much so far, but… it’s hard. I hope that the fog will dilute enough to let me breathe for a while, disperse enough to let me forget – well, ignore – the self-pity for a bit.

Maybe I’ll catch some more of that series I’ve just started watching. The Handmaid’s Tale. Think of something else, you know, take my mind off things. Think of how much more horrible the world could be if the holier-than-thou morons who made the sociopathic con artist their king were running the world. I thought it was bad back when they made the village idiot their king, but oh, how wrong I was. At least he was a well-meaning idiot who knew he was an idiot and listened to smarter people. This one thinks that his delusions of mediocrity are real, and that he can blunder his way through any stuff-up by stuffing up more and then pointing to it, and by calling those who call out his lies liars, but more loudly. How do so many people fail to see that for what it is?

I could go on, but it won’t solve anything, nor ease my depression. Oops. There, I’ve said it. I’ve acknowledged my affliction. Publicly. Should I admit that it got bad enough that I had to go seek professional help? Better not. No, I’ll keep that to myself and go watch another episode now. Break-time. Continue writing later.




Back now. And all I can think of is how much I’m like Offred, lying there helplessly, not understanding, while the cold, dispassionate universe fucks me over and someone who should be on my side is holding down my wrists.

It’s not all bad, of course. It’s still amicable, for the kids’ sake, but also because she just won’t stop being nice. I’ve tried getting myself to hate her, thinking it would ease the pain a little. I couldn’t. It’s just not how I’m built, even when I’m broken.

I just have to remind myself time and time again that I need to fight hard every moment so that the thin layer of self-control that is stretched tight over my emotions doesn’t burst. They’re just beneath the surface; I can feel them writhing, but I constantly have to push them back when I’m around her. She’s moved out into the shed that was once a guest room, but to minimise the impact on the kids (who have been so great, so mature, so supportive), she’s staying around, still helping out with everything even while she needs to struggle to get her own life into a solid stance.

So many things I can no longer allow myself to feel, or to act on. Don’t reach out and caress her face, don’t push that strand of hair behind her ear, don’t even casually touch her shoulder in passing. Pockets. Pockets are a safe place for your hands. Don’t laugh too much when one of the kids says something funny, because it could so quickly turn into pathetic blubbering.

I only ever had one battle plan for facing life: grow old together with her. That was it. Simple as that. That was all I needed. That’s completely blown out of the window now. There was never a Plan B. Her and me, that was a given, and with her I’d be able to overcome anything. But depression sneaks up on you, a silent assassin, staying in the shadows so you never see it, so you don’t even become aware you’re under attack. It made me do exactly the wrong thing: withdraw more and more from those closest to me. It let me think I could and should deal with this myself, it lulled me into believing I just had to wait until I felt better. What a fool I was. And then came the bombshell.

I tried to fight. I tried to reason. I tried to understand.

I lost. I couldn’t make her see. I still don’t get it.

The indentation on my ring finger is fading, but it refuses to go away completely, even though I took off the golden circlet, which naïvely claimed, “Forever yours”, more than a couple of months ago. The dent is a constant reminder of what I once had, and what is now gone. Never again one of those awesome hugs that let you forget everything else. Never again falling asleep next to her, waking up next to her.

Some nights, the loneliness can be crushing. Nightmares are bad, but having pleasant dreams, and then realising a few seconds after you wake up that they can never become reality again is so much worse.

Some days are bearable. Sometimes food is actually starting to be semi-enjoyable again. Most days, like (mostly) life in general, it’s just bland. Working helps. Work is sanity, people there are great, and I get to solve problems and help people. A select few there know, and are incredibly supportive.

I’m in a holding pattern. All I can do is hope that getting back to writing helps the way it used to. That time will do what they say it can do. Writing about something negative used to always help me deal with it, by getting stuff off my chest, by letting me get my thoughts in order, by forcing me to admit something to a white screen, and thereby to myself. The way it feels now, I doubt this wound can ever heal completely, but perhaps the pain can lessen enough to let me hobble on towards the small light at the end of the tunnel with an emotional disability.

The little bag of chocolates is still sitting there next to my PC, looking at me. It’s not that I mind chocolate, and that particular kind is probably what I would’ve picked if I’d had to pick one. And it was given to me with the kindest of intentions. Maybe I’ll try some soon, but right now, for some reason I can’t really explain, that would feel like I’m not being true to myself. Or it could be that some masochistic part of me wants to feel that pain. I really don’t know anymore.


For anyone who has ever lost someone, or lost someone’s love, or felt blue or depressed for any other reason, my heartfelt advice is not to suffer through it by yourself like I tried to initially. Start by admitting to yourself, and then to one or two loved ones, what you’re going through. Seek professional help if you need it, be that face-to-face or via a helpline. If that sounds too scary, find something online by googling “depression helpline” or similar. In Australia, you could go to, and I’m sure there’s an equivalent in most other countries. It may sound silly, but… don’t be alone alone.

Dear America: Please stop, you’re scaring me

Right, so you’ve had your fun, America, but it’s time we had a serious talk. Yes, that talk. About your Donald.

I mean… what the fuck, guys?

In order for this to work, I’m going to have to be honest with you. I hope that’s ok, because I don’t want to upset you. I may use language that will offend some. This will not be over quickly. You will not enjoy this. I am— wait, hang on. Those aren’t my lines. Ah, here they are. Yes. Sorry. I’ll have to say some things you may not want to hear. Sometimes the truth hurts, but in the end you’ll be the better for it. As will the world. So take a deep breath, maintain an open mind, and read on. Yes, all of it.

