24 December 2009

And The Winner Is ...

The winner of the signed copy of Nalini Singh's UK edition of her novel Angels' Blood is blog commenter Edna (see my interview with Nalini). Congratulations to Edna, and thanks to everyone who commented and tweeted in response to the interview and the competition - a special thanks to Nalini for her responses to comments.

That about wraps things up for 2009. Until about the end of January 2010, I'll drop down to my "summer schedule" of roughly one blog post per week. But I have already lined up my first three author interviews of next year, and in between those - well, I'm sure I'll think of something to post...

The highlight of this year for me from a writing/editing point of view has been the success of Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry for New Zealand. I haven't had quite the same level of success in meeting my self-imposed deadline of Christmas Eve to finish my novel draft: I still have a little under two chapters to go. They are more or less complete in my head: I just need to channel them through my fingers.

By New Year's Day, maybe?

After that, while the draft sits for a few weeks, I want to turn my attention back to my much-neglected, partly-completed next poetry collection. Furthermore, there's a world to save ...

But this is Christmas, this is the holiday season. Family time. Then, as the robots say, I'll be back.

21 December 2009

Book Review: The Last Church, by Lee Pletzers

The Last Church is available from Amazon.com. Other availability details are on Lee Pletzers' website. The Last Church is published by Black Bed Sheet Books, RRP US $20.95.

New Zealand horror writer Lee Pletzers' The Last Church does the job of a good horror novel (or, I suppose, any novel): it keeps you turning the pages, wanting to know what happens next, and hoping that at least some of the characters - not to mention the world - will make it out alive at the end of the story.

And the fate of the world is very much at stake. I don't want to give too much away, so let's just say that there's a man with a plan for the future of the world which isn't what most of us would wish for; that this man has, or embodies, demonic assistance; and that a diverse coalition of characters with less power but equal determination come together to stop him — or, at least, to try.

Along the way, quite a lot of the characters meet gruesome fates. And some of them are very gruesome: The Last Church doesn't stint on sex, violence, and in some cases sexual violence. You have been warned.

It took me a while to get into the story. There is a large cast of characters to start with - before the main villain and his henchpeople start to whittle them down — and the story jumps between several time periods. I had trouble keep track of everything and everyone for about the first quarter of the novel. Also off-putting were quite a few proofreading and grammatical errors: mostly minor things, like missing apostrophes, but until I got into the flow of the story I found these distracting. I know only too well how hard it is to eliminate all such errors, but another proofreading run would benefit future printings of the novel.

As I read, I wasn't always convinced that characters' motivations for their actions were sufficiently well established. The principal villain is a nasty piece of work, but he has a goal, and his actions are consistent with that goal. On the other hand, to my eyes at least, the behaviour of his "dream woman" and subsequent consort seems inconsistent; or, put another way, I didn't feel I had a clear enough understanding of her character, so that her actions sometimes seemed arbitrary rather than well-founded.

But it would be a mistake to dwell on the negatives. The Last Church is scary, gruesome at times, and increasingly gripping as it approaches its climax. If you like horror with a side order of apocalypse, The Last Church is worth a visit.

17 December 2009

An Interview with Nalini Singh

Nalini Singh is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Psy/Changeling and Guild Hunter series. Born in Fiji and raised in New Zealand, she spent three years living and working in Japan. Now back home in New Zealand, she is currently at work on her next Psy/Changeling novel.

You can see travel photos, read excerpts and find behind-the-scenes info on her books on her:

Website: www.nalinisingh.com
Blog: www.nalinisingh.blogspot.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/nalinisingh
Twitter: www.twitter.com/nalinisingh

Paranormal romance has become a very successful genre over the past decade. For the benefit of blog readers who aren't familiar with the genre, can you describe it?

Paranormal romances (pnr) are stories that encompass a wide range of elements beyond the norm – things like psychic abilities, vampires, alternate worlds, and shapeshifters to name a few.

Because of this, there’s a huge freedom in where you can go as a writer – and for readers, this means a wonderful breadth of choice. I think that depth and breadth of content is one of the strengths of pnr.

The three authors who come to mind when I think of paranormal romance are Laurell K. Hamilton (with her Anita Blake series), Charlaine Harris (with her Sookie Stackhouse series), and Mary Janice Davidson (with her Undead series). Each of these, to my mind, combines romance with horror. Would you say that the romance/horror combination is characteristic of paranormal romance, or do romance/science fiction and romance/fantasy also form an important part of the genre?

