It’s been a long, long time since I added any new content to my other blog, but since I mainly use blogging to talk to myself (just ask my 2.1 followers) I decided the blog needed to be separated from my vaguely professional-looking online store and (coming soon) Escape Room booking sessions, so the whole blog has been shifted over to a dusty old bloggin’ scene where only the devoted can find it. I’ll most likely play around with themes and stuff, so bear with me (my precious 2.1 followers). In a week or two, we’ll be back to our regular schedule at the new location aka

Meanwhile, here’s Zipper to ease the transition.


Who do you call good?

The title is a quote from the Bible, when someone calls Jesus “Good Teacher” (or something like that) and Jesus says, “No one is good but God alone.”

Which from him has a multitude of layers. But it’s also interesting, given how much Westerners like to think of ourselves as “a good person”.

I think I may have found one of the conclusions this blog entry will draw: that no one is “good” but God.

However. That doesn’t mean we may as well stop trying.

[Sidebar: The way Christianity fundamentally works is that Jesus died in order to save us unconditionally ie as soon as we accept him we got our ticket to Heaven, no matter if we just ate a delicious orphan lunch five minutes ago. BUT if you believe Jesus is who he says he is, and saved us, and loves us… then there is a side effect on your behaviour. A goodening effect, but it comes from gratitude and love rather than fear of damnation or being caught.]

This blog entry is about white guilt.

I am what I call “Omo white” based on those overdramatic ads of a white SO WHITE that it shines like the sun. That’s me.

The more history I learn, the more I realise that my life is as good as it is because my ancestors did horrible things. So although I’ve never personally attempted genocide, I benefit tremendously from the racist work of others. (And I’m sure I’m plenty racist myself, too. But today I’m concerned with systemic rather than individual racism eg the fact that my name and skin is white enough that I’m more likely to be hired than an equally qualified person with darker skin, or an accent, or a non-European name.)

Guilt is designed to tell us when we have done something wrong. White guilt is trickier, because it’s (mostly) not ME, the individual, who did the bad thing. But it IS me who benefits. So we get several possible reactions:

-Denial. “I didn’t do anything wrong” (or sometimes, “I earned everything I have from my own merit; history/racism has nothing to do with it.”)

-Repression. “I can’t fix this. Better not to think about it.”

-Anger. “How dare you make me feel bad when I didn’t do anything wrong!”

-Despair. “The world is evil; I’m evil. Everything sucks and can’t be fixed.”

-Assuage guilt. This is where I sit, acknowledging that I benefit from awful things done in the past (and present), and others suffer—and that this is not fair, and concluding that I need to do… something.

Some options for action are:

*Loudly acknowledging the facts, especially where people are angry or in denial. (Much social media liking/meme-ing etc ensues.)

*Give to charities, particularly those that are concerned with global problems.

*Join protests.

*Vote for the left, which tends to be less selfish.

*Devote one’s life to aid work.

*Become a vigilante killer (not recommended).

So much of the Western World is obscene or fantastical to poor people in third world nations (or even homeless or otherwise poor people in the West). Here is my daughter and I on a Ferris Wheel. It cost over $30 for a ride that took a few minutes.

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$30 is sufficiently alarming that we didn’t go on the Ferris Wheel last year, or the year before. But oh, the look of wonder on my son’s face as our gondola began to rise!

But… thirty dollars. For many people around the world, that is a month’s wages.

Should I sell all I have and give my money to the poor? Knowing what a difference my relatively small amount of cash would make in another country (a country that is poor because my ancestors and my politicians treat the people there as subhuman)?

Is it evil for me to buy gifts for my children, as others go hungry?

In Season Three of “The Good Place” TV show, the main characters discover that, as the world gets more complicated, it’s virtually impossible to do anything truly good. Five hundred years ago, you could gather wildflowers to give to your mother. Aw, how nice—and it doesn’t hurt anyone.

But today, in a city, you can’t gather wildflowers because all the flowers are in someone’s yard, or public property (for everyone to enjoy, so you shouldn’t take them away). So, gathering flowers is stealing. (Sidebar: you can gather certain weed flowers, which my children do for me regularly.) So you can buy flowers… which means either driving to a flower shop (using petrol, which is bad for the environment and has a bunch of other issues) or using your phone (manufactured in a third-world sweatshop?) and having the flower shop drive (using petrol).