Fezzik and Inigo

Fezzik, don’t hurt me, but we need to have a serious talk…

It started out as something for the rest of us to laugh about. You had this candidate who was some sort of celebrity in the States, some guy who did a reality TV show, and he was saying some ridiculous things about, well, about anything and everything, about the other candidates, about himself, about politics, about the world. Things no one could really take seriously, and it was obvious that it was just a publicity stunt, just a small… I mean, average-sized middle finger towards the politicians in Washington, who’ve grown stale and cynical and petty, obsessed with their little power games, who have perverted politics and turned it from something that is supposed to help the people of one of the biggest countries into something that only helps the politicians and the lobbyists and the large corporations who are willing to pour money into it to get their way, whether it’s good for anyone other than themselves or not.

I chuckled when my kids, who aren’t really interested in politics – not even Australian politics, let alone world affairs – asked me whether a guy who said those kinds of outrageous things could actually become president over there in faraway America. “Don’t be silly,” I told them, “there are millions of people over there, there’s no way he can fool that many. He’ll drop out of the race soon, thinking he made his point, but no one is taking him seriously.” Because deep down, I knew that there were three types of people who would support a man of his ilk:

  1. those actually dumb enough to believe all his blatant lies,
  2. those fanatical enough and/or filled with enough hate at whatever minority or fringe group Donald is throwing under the bus today, and
  3. those who get what type of person he is but are willing to support him anyway, just to send a giant “Fuck you!” to Washington.

I just had no idea how many of each there actually were.

An election anywhere is almost never about just one or two issues. It’s about a whole bunch of them. Only parochial idiots pick just one or two issues on which to base their decision which way they’ll vote. Sadly, America has many, many more such parochial idiots than I’d suspected. Not you, of course – you’re still listening (well, reading), so you’re clearly not parochial, and you’re comprehending most of what I say, so you clearly can’t choose the wine in front of… apologies, mixed up my lines again (inconceivable!). I meant, you’re not that stupid. But there is an astounding number of people in group #1. The same goes for group #2. A frightening number of them, too. I suppose in a nation that large, a nation that doesn’t attempt to suppress free speech and free will (no, no, I also think those are good things, calm down), there have to be many who take their opinion to the extreme.

Now the next part may be difficult for Americans to understand. I’ll try to break it to you gently. You’re sitting down? Good. You see, we – the vast majority of the rest of the rational world, that is – actually think Obama is a really good president. And we think Drumpf – I mean, Trump – well… hey, do you remember Chernobyl?

What’s that you say? You’re the greatest nation on earth and you don’t care what the rest of the world thinks about you?

Let’s start with the second part of that – you really should learn to care what we think of you. You’re part of the world, too, and just the same way as kids grow up and become more mature and learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that they have their rights but also their responsibilities, and that certain compromises have to be made so that everyone can get along, so you, too, need to learn that you’re part of Planet Earth’s big family, and with the sandpit becoming more and more crowded, you don’t want to be the kid that no one wants to play with, do you? Yes, it’s very important that you get your own affairs in order, but do you really think you need to shut everyone else out in order to do so?

As for the first part, about you being the greatest nation on earth… you’re still sitting down, right? Well, aaactually… you’re not. Not really. Sorry. Don’t get upset, now, I warned you about this, remember? We still like you and respect you. Let me explain.

You’ve done some really great things for this world – yes, you make most of the best movies over there, good example, but I also meant technologically and scientifically – but in some other respects, you’re kind of – remember what I said about not getting upset, okay? – you’re kind of the barbarians among, for lack of a better expression, the “civilised nations”. How can I say that? Well, think about it. The death penalty. Do you really think it’s helping with your crime rates? At all? Do some research yourself – please. It’s barbaric, it’s inhumane, it’s uncivilised. Your obsession with guns is another one. No, hang on now – I understand about your second amendment rights, but do you even remember what time these rights came from, and why they were added to your constitution? Fighting violence with more violence, really? This isn’t the Wild West anymore, you know. Look at other countries, look at how they’ve managed to make it work without everyone owning guns. No, no, their crime rates are actually lower, because— Okay. Uh-huh. You see, in other countries they— You don’t want me to explain? All right. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one, then. Don’t shoot me.

My way's not very sportsmanlike

Not everyone in the world is barbaric, guys.

But let’s get back to Donald. (Oh goodness, I just realised that the whole not-the-greatest tangent could be misinterpreted as agreeing with that silly “Let’s make America great again” slogan, but explaining how the ways in which Donald wants to make your country great have nothing to do with greatness would take too long.)

I was talking about those three groups who support him. Yeah, ok, scroll up and refresh your memory. Back? Good.

The ship has sailed for group #2, that is, the alt-right white supremacists and the other gun-toting idiots who’d like nothing better than to be able to shoot everyone who’s different from them. They’re beyond hope. All we can do for group #1 is to hope that someone slightly smarter than they are has the patience and/or the clout to explain to them how they’re wrong, or that they’ll finally get the drift that they’re on the losing side, and in their finite wisdom decide they’d rather back a winner.

No, my appeal would be to group #3, and my argument would be three-fold. (What? Oh, it means I have three main points. You’re welcome.)