For me, the three series you’ve mentioned are more closely aligned with Urban Fantasy. UF and PNR are on the same continuum, but in very basic terms, urban fantasy tends to focus on one protagonist’s journey through a number of books, while pnr tends to tell the story of a different couple in each book.

I think one of the best things about pnr is that there are endless possibilities. Horror/sf/fantasy, all of these elements can, and have been utilized by different authors. For example, my book ANGELS’ BLOOD, is very dark and gritty, and could be said to have elements of horror. (This book actually has Urban Fantasy Romance on the spine, which speaks to the overlap between pnr and uf). However, my Psy/Changeling series has elements of science fiction.

In addition to your own work, which paranormal romance writers and novels do you particularly recommend?

As I’ve noted above, the brilliant thing about pnr as a genre is that it is so huge. If a reader wanted to dip their toes into the water, I’d suggest trying a number of different authors and series – not every author works for every reader, but by that same token, there are lots of diverse and vibrant voices in this sub-genre.

Some of my recommendations:

PNR: Meljean Brook, Jayne Castle, Christine Feehan, Lora Leigh
Urban Fantasy: Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews

I’d also recommend Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy. It’s dark fantasy with a romantic thread, but most readers of pnr really enjoy this series.

If you’re looking for a PNR with fantasy, C.L. Wilson’s Lord of the Fading Lands is brilliant.

And Kay Hooper does a wonderful thriller/mystery series (Bishops/SCU) that also has paranormal / romance threads.

I see that your work has been commended for its strong world-building — and world-building is one of the things I most enjoy about both writing and reading science fiction. How do you go about building the worlds in which your stories take place?

My writing style is very character-based, so I tend to let my characters show me their world. I see through their eyes, and each time they turn, there’s something new to discover.

However, given that I write series, I also maintain complete notes about the world – continuity is so important in world-building, and I make a lot of effort to ensure that it’s maintained from book to book. Nothing makes me crazier as a reader than a writer who doesn’t follow the rules of her own world.

What are the main series you have written or are writing?

I write the Psy/Changeling series, which is set in the not too distant future and features three races—humans, the Psy (who have powerful psychic abilities), and the changelings (who can shapeshift into certain animals). Book one is SLAVE TO SENSATION.

I’ve also just begun the Guild Hunter series, which is set in an alternate earth where archangels hold sway over mortals, with vampires as their servants. Book one is ANGELS’ BLOOD.

They’re two very different series, and I really enjoy that. If your readers would like to check out either series, excerpts are available on my website.

What does it feel like to get on the New York Times best-seller list?

Amazing, stupendous, fantastic!! I still can’t believe it at times. ☺

I'm very impressed by your productivity as a writer. What kind of writing schedule do you maintain, and how do you balance this with the many demands on a successful author's time?

I write pretty much every day, and I think that’s important, not just in terms of productivity, but also to flex and strengthen your writing muscles. I also set daily goals for myself and stick to them.

As for balance, that took me a while to work out, and what I found is that being flexible works for me. If, for some reason, I’m unable to put in productive hours on one day, I’ll work an extra hour or two over the next couple of days to bring myself back on track.

Paranormal romance appears to be a field where there is a lot of collaborative work – multi-author anthologies, and so forth. Have you got involved in many such projects, and do you enjoy taking part in them?

Most anthologies tend to be by-invitation, and I’ve been very lucky to be invited to participate in several, including a recent one headlined by the fantastic Charlaine Harris.

And yes, I love them because I really enjoy writing novellas.

What's next for Nalini Singh?

I have the second book in my Guild Hunter series, ARCHANGEL’S KISS, releasing in February.

Then in July I have BONDS OF JUSTICE, the next book in my Psy/Changeling series, and in August, I have a novella from the same series in the BURNING UP anthology.

I’m very excited about all of these releases!

Nalini Singh Book Giveaway Offer

Nalini Singh has generously offered a signed copy of her book Angels' Blood (US version - the cover image used in this interview is from the UK version) as a giveaway to accompany this interview. If you'd like to be in with a chance to win this copy of Angels' Blood, you need to either (1) Make a comment on this blog post or (2) follow me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/senjmito) and then send me a tweet saying why you'd like a copy. The deadline is one week from today: 5pm on Thursday 24 December (New Zealand time). If you are making a comment on the blog, please include your email address or Twitter or Facebook ID so I have a way of contacting you to get your address details.

Happy commenting and tweeting!