So even with the purest heart, it’s impossible to exist in the West without being connected to pollution/Climate Change (which of course is already hitting the poor hardest), sweatshop labour, and so on.


I’ve also been reading a very interesting fantasy series in which magic is literally stealing from the poor. If a person is healed by magic, someone else gets sick. If a beautiful building is made with magic, a building elsewhere falls down. And OF COURSE it’s the pretty pretty Elvish types who use magic to make beautiful clothes, and cities, and art—while the ugly orcish types live in filth and dirt because they are the source of all that magic. And beauty. And art. Eg if an orc has a beautiful singing voice, they sell it to the elves for a few bowls of gruel. They do it willingly, because the system is so crushing that if they don’t sell all they have, they will starve.


See, the thing about sweatshops is that people line up to work in them, because there is no alternative. Or the alternative is to starve. So they work long hours for not-quite-enough. Then they are too tired and hungry to do good work or to work safely, or to find better work.

Welcome to the cycle of poverty.

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One of the characters is a teenage white female human. She has grown up loved and secure, so when she discovers how magic works she is devastated and immediately challenges it. When she is standing facing the leader of the Elves, she chooses not to kill him, but to lay down her own life and trust that others will give up all they have, like her, because it’s the right thing to do.

Another character is her boyfriend, a black man. He knows about daily systematic injustice, so when he discovers how magic works he believes the only way to stop it is to utterly destroy the elves. Because even if he kills the evil leader of the elves, the next elf leader will still be in a position of power over the orcs. So even if the next elf leader is “good” they can withdraw their favour at any time. That, of course, is why the White Saviour trope is so insidious. Because it keeps the “other” on the bottom, and the powerful White/Elf type people on the top. (I really hope he’s wrong, because I don’t want the Western World destroyed. And I don’t want it to be subservient to other parts of the world, either. I don’t want to be the “other” that has to rely on the goodness of the more powerful class.)

A third character points out that they are acting as if magic is finite. What they need to do is not to destroy all that has been built, but to use magic in such a way that it doesn’t destroy the orcs, but benefits them.

That has a real-world echo. There IS enough food in the world, already. And we could definitely create more resources ethically.

And isn’t that a nice “out” for people like me? Because I’m not a scientist, or a politician, so what can *I* do?

I’m going to leave it there, for now. Mostly because I’ve written quite a bit. Not because I’ve actually found an answer. But maybe the idea that “helpful must mean I suffer” is innately harmful, causing more guilt and fear rather than usefulness. So that’s something, at least.

IF Comp: Roads Not Taken

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I only did one play-through of this story, which took 40 minutes. “Slice of life” is a good description because it feels autobiographical*—both because of the detailed storytelling (good storytelling) and because it has the rambling uncertainty of real life. A lot of hyperlinks add detail, and the writing is good enough that they’re worth clicking on. Other times there is an obvious hub where one can investigate several options and then return to make a branching choice.

I’ve been avoiding realistic stories because… well, ugh. Who wants to read about real life when they’re already living it? (Real life and I are frenemies at best.)

But this is clearly a very well-written story with a vast amount of options. I suspect there are certain choices that lead to a more positive outcome than I got (so people who like the genre will definitely play multiple times), but mine wasn’t terrible or unsatisfying.

So although this didn’t give me the escapism I look for in a story, it is fundamentally perfect (a few spelling errors, but not enough to detract from the overall tale). So it gets 4 stars. In my system, that means a story that is fundamentally perfect.

*I don’t believe it’s actually autobiographical (more than any other story); it’s just so well written it feels real.

Edit: I actually gave it a 9, because the scores are out of 10.

IF Comp: Dull Grey

Okay, so the title is very off-putting. Gonna play it anyway.

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I’m enjoying the simple but layered visuals, even if they don’t technically count towards my score (it’s all about the words). But it shows the writer has spent time on making an involving and professional story. Mostly, in my mind, because it means they’ve ironed out a higher number of bugs.