Firstly, I’d like to point out that the “Fuck you!” has been heard loud and clear in Washington. Change won’t come overnight, but keep sending that message (no, without voting Trump, dammit!), and change will happen. It’s a worthy message – just please use a different envelope. The Brits tried to send that message, and it worked a bit too well. So well, in fact, that the first thing they tried to do once they realised that their “Fuck you!” vote had won and they’d be cleaning up the mess it caused for years, they wanted to re-vote because, well, they hadn’t really been serious about actually winning. Your “Fuck you!” could backfire on America much more spectacularly than the Brexit.

Secondly, have you actually listened to Donald talk? I mean, not just to play point-and-laugh – actually listened to his messages? With anything approaching a triple-digit IQ, you should’ve long ago figured out that he’ll say anything he thinks you want to hear. He obviously has no scruples, no conscience, no morals. He has an uncanny knack for knowing what people fear, and he loves to stoke that fear. He constantly thinks he can get away with spouting one outrageous lie after another, and whenever faced with clear evidence that he is wrong, he’ll just resort to calling everyone else liars. He calls himself a winner because he’s trampled on, bullied and cheated people, and used his father’s money and influence to get to where he is.

Do I even need to mention his bankruptcies? Or the ugly things he’s been saying about women, about Mexicans, about African Americans, and who knows what other groups? Now, given all that… is that really the sort of person you want running and representing your country? You want him to blunder his way through delicate diplomatic channels when lives are at stake? Butter up an unbelievably dangerous leader like Putin, not realising what he’s doing? Rip to shreds agreements about climate change that are finally putting us in the vicinity of having a chance to save our planet? Offend nations by groping the women in their delegations? (Because if he believed he can get away with that when he was just a real estate tycoon, what’s he going to think he can get away with once he’s President?) Throw entire international markets into turmoil and gamble with other people’s money because of his unpredictable nature? (Think I’m kidding? Read some serious articles that explain why he’s the biggest danger to international stability the world has ever faced.)

Need I go on? Please consider what kind of a country – and world – you’d create if you voted him into office.

The sound of ultimate suffering

And thirdly, imagine what kind of message that would send to your children, and your children’s children, and… you get the point. By making Drumpf your president, you’d be telling them that it’s ok to bully people, to grope and objectify women, to behave like an oaf as long as it’s entertaining, to disrespect minorities, to lie, to claim all sorts of untrue things about people who disagree with you.

My grandfather fought in World War II. For Germany, actually. Yeah, he was a Nazi when he was young. He’s passed away years ago, but I remember speaking to him about it, and him shaking his head in shame, saying that it all sounded so believable and convincing what the guy was saying, and that for the longest time he’d held on to the belief that all the ugly things they were hearing about their national hero couldn’t possibly be true. There was a guy who was going to “make Germany great again”, they thought. You may not see them, but there are so many parallels there, it’s scary. Seriously scary. Don’t be caught in a situation where something bad happens that you did nothing to stop and suddenly it’s an out-of-control train wreck and all you can do is watch. And despair.

So, in the name of all that is good and right in this world, I beg you: please, let common sense prevail. No matter what you think of Hillary, she can’t be worse than Donald. Impossible. This many awesome celebrities can’t be wrong.

Please, please, go and vote next month to let a loud and clear “Fuck you!” echo around the world to reach the ears of people like Donald Trump.

They need to hear it even more than Washington.

Save the day. The world will thank you.

Fezzik, you did something right!

R U Ok? Yeah, I am… now

Today is officially “R U OK? Day“. And, as much as I despise the Twitter-gen shortening of two already-quite-short words, this is the first time I feel like I can identify with it. Not that I’m suicidal or anything like that, but I do feel as though I’ve been through the wringer a bit.

What is R U OK? Day?

If you don’t know, R U OK is an organisation founded in Sydney in 2009 that attempts to fight suicide and depression by getting people to ask each other a simple question, “Are you ok?” To really ask, and to listen to the answer, and to dig a little if needs be to find out whether someone is really doing ok, or maybe struggling with some issue or other. One of the critical factors in depression and how people deal with it is a sense of disconnection from others around them. Talking about it can be the first step in the right direction, and as with so many things, we have a dedicated day (the second Thursday in September) to remind us about it, but of course it’s a good idea all year round.


To explain why I can now identify more with depression, I’ll have to go back a few months in time. And talk about my work.

I’m a geek; I write software and websites, server-side programming, user interfaces, Agile development, that sort of thing. Might sound boring to some, but I love it, and I’m very good at what I do. For many years, I’ve successfully worked in the IT industry as a contractor, meaning I hire out my services to companies or organisations who need my expertise. Contracting has its pros and its cons over being a permanent employee (permie). You get paid quite well, and you get paid by the hour – no fixed annual salary – meaning if there’s a deadline and more than 40-hour weeks or 8-hour days are required to meet it, you get paid accordingly. (Quite often in the IT industry, as a permie, you’re expected to work more than the number of hours you’re expected to work as per your work contract.) Of course, if the place you work for runs out of work, you’re among the first that get the boot. You also don’t get paid leave – if you get sick or want to take a holiday, you don’t earn money. So you typically get paid for about 42-46 weeks per year, but the higher rates more than make up for that.

Before my most recent contract, I’d contracted for six employers, and in each case was offered multiple contract extensions, typically in 3-, 6-, or 12-month chunks. I’ve been offered permanency, and in a couple of cases worked for the same company for several years. In three cases I was asked to come back (and did) when they had new work and knew that I was familiar with their systems and could hit the ground running to help out where it was most needed. I had great relationships with those employers, and still keep in touch with several of them (they’re great references when I apply for a new job).