UPDATE: Helen Lowe has interviewed Nalini Singh for Plains FM. You can listen to the interview online, or download the interview in mp3 format, on the Plains FM site.

10 December 2009

Summoning, Revised

In 2006, I responded to a call for submissions to Poem, Revised, an anthology which, as Amazon puts it, is

An in-depth look at the writing processes of 54 poems, each by a different modern author, is provided, complete with early drafts, subsequent revised versions, and short essays from the poets themselves revealing how and why they made specific changes

I wrote my piece on the revision process for my poem "Summoning", first published in Strange Horizons in 2006 and subsequently collected in All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens. My submission wasn't accepted, but I dug it out recently and thought that it would be worth reposting here.

Summoning (published version)

Behind coded invitations,
long night journeys,
country house gatherings
of like-minded men -

behind the fear of women,
banishment of servants,
locked doors, shuttered windows,
guards to ward off spies -

behind cloaks, hoods,
symbols scrawled on vellum,
books of lore and learning,
circles of protection -

behind scrying-glass,
crystal, speculum,
the lighting of a candle
and the speaking of a name -

you never know.
That is the truth of every incantation.
You never know
what will come to the flame

Published in Strange Horizons, February 13, 2006

Origins, Revisions and Comments

On January 6, 2004, I jotted the following lines in my diary:


You never know what will come. That
is the truth beneath ...

I had recently read John Crowley's novel The Solitudes (also published as Aegypt, but in fact the first volume of the Aegypt tetralogy), and I think these initial lines were inspired by the book's depiction of the 16th-century magicians and alchemists John Dee and Edward Kelley working, under conditions of great secrecy, to contact the angels and learn their secrets.

The lines looked promising, so I transferred them into the "Poetry jottings and ideas" file on my computer, and returned to them from time to time, turning them around on the screen and in my head, trying to make a poem.

It took almost two years for this process to bear fruit. I expanded the lines I already had into the final stanza of a poem, and then it was a matter of getting from the title to that final stanza. Once I hit upon the first word of the poem, the rest of the first draft quickly fell into place:

Summoning (first draft, November 11, 2005)

Behind the long night journeys,
coded invitations,
gatherings, late at night in country houses,
of like-minded men -

behind the fear of women
banishment of servants
locked doors, sealed windows
casting out of spies -

behind the cloaks, hoods,
books of learning,
circles of protection -

behind mirror, crystal,
speculum, entreaty,
the lighting of the candle
and the speaking of a name -

You never know.
That is the truth of every incantation.
You never know
what will come to the flame.

I let this draft sit for a few weeks. When I returned to it, I was encouraged. The poem had structure, imposed by the regular stanzas and the repetition of "behind". It had movement, going from the preparations for summoning (lines 1-14), to the moment of summoning (lines 15-16), to a more general observation about the process of summoning (lines 17-20).

It also had several obvious flaws. Line 3 was both clumsy and far too long. "Casting out" in line 8 would be more appropriate for demons than for spies. The word "entreaty" does not fit among the collection of physical paraphernalia for "seeing" angels listed in lines 13 and 14. When read aloud, lines 5 and 6 did not sound right.

Something else struck me. Lines 1-17 form a sentence of the form "Behind [a list of things] you never know." This is syntactically odd at best, and I would not use it in prose. After careful thought, I decided that it did work in the context of this poem, so I retained the odd construction, but made the sentence form more clear by removing the initial capital in line 17.

I did my customary pruning of the extraneous instances of "the" that festoon my first drafts, shuffled words about for a while, and came up with this:

Summoning (second draft, December 7, 2005)

Behind coded invitations,
long night journeys,
country-house gatherings
of like-minded men -

behind the ban on women,
banishment of servants,
locked doors, shuttered windows,
constant fear of spies -

behind cloaks, hoods,
symbols scrawled on vellum,
books of learning,
circles of protection -

behind crystal,
scrying-glass, speculum,
the lighting of a candle
and the speaking of a name -

you never know.
That is the truth of every incantation.
You never know
what will come to the flame.

I returned to the poem for the third and final time five days later. One problem jumped out at me as soon as I read Draft 2 aloud: I had ended up with "ban" in line 5 and "banishment" in line 6, which would never do. I spent a lot of time on this couplet, and in the end, decided that I liked the version in my first draft better than any of the alternatives I could think of - so back came the original wording.