Then my employer ran out of work for me, and I applied for a contract with… let’s call them Company XY. It was supposed to be a one-off two-and-a-half-month contract for a small piece of work with technology I was familiar with. Such short-term contracts aren’t usually my thing, but the timing was right with one week off after the end of the previous one, and I signed a contract with them via a recruitment company. It was a slow start, I had to wait two or three days before I had a PC set up at my new workplace and could log into every system I needed to. I was told that they didn’t have a business analyst (BA) on this project, as the technical architect knew everything there was to know about the business requirements, and had written an extensive document detailing everything.

I got to work, found that the code base was an awful ugly mess written and modified by several different people over time who all had a knack for different anti-patterns. Well, I can deal with that, did some cleanup as I worked my way into the code and became familiar with what it was that they wanted me to do. Until I found that the architect’s document had a logical flaw in it. It had a diagram (a flow chart) with text below explaining the logic, only the diagram and the text contradicted each other. I talked to the architect, showed him the document, and asked – always professional, always polite, at least that’s what I thought – which one was right, i.e. which version to implement. He disagreed that there was even a discrepancy, got confused when I explained my unit tests to him, and told me to just do what the document said.

In hindsight, I suppose the guy felt I’d stepped on his toes, or challenged his authority or something, even though I never brought this up in meetings with the project manager. After two and a half weeks, I’d completed roughly 80% of the work for which they’d allocated two and a half months, and was getting to the point where I really needed a decision on which version of the logic to implement. I tried several different approaches with the architect, finally creating a spreadsheet with a matrix defining all the possibilities and filling it in based on one of the two possible interpretations. He said I had it all wrong, created a matrix of his own, and when I went to his desk to tell him that I now got what the misunderstanding had been, he gruffly told me to “Go away!”

I did, and stayed home the next day due to what I thought was a stomach bug, but maybe it was just a really bad feeling in my gut.

I got a call that afternoon from the recruitment guy telling me that Company XY had terminated my contract effective immediately, and that I shouldn’t come back to their workplace but I should arrange for someone to bring my security pass to their reception and to pick up my private belongings.

I was flabberghasted. I was gutted that this sort of thing could happen.

I explained to the recruiter what I thought had happened, and asked to talk to the project manager and other people, to at least tell my side of the story, but the company refused to communicate with me, except to tell the recruiter that their decision was final. I received an email from the recruiter where he’d copied-and-pasted the reasons they had given for the contract termination, and they were all bogus. It seems they weren’t confident that I could complete the required work in time (I was close to done, with plenty of time left), and something about a lack of communication that didn’t register enough for me to even remember it now. I guess the project manager had bought whatever the architect was saying about me, and some other factors played into it as well that I’ll get to later.

In a daze, I arranged for a friend of mine (who still works there; I’ve known him for years) to get my security pass and to tell him what stuff I’d left on my desk. I was sick of it all, sick to the stomach, literally and figuratively. I decided I needed a bit of time off, didn’t feel like looking for other work right away. I binge-watched some series, played computer games, read some books – anything to keep my mind occupied, keep it from having to figure out what I’d done wrong and what I should do about it.

On the way back up

More time passed than I’d intended, and by the time I started browsing job opportunities again, I had so little enthusiasm for a job that’s always been my passion that I didn’t put as much effort into it as I should have. It took about three months before I found another job – as a permie now for the first time in many years, because I’m too scared to sign on as a contractor where they can do that sort of thing to me. I feel much better about myself again, but I can’t deny that it was a pretty dark time. Part of that shadow still hangs over me somewhere, and will take longer yet to shake off completely.

I’m a very lucky person in that my wife is the most wonderful, most selfless, most loving person in the world. Without her constant encouragement, without her support, I would’ve become lost in my darkness. She knows me so well, knows when to let me sulk or lick my wounds, when and how to cheer me up, when to let me know with a quiet look that she’s always there for me. I can easily see how someone’s downward slide could continue without that type of support.

The occasional rejections from literary agents to whom I’d submitted my work didn’t help during that time, but I’d sort of accepted that that would happen (that glimmer of hope is friggin’ hard to kill, though!).


Of all days, today (even if I technically posted this just after midnight…), on R U OK? Day, I had a chat with a colleague at my new place of work. Guess where she’s worked before? Yep – Company XY. Guess which architect once made her cry at work, and made a former colleague of hers almost have a nervous breakdown? It’s a small world. I learned from her that said architect has six children at home and a wife who is seriously ill.

Damnit, I really wanted to hate that bullying bastard, but now I can’t.

I’m glad I talked to that colleague today, though. I’m glad she didn’t just say, “Oh, that’s nice,” and changed the subject when I told her I’d briefly worked for Company XY. She was really curious, and concerned, and sympathetic when I told her my story. I’m glad I opened up to someone I normally would not have opened up to.

A few weeks ago, I finally reached out to my Dad, who lives overseas, about what I was going through. It wasn’t easy, telling him that I wasn’t doing so well, that I was struggling with something. But I’m so glad I did. It was another pillar of support, and he gave me some great advice, part of which was that I should write about what happened. Even if no one ever reads it, he said, it’s important to get things off your chest, if nothing else, then to simply be able to put a mental “The End” under that chapter of your life. Wise man.