In line 8, I had replaced the original "casting out of spies" by "constant fear of spies". But if line 5 was to revert to the original, then "fear" would appear twice in the same stanza, which was rather too phobic. Besides, the emphasis of the first four stanzas is primarily on actions taken by the magicians rather than emotional states, so I came up with "guards to ward off spies" instead.

I changed the order of words in lines 13 and 14 (the first two lines of the fourth stanza) purely for euphony: "scrying-glass, crystal, speculum" sounds better to my ears than the earlier version.

After making these changes, I was satisfied, and submitted the poem to Strange Horizons.

It's interesting to look back on the variety of poetic techniques used in "Summoning". The poem uses internal rhyme and half-rhyme (e.g. "night" in line 2 and "like" in line 4); alliteration (quite a few examples, e.g. "lore and learning" in line 11); assonance (e.g. "hoods" in line 7 and "books" in line 9) and near-assonance (e.g. in "country-house" in line 3); repetition ("behind" as previously mentioned, and also "the [verb] of a" in lines 15 and 16, and "You never know" in lines 17 and 19). It’s hard now to remember how much of this was planned, and how much spontaneous. More than anything else, I go by ear.

06 December 2009

You Wanted The Best, You Got The Best!

Well, you got one of the best, anyway. The New Zealand Listener has included Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand in its list of the 100 Best Books of 2009.

This is good news not only because it is welcome recognition of science fiction poetry in general and this anthology's contributors in particular, but also because it should increase the public profile and the sales of the book. Plus, after five years' effort to get Voyagers published, this is a very welcome vindication!

You can buy Voyagers...

In New Zealand

  • Directly from me. I now have a limited number of copies for sale for NZ $28 plus $2 p&p. If you'd like one, please email senjmito@gmail.com with your address and preferred payment method.

  • From an increasing range of bookshops, including (but not limited to) Unity Books (Wellington and Auckland), Books a Plenty in Tauranga, Bruce MacKenzie Books in Palmerston North, Madras Cafe Books in Christchurch, and the University Book Shop in Dunedin.

  • From Fishpond.


USA only


Now the Herald has got in on the act! That's great, but still no endorsement from New Zealand Plumber magazine .,..

03 December 2009

An Interview With Sally McLennan

Sally McLennan says she writes strange fairy tales and lives stranger ones. She was once the tooth fairy of a small mountain town and she has been the editor of two American health care newspapers (The Medicare Pathfinder and The Medicare Navigator). She has lived in Australia and Thailand. Her time in Thailand gave her the ability to speak passable Thai, carve a pumpkin into really interesting shapes, and she gained her parachuting wings with the Thai Royal Airforce. After living in Thailand, Sally studied at Canterbury University where she gained a First Class Honours degree in English literature. Now, some years later, she divides her time between many bookish works in progress.

Sally's first book, Deputy Dan and the Mysterious Midnight Marauder, recently won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for the Best Professional Publication. It is a picture book heavily influenced by graphic novels. Sally describes the book as the story of 'a crime spree so unfathomable that the law enforcement agencies are stumped, and the public is captivated, and a criminal so strange that nobody could guess who the culprit might be.' Dan, the hero of the book, sets out to solve the crime and bring the criminal to justice. This is a story about magic and regrets, about learning to feel more and judge less, and the true treasures in life.

Deputy Dan and the Mysterious Midnight Marauder can be purchased from Te Papa's Kid's Store, Barbara's Books, Scorpio Books, The Children's Bookshop, Unity, Storytime, Vic Books, Arty Bees, The Christchurch Cathedral shop, UBS Canterbury, The Arts Centre Bookshop in Christchurch and from Sally's website.

Sally, there's all sorts of stuff I want to ask you about, but to begin with, how did you manage to get the Wizard to compere the launch of your book? Also, the launch of her first book is a very special time for any writer – how was this launch for you?

Ah, Jack the Wizard was lovely. It was no trouble at all. I randomly mentioned how much I wished the Wizard was my compere to the Town Crier of Christchurch, Steven Symons, after someone introduced us. I'm not even sure how it came up! It turned out they were friends and within a day he gave me the Wizard's contact information so I was able to make a very nervous call to the Wizard. Luckily, he was pleased with the idea, and played along with everything beautifully. He said a wonderfully theatrical blessing of the book which would have been perfect if he had been able to actually remember its name. Instead he called it by five or six different titles and I think this added greatly to the charm of the event. We did two launches; one each in Wellington and Christchurch. The reason was that my publisher is based in Wellington, and we wanted an event that coincided with the National Science Fiction convention held there, as the people involved have been very supportive of my writing. However, everyone else who worked on the book - and there was a large team - was based in Christchurch.

The Christchurch event was huge. We started with dinner served in trams circling the city while jazz musicians played their way through the carriages. Then, we had the launch ceremony at the Design and Arts College of New Zealand where Joel (the illustrator) studied. Five hundred individual cakes were served that night and a segment from the book was narrated in sign language. It was completely special. One of the best nights of my life. I think for both launches Joel and I floated - leading up to them there is this strange terror that something will be wrong with the book or people wouldn't love it somehow - then momentum takes over and the launch itself is a blissful dream come true sort of experience. Its a feeling I can highly recommend and one with lasting sweetness.

What was the path that led you and Deputy Dan and The Mysterious Midnight Marauder from first thought to publication?

It was long and twisty, that path. It started with a dream while I was still studying. In it a blond boy was trying to track down a robber... who it turned out was not a robber at all! I asked myself if I could write that boy's story and - just for kicks - write it into verse. It was a sort of joke with myself, an experiment, and I suspected I was insane for wanting to try it. Twelve years later the book was published and my suspicions had been confirmed! I wrote Deputy Dan during tea breaks from my day jobs - ten minutes at a time - all that time. After several years of that my health abruptly deteriorated. I was - mistakenly - told by one Doctor that my condition was terminal. I decided that I preferred to fulfill the dream of being a writer, and finish Deputy Dan, rather than succumb. I finished the story while still very ill. When she was out with him for a business lunch my sister told Tim, the publisher, that he had to read my work. He declared it all publishable. At about the same time I submitted the story to the judges of the Conclave Award (for Fantasy Poetry) as a handful of photocopied sheets and it won.

Production began. I had an idea that as the book started life as the work of a student I wanted another student to illustrate it. I ran a competition with the Design and Arts College of New Zealand and the student who came up with the most apt character sketches won the chance to illustrate the book. That was Joel and we worked closely together for almost a year and a half. We were, under Tim's direction, involved in all the processes of publishing. Tim wanted to teach us what was involved. Finally, at about 1.30am on the 17th of March, 2008, the first printed pages of the book began rolling off the presses. It's an amazing thing to experience on the ground as I did.

Why do you write? What do you hope to achieve from any by writing, both in personal terms and in terms of the effect your work has on readers and on the literary community?

Writing is a strange illness that nobody has found a cure for. For me, its a compulsion, and I am happiest when fulfilling that absolute need, instead of hiding from it. I feel like I am talking with the world I am part of when I write. I reach out, and see if anyone reaches back, while breathing life into characters and their world; communication and creation at the same time. In personal terms I hope to make a book people might enjoy. I also try to write beauty more than ugliness (inner and outer). I don't know if I think of having an effect on the literary community - it seems like such a big thing - but I do have a few ideals I cling to about what I want my work to do socially. I want to wise up children rather than dumbing down books. In other words, I don't like limiting my vocabulary or ideas when I write by trying to direct them to an age group. I think that breaks your writing and I don't want to patronise readers. I think using more challenging words well encourages kids to learn them.

How do you fit writing in with the rest of your life? Where and when do you like to write?

At the moment it's really difficult. I am transitioning between cities and that is taking its toll on me physically. So, I am in a hiatus. In the past six months, I've done a fair bit of editing and written ten thousand words of the series I am most focused on. I've also written a short story. Now I am at the tail end of that transition, I am really looking forward to more writing time. I think to myself that I've just had the rite of passage now I want the writing of passages!

I've learned I am someone who needs a dedicated writing corner of some sort. Now, I have bought a home and it has a long, narrow, office at the top of three stories looking out over trees. I am really looking forward to writing in that tower like crevice. I do most of my writing in bursts late at night in my office and in cafes during the afternoon. I am also often running ideas around in my head when I am seemingly otherwise occupied. I do some of my best writing while drifting off to sleep or doing the dishes. I have learned to carry paper everywhere.

Some writers say that they find it hard to read for pleasure – that, willingly or not, they read with one eye on how the book they're reading achieves its effects, or they read to see what other authors in their genre are up to, or what's selling well at the moment. Are you an analytical reader, or do you read primarily for pleasure? Can you tell us some of your favourite writers?

I read with absolute indulgence for pleasure. I know the book is failing for me when I become super analytical and start pulling out my inner editorial red marker. I write the sort of stories I enjoy reading - YA, Children's books and fantasy/ slipstream. My absolute favourites are Robin Hobb, Catherine Valente, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Mahy, Diana Wynne- Jones, Keri Hulme, Paul Stewart, Phillip Pullman... well, its a long list and one I could add to for a while!