Oh, and the other thing I heard about Company XY today (from that other friend) is that by now almost their entire IT staff have been sacked – yay, outsourcing!

And you?

If there’s anyone in your life, even if they’re on the fringes, who might be struggling with something, who doesn’t seem to be their cheerful self – don’t hesitate to offer a friendly ear. It really can make a difference.

If you’re struggling yourself, reach out to someone, even if it’s hard to overcome your misgivings. It really can make a difference.

And… they’re off!

Well, it took a bit longer than I’d imagined, but my submissions to literary agents are finally on their way.

Turtle hatchlings

Their whole (uncertain) life ahead of them… awww! Just like for my submissions, dangers lurk, and most will perish. Hopefully not all. (Image labelled for non-commercial reuse.)

Two by snail mail, the rest by email.

As much as I could, I’ve tried to avoid knocking myself out of the race by tripping over all those potential hurdles, giving myself the best chance (slightly better than miniscule?) that my work will be read by the right agent who will be willing to passionately champion my cause before the world’s great publishing houses… or something like that. Hey, one can hope, right?

And now comes the waiting game. Some agents say they’ll definitely answer either way, while with others, 8-12 weeks of no response means they’re not interested.

Who knows, maybe one of the agents might even pop by my blog (of course I linked to my website).

Fezzik saying, "Hello, agent."

Hello, agent.

Too… inconceivable? Oh well.

Dammit, Janet, is that clock moving slower than normal? I’m sitting right now, so it can’t be Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity being a bit overzealous with its time dilation effect.

Guess it’s just me then.

Hey, at least now I might get some reading done! There’s been way too little of that while I’ve been writing, polishing, researching agents, and fiddling with queries, synopses, and formatting sample chapters.

What will the next post be… bitter disappointment and back to the drawing board, or a spark of hope? (Imagine, if one of the agents requested a full…!) Ah, the antici…

10 hurdles my submission could fail at

Those hurdles ahead of me look awfully big.

All these hurdles

All these hurdles to overcome… (Image cobbled together from free bits’n’pieces.)

I know at some intellectual level that my chances of overcoming them are almost infinitesimally small. But… some people do make it, right? So it’s gotta be possible.

So you think you can write?

Granted, I could be one of those self-deluded people who go on some gameshow or public contest, actually believing they have what it takes and will blow everyone away with their awesome talent that’s been simmering inside them all these years… only to make a complete fool of themselves and discover in the most embarrassing way that they’ve become the laughing stock of everyone.

I choose not to believe that of myself. I refuse to believe that my awesome beta readers and my close friends and relatives who’ve read my work were just “being nice” to me or couldn’t bring themselves to tell me the truth.

My toolbox

I’ve drawn up my battle plan. I’ve done my research. I know which agents I want to query first. Only two agencies here in Australia actually accept submissions for epic fantasy, and that’s only via snail mail – I’ve kept the printer busy lately – another accepts only a short pitch with synopsis, but without sample chapters, and two more are maybes that aren’t exactly clear on their website about what they do or don’t accept. I’ve found a few more agencies in the U.K. that sound good; for now, I won’t be submitting to U.S. agencies, mainly because I’m not sure whether I’d need to go through my manuscript and change things like “colour” to “color”, and Australian “-ise” endings to “-ize”, and “talk/speak to” to “talk/speak with“, and so forth. I have no idea whether they might think I just can’t spell or realise (ahem, realize) that that’s just how some people spell things in other parts of the world.

I’ve registered on Query Tracker, and checked Preditors & Editors to make sure I’m not submitting to the wrong sort of agents. I’ve done research on them to pick those who have published authors in my genre before with respectable publishers.

My query letter has been written, edited, thrown away and re-written more times than I can remember. The same goes for my synopsis. But… I think I’m as ready as I’m going to be.

Let me count the hurdles… 1001… 1002…

If I start to calculate the odds of finding an agent and a publisher (let’s say each agency gets 50 submissions per day, 6 days per week, maybe accepts two new clients per year… ouch!) I’ll just go insane and give up. But if I make the bold assumption that I’m actually good enough to be published – just for the sake of argument (and my sanity) – then… what hurdles are left, i.e. what might still go wrong?