I know that you really enjoy New Zealand's national science fiction conventions. What's so good at about them?

I've found the people there to be incredibly enthusiastic and supportive - its a great community. I've learned more about writing at those conventions than through any other forum - its invaluable to meet the experienced guest authors they host each year - and the convention members themselves have sometimes benefited by the years and years of exposure to these guests. So they are also really knowledgeable around the craft of writing. I've learned a lot about how to get published (ah, the debate about the necessity of agents continues though!), generating ideas, and by seeing how other authors work. I found that many use sensory keys to tell themselves its work time, such as a particular drink, or piece of music. When that music is played or that drink poured its time to sit down and write. It almost becomes self hypnotic the association becomes so strong and that's a good thing; the hardest part of writing is sometimes to start doing it.

Why are the Sir Julius Vogel Awards so special to you?

I think its huge that New Zealand has its own trophy for Science Fiction and Fantasy writing. Its got a great lineage, being named for the Prime Minister who wrote science fiction back in the Victorian era, and with the trophies themselves crafted and donated by Weta Workshops. It seems like each year the award gains significance and gets more noticed. The award has its origins in the grass roots of fandom and is an absolute credit to the teams of volunteers who have devoted years to running it for little or no recognition. The service they do to the writing community is amazing. To be awarded one was an incredibly proud moment and especially because it put me in the company of a group of author friends. On the actual night of the awards Helen Lowe and Nalini Singh and I all sat together and all, happily, got at least one Vogel (Helen did really well and got two!). It made things even more special, if possible.

You have been involved in the Books In Homes scheme. What is so good about this scheme, and have you found your involvement rewarding?

Duffy's Books in Homes is a wonderful programme. They have given away over five million books to kids in lower decile schools in the fourteen years they have operated and their 588 schools show a 35% increase in mean reading levels. So: that's great. But the Books in Homes focus on learning and achieving through goal setting - with reading as a tool and a focus - seems to have a massive impact on entire communities around participating schools. Parents are taught and encouraged to read to kids, jail rates fall away in these communities, bullying and truancy diminish. Camberley school reports that vandalism of school property dropped by 90% as a result of involvement in Books in Homes. Adult literacy improves and job opportunities are derived as a result. The programme involves kids in pre-school, primary school, and then High School kids become role models. Parents - especially Dads - and grandparents are encouraged to participate. It's inspired.

I went into the programme as a role model. This means I visited schools talking about how reading has made a positive difference in my life, to encourage kids to read, and I gave out their free books at the awards ceremony afterwards. I thought I was engaging in an act of service but, in fact, it has proven at least as inspiring for me as it was for the kids. I was the Books in Homes role model for Van Asch Deaf Education Centre in Sumner. The kids there, and their teachers, were amazing. I never saw anything as expressive as one of the teachers signing part of Deputy Dan to the kids. Their whole language of gesture is beautiful and an art form in itself. Later, they hosted me at a school performance of Oliver which was really special. Then, at the book launch, a senior student named Mark signed part of the book. His skill dumbfounded everyone who watched - I was mobbed by people wanting to talk about how theatrical it was afterwards - and it was a powerful moment. He gave me a brooch bearing a golden butterfly which made me an International Friend of the Deaf - it apparently is recognised all over the world - and which symbolises the Deaf Community: silent but beautiful.

What's next for Sally McLennan? What writing projects do you have underway, or in mind?

I'm dying to get settled into my new home and stuck in! I want to have as much as possible, if not all, of the Somewhere Else trilogy finished ahead of World Con (AussieCon 4: The World Science Fiction convention in 2010). The first book is about a group of kids who are translated into another world, one linked with our own, and at war. Of course, as in all fantasy stories of this type, there is the expectation that the children will be heroes. Of course, this story is a little more true to life about what happens to young people who suddenly find they are in the middle of a war. It's quite gritty and I am really enjoying writing it. A series about an imaginary friend who comes to life is ticking along nicely - the Jessica and Spuds series - which is definitely in prose. I also have, way on the back burner, a sequel to Deputy Dan.

While all that is going on Joel wants me to pen words to his graphic novel about JoJo, a boy in a circus, in space. That is a perfect continuation of our partnership: he has had to put images to my ideas now I have to match words to his images. I love working with Joel. He is my creative brother. Together we could come up with almost anything.