  1. The submission might not even get there. Lost in the (snail) mail, an accidentally deleted email or a server crash, and I’ve lost before I’ve had a chance. Not getting a response is essentially a rejection, and as far as I can tell, following up or (God forbid) asking for reasons, is a big No-No. Can’t be helped; out of my hands.
  2. They might not like my cover letter (which some people call query, though I’ve also seen that word used to describe the whole submission). I’ve studied several “successful queries” and have tried to learn from them, about being succinct, polite, and professional, to minimise the chance of that happening. That’s all I can do, I think.
  3. They might consider my word count to be too high. At about 130k, my word count is a vast improvement over my first attempt a couple of years ago (where I stopped sending out submissions after realising that rejections were coming back less than 24 hours after I’d submitted, from agencies saying they’d take 8-10 weeks to respond, and figuring out that my 185k word count was just too ginormous for agents to want to take a chance with an unpublished author), but still somewhat on the high side. (Hey, it’s called epic fantasy for a reason, dammit!) Too bad I won’t get the chance to argue that point, and bring up all the wonderful, successful, oversize books from first-time authors.
  4. They might not like the title. With agencies receiving such a staggering number of submissions, from what I’ve read, any reason will do to reduce the size of the slush pile, even if it’s something that can be changed quite trivially. Nothing I can do about it.
  5. They might not believe the author is marketable. Even if the product (the book) is considered marketable, in this day and age, authors need to be prepared to do more than just write. Media obligations, promotions, and that sort of thing, they all come later, and you can’t really tell from a submission whether the author has what it takes. But the thing they can assess is the author’s social media presence. Can they interact with their fans (once they have some), do they have a platform on which to promote their work, are they tech-savvy enough to use Twitter, Facebook, and whatnot? I think I’m actually doing ok on that one. My blog and social media accounts are purely for my “writing persona”, separate from my private life, but I think that’s ok. I have them, and I’m not afraid to use them.
  6. I might accidentally hit the pet-peeve-nerve of someone. I blame the many, many bad writers over the years for that one. They submitted their below-par work, and made the agent to whom I now want to submit not just dislike but actively hate a certain phrase or habit to a point where they’re not just against its overuse but against it appearing anywhere, ever (adverbs, anyone?). The turkey city lexicon is, to some extent, based on some of these pet peeves. Beyond what I’ve tried to do already, I can’t do much more about that one.
  7. The right person might not get to read it. By necessity, agencies can’t possibly completely read through every sample chapter of every submission and need to have ways of reducing the pile. For a submission to make it through to an offer of representation, it needs to be read and liked by a chain of people. The agents who have authority to actually make such an offer, especially in larger agencies, won’t read material unless it’s passed through the ranks of “readers” or junior agents. If anyone in that chain doesn’t like it (even though someone higher up might have), it gets rejected. Again, out of my control.
  8. The agent or reader might just not be in the right mood. Quite possible that a submission can get rejected on one day but would’ve been accepted on another day. Maybe the one they read just before was extremely bad (or extremely good), or reminded them of something, and their mind isn’t completely on what they’re reading now. Maybe it’s just before lunchtime, or they’re about to go home. Not sure how realistic this one is, hopefully it doesn’t happen often, but who knows? Beyond my control.
  9. They might not believe the story will sell. That one is such a subjective point that I would have to admit that they could be right. I’d disagree completely, of course, but I don’t have the experience in the publishing world to be able to claim I know better than… well, anyone else. I can only go by my experience as a reader, what I’d like to read, what I would buy in the bookstore. I’ll have to grind my teeth and concede, “Fair enough.”
  10. They might like it, but happen to know that the publishers they’re in contact with aren’t looking for that sort of thing right now. Ouch. But possible. The market is a fickle thing, and different things sell or don’t sell at different times, based on the whims of… who knows? That one would probably hurt the most, falling at the last hurdle.

Scary, isn’t it? I’m sure there are others I haven’t even considered, these are just the top 10 that come to mind.

Seems very unfair, seen from the angle of the authors submitting their work. Also… necessary, I suppose, seen from the agency’s point of view. They have to get through all those submissions somehow. I get that. I do.

The thing that’s hard to take is that I could fail at pretty much any of these hurdles with any given agent, and I’ll never know what it was that I should’ve done better.

So should I give up?

If everyone stopped just because the odds are daunting, humanity wouldn’t achieve much at all.

Let’s do this!

My submissions will start going out before the end of the week.

Wish me luck… (*swallows audibly*).

Battle Plan

It’s been a long, hard road (ok, more long than hard – hey, stop giggling, that wasn’t a euphemism – because although it took way over a decade, I really enjoyed the journey), and I’m about to reach the final phase. I’m dreading it, because I know it won’t be as much fun as writing and even editing was. Hence I’d better prepare my “battle plan”.

Battle plan

(I cannot confirm or deny my plans for ultimate world domination at this stage. Image from Wikimedia Commons.)


  • build an elaborate fantasy world in my head, with its own history, races, rules, evolution, customs, races, and coherent systems of magic
  • think up a great, engaging story with interesting characters
  • make many pages worth of background notes
  • create timelines, maps, and drawings of settings (for my own benefit)
  • experiment with blurbs and synopses
  • finish writing the first draft of the first book in an epic fantasy story
  • proofread, make corrections
  • rinse and repeat proofreading-and-correction phase (many, many times…)
  • send my story off to beta readers
  • await feedback from said beta readers


  • encorporate feedback into manuscript
  • start giving up hope about it all being one huge elaborate prank on the rest of the world and start wondering how THAT many people can be THAT dense to want to make such a buffoon their leader next year
  • ponder why Leo finally won an Oscar for portraying such a one-dimensional character in an emotionally dull film (wanting to survive isn’t an emotion), and why a film whose premise seems so far-fetched to me could collect so many rewards
  • carefully read the whole manuscript out loud, making final corrections
  • keep editing my blurbs and synopses, and finally settle on one of them


  • research agents who accept fantasy submissions in Australia, and possibly UK and US
  • research publishers who accept fantasy submissions (update my old research)
  • begin the agonisingly long process of submitting to literary agents and possibly (traditional) publishers, waiting to get rejection letters and praying that the right person in the right mood who can make important decisions gets their hands on my manuscript and decides to give me a chance…
  • if above fails (too many rejections to bear), consider approaching the relatively small Australian publishing house which, years ago, gave me feedback that encouraged me to continue writing: “… as a new writer he clearly has a wide knowledge of the genre and displays a fluency with its style, plot and character conventions… would be interested to see a completed manuscript with a view to considering it for publication.”
  • if above fails, consider publishing story on Amazon (I realise getting published – traditionally – is very ambitious and odds are against me, but, hey, I can dream, right?) and begin work on my new idea…

In the meantime, I’ll have to keep plugging away at my day job, and remember that…

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

– Helmuth von Moltke

Not that I’m considering agents or publishers the enemy. It feels more like I’ll be at war with chance itself. So maybe this one:

Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war.

– Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Awesome feedback!


I’ve received some really, really awesome feedback from my beta readers over the past month.
Feedback definition

A huge “Thanks!” to all of them; I’ve tried to take their constructive criticisms on board by making a few changes and adjustments here and there, and am trying not to let the praise go to my head. Though I’m not trying hard enough not to brag about mention some of the best bits.

… definitely makes me want to keep reading.

Seriously well-written fight scene!


I wasn’t looking forward to reading the chapter on the hunt because I like to read stories about teenage girls making googly eyes on teenage boys, but this whole scene just deepens the story and makes everything – the characters, the setting, the culture – that much more real.

… amazing.

Such a rich world you’ve built.

… very polished…

I was hooked by the end of the first chapter…

… very fluid style.

… altogether really exciting.

… in summary: cool!

Each of my readers brought something different to the table, from catching a few awkward-sounding repetitions to pointing out that I was throwing quite a few new terms at the reader in one of the early paragraphs to giving very detailed feedback about many chapters from a first-time reader’s perspective. All of this is just what I was after, and has helped me tremendously. Again, many thanks – you’ve all assured yourselves a spot in the “acknowledgements” section if when the manuscript-that-could gets published.

Still a long way to go before that happens, but… baby steps.

[Update: If you’re looking for a wonderful beta reader, one of mine has told me she’s happy to be mentioned, so head on over to Suzanne’s blog and ask her – she knows what she’s talking about, and her feedback was the most detailed I’ve ever received.]

What’s next? Well, I’ve recently upgraded to a new computer, and it’s taken me a bit of time to get everything set up the way I want again (grrr, Windoze can be so annoying, but it’s a necessary evil for some things in my case), but I’m there now, and will be drawing up a battle plan for the next few steps in my journey towards getting published.

What could possibly go wrong? 😉


Twiddling my thumbs…

Feels strange, not having that manuscript that you still need to finish always nagging you, always lurking somewhere in the back of your mind. I called it (done, that is) just before Christmas, and have since sent it out to a grand total of four beta readers.

Thus far, I’ve heard back from one.

Maybe the Christmas-timing wasn’t my brightest idea ever, because I’m sure everyone is very busy around this time of year (or very busy relaxing), but it was more a case of me wanting to be done by then rather than them wanting it by then.

The one that I heard back from is my wonderful sister, who can be very critical in a good kind of way, and she has a knack for picking up repetitions that I missed and other fiddly things, so I’ve made several small updates to my manuscript based on her feedback. Another of my beta readers is a good friend who has read a fair bit of fantasy and can hopefully give me some “that part worked for me, that part didn’t” type feedback, while the other two are fellow bloggers (thanks, Nicholas and Suzanne, much appreciated!) who will hopefully give me the sort of feedback you can only give if you’ve been there yourself, if you know what it’s like to have written something that’s very dear to your heart, but you need honest criticism, be it positive or negative, from someone who knows what sort of things to look for. In a way, I think, it’s much easier to be critical of someone else’s work than of your own. (Sort of like a parent finding it hard to criticise much about their own child.)

And of course twiddling my thumbs ins’t all I’m doing. I’ve been reading again – reading someone else’s writing, that is, without (at least consciously) having to keep an eye on edit-worthy bits. Wow, I’d forgotten how great reading can be. I denied myself that pleasure (to some extent at least) so that I’d spend more of my precious spare time writing. I have a lot of catching up to do! I’ve played around with some programming projects, I’ve spent an awesome week-and-a-half off work over Christmas and New Year’s with the family, I’ve had time to follow some other interests… and I have to say, there is a part of me that wants to get back into writing again.

My now-complete manuscript is a Book 1, and I’m keen to find out where the story goes next (I usually think I know, but it likes to surprise me from time to time with a life of its own; Book 2 will, by necessity, have less wiggle-room than the first one). There are at least two other stand-alone stories spooking around in my head that are gathering up the courage to become a little louder, a little more demanding to be let out.

But until I get that feedback from my other beta readers, I am twiddling my thumbs and waiting at least to some extent. I have to admit I’m a little antsy, wondering whether they’ll think that one section was too cheesy, or whether the setting of that scene was a bit confusing, or a dialog sounded too stilted, or… you get the idea.

What it comes down to, though, is that every bit of criticism will help to improve my book.

That’s worth waiting for.

I’m calling it

Right, so I’ve spent several weeks now going through and editing and editing and editing my manuscript, and… I’m calling it.

What? No, not that way. “I’m sure the manuscript could’ve been something if it had held on a bit longer, but, uh… oh well. Time of death: 17:14.”


No flatline, no meeeeep. Not at all. It’s alive and kicking. It’s just that it has this annoying habit of, well, looking almost done. I wanted it to be just done, without the almost, but it looks as though every time I give it another readover, it reveals a few more slight flaws here and there. *Sigh*. Maybe that’s just the perfectionist in me… but if so, why can’t that know-it-all just find all those flaws the first time?!?

So, since I am now acutely aware that I won’t get everything perfect, I’m calling it. Calling it “done”.

Look up done in the dictionary in a few months, when my request comes through. By then, they will have changed it to mean the same thing as almost done. Soft of like a reverse “mostly harmless”, for those who get the reference.

‘Sides, it’s nearly Christmas. I wanted to be done by Christmas. (That’s reasonable… right?)

I wanted to send out my shiny new manuscript before Christmas to a few wonderful people who’ve volunteered (or been volunteered, by yours truly) to beta-read it. I’m sure they’ll find even more to correct… So, some final formatting tomorrow (no more corrections for now, though!), and then it’s off to see the world. Well, meta-digi-phorically (yes, that’s a word) speaking. Some small parts of the world, granted, but… nevertheless. Early days. (Now stop picking on my analogy.)

And while I’m at it: Merry Christmas! (Because at the rate I’m going, I doubt I’ll be posting again before the New Year.)

Drumroll… Blurb reveal!

It is with much excitement, spiced with a hefty dose of trepidation, that I’d like to reveal a couple of versions of my blurb. No big deal, I’ve only worked on this for, oh, 11 years or so now.

First off, here are some details about my debut novel.

The Essentials

Genre: Epic Fantasy
Name of book: First Drop
Name of trilogy: The Mage Academy Journals
Approximate word count: 130,000
Status: Polishing and finishing epilogue
Intended audienceAdults (not necessarily YA)

Tropical Island

Quite close to how I imagine the tropical setting of my novel. Heavily influenced by my experiences of growing up in Papua New Guinea. (Image taken from public domain and modified to smudge out anachronisms, etc.)

One-sentence Pitch

I find it extremely hard to sum up my story in a single sentence, but it’s something that is often requested, so here is what I think is its essence:

My story is about a boy who returns to his tropical island home after years amongst pale-skinned northerners to find himself the focal point of intrigues and prophecies due to his unique heritage and blend of abilities.

Extended Pitch

If I had a few more sentences to pitch my work, it’d go a little something like this:

My story is about a boy who returns home after years amongst the pale-skinned northerners to find himself the focal point of intrigues and prophecies due to his unique heritage and blend of abilities.

His own people won’t accept him unless he undergoes their initiation rites. The martial Vennar want to deny his family even exists, let alone escaped from slavery. The pale Nothrans, who’ve built a Mage Academy on his tropical home island, want to manipulate him.

All he wants is to be reunited with what’s left of his family.

Longer Blurb (250 words)

So this is what I’d ideally like to have on the back cover if it were up to me:

Having the potential to learn the magic of the pale-skinned Nothrans, who have been allowed to build their Mage Academy on his tropical home island, Miniri, opens up a whole realm of possibilities for fifteen-year-old Kentos. But, having already spent several years amongst the Nothrans in their lands far to the north, he knows he will have to endure racism from those who cannot see past his dark skin, and studying at the Academy will only serve to further ostracise him from his fellow Quemin.

Carrying the blood of the reviled Vennar in his veins means Kentos can master their ability to discern the visualised intentions of others, which makes that martial race peerless fighters. Yet this stain upon his family’s honour must remain secret, for the Vennar’s enslavement of the Quemin was officially supposed to have ended many generations ago.

These are challenges Kentos believes he can handle, even as he recovers from an attack that killed his sister and crushed his foot. What he has yet to learn, however, is that his parents have escaped from slavery with even more secrets – secrets that will make him the subject of prophecies, and of manipulation attempts from multiple unexpected angles.

As his friendship with fellow student Tesliah, who uncovers his story by reading his journals, begins to blossom into a tender first love, and as his path converges with that of Ri, a Vennara he once called friend, Kentos will have to face decisions: most of them difficult… one disastrous.

Shorter Blurb (169 words)

If I had to limit myself a bit more, although cutting each word hurts like heck, I might be able to live with shortening it to this:

Having the potential to learn the magic of the pale-skinned Nothrans, who’ve built their Mage Academy on his tropical home island, opens up a realm of possibilities for fifteen-year-old Kentos. But, having spent several years amongst Nothrans, he knows he must endure racism from those who cannot see past his dark skin.

Carrying the blood of the reviled martial Vennar in his veins means Kentos can learn to discern people’s visualised intentions, but this stain upon his family must remain secret, for the enslavement of his people ended long ago – at least officially.

These are challenges Kentos believes he can handle. What he has yet to learn is that his family has even more secrets that will make him the subject of manipulation attempts from multiple unexpected directions.

As the friendship with fellow student Tesliah, who uncovers his story by reading his journals, deepens, and as his path converges with that of Ri, a Vennara he once called friend, many decisions Kentos must face will be difficult… one disastrous.

What’s Next?

Well, once I finish up the epilogue of Book 1 (quite tricky getting the right threads tied up and leaving enough open to promote interest in the larger story) and complete my current editing run, I’d love to get feedback from beta readers. I have two fellow bloggers who have expressed an interest, and I hope they’ll be as honest as they can with things like pacing, repetition, character development, whether dialogue feels natural enough, whether I have some “pet expressions” I’m not aware of, etc. Thus far, I’ve only had family and close friends read my work, and as grateful as I am to each and every one of them, it’s not quite the same as feedback from objective readers, especially ones who have been through the writing process themselves and know what to look out for.

After that (and I have no idea how long that will take), I’ll have to go through the whole daunting submission process, reading rejection letters and so on. Fun times! 🙂