This took me ten minutes to play through once. I could tell it was translated into English because some of the phrasing was just unusual (not quite wrong but not quite right) and some mistakes had gotten through too. Quite a few… but it still felt like a well-written story that just needed one or two more drafts from native English speakers.

It is, as the name suggests, a somewhat depressing story. Which is fine. I made the same choice over and over, and that got me a fairly common ending. I gather than changing one’s mind can change the ending, but I don’t like the story enough to play a second time (only because of personal taste, not because the story is bad).

As I said, the writing is genuinely good throughout. I’m going to give it 4 stars despite the errors, because I respect the effort of translation done well. Some of the errors add to the atmosphere, actually.

IF Comp: Arram’s Tomb

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Link to all the games is here.

This looks so perfectly D & D. The cover looks amateurish, but it conveys genre and style perfectly. It is 100% consistent with the writing, which is deliberately cliched.

Heh. It took me five minutes to die on my first go.

Ooh, I think I died even faster on my second go.

On my third try, I lasted SLIGHTLY longer.

This is fundamentally an interactive game, which I know sounds like damning it with faint praise but it’s not I swear! It’s not that easy to make a truly interactive game, and James Beck has done it.

I found the thief creeping on the cleric a bit… well, creepy. But it’s clearly part of his character, and it would only have been truly problematic if he managed to “get” the girl. (It’s possible that he does in some versions, but I’ll give the story the benefit of the doubt and assume that IF they get together it’s because of his positive actions, not because he’s manipulated her into it.)

I have a personal hatred of accents, and I think most readers will find the accent annoying. But I won’t penalise for that.

There were a few minor typos and such, but not enough to penalise.

The formatting was annoying. Most IF engines don’t let you indent paragraphs (like in a novel) so people usually leave a line between paragraphs, exactly like in this blog entry. I think the writer should definitely have done that.

I’m gonna say 3.5 stars for this, because it’s not quite  MY cup of tea but it is well written (deliberate stereotypes and all). If the judging form doesn’t allow half stars, I’ll raise it to 4 stars there.


IF Comp: Lucerne

The first pic is not showing up. Possibly because I’m using Safari?

Gorgeous cover. Atmospheric and intriguing. Screams “dark fantasy/adventure” which is right on. You can play it by clicking through to the full list of games here.

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And, I know I said I’d skip the 15 minute ones. I just… didn’t find many that suited my criteria, and this one sounded like it wasn’t too dark for me.

This took me about 10 minutes to play, which is about right (I read very quickly). It was a decent story, with a character arc that I found interesting.


I don’t think I made a single choice the whole way through.

And, there were quite a few spelling and grammar mistakes (oddly enough, the visual settings and certain grammar mistakes reminded me of “The Island”, which I just reviewed a moment ago… could they be written by the same person?)

I’m going to give this 2 stars as well, because although the story is better written than “The Island” it still has room for improvement, and the number of spelling and grammar mistakes is still quite high. And the lack of interactivity is quite severe.

But it’s another story that is free of sex and violence, which is actually an achievement in itself.

IF Comp: Valand/The Island

How long it actually took me to play: 15 minutes (the author estimated half an hour but I’m a very fast reader)

The opening of this story was really intriguing: The main character (a child—their gender is never specified) comes to consciousness having washed up on a beach, where they immediately meet a magical creature (who is unhelpful enough to keep the story interesting).

From there, however, there was a lot of dialogue with not much description and not much inner dialogue. It felt quite cursory (very much like my own first drafts, in fact) and wasn’t super involving. A lot of the time no choice at all was offered, and even when there were two or more choices I got the feeling that it barely made any difference (perhaps a line or two; perhaps looking at one part of a room instead of another) or when it did make a difference it wasn’t skill-based (eg finding a crucial object within two tries where there were three equally arbitrary options).

There were a LOT of spelling and grammar issues throughout, so much so that I wonder if the writer speaks English as a second language, or is dyslexic, or very young. My money is on, “Very talented, but very young” in which case the harsh standard of reviews for IF Comp may be discouraging (there are a few shocked and wounded writers every year) BUT if the writer is 16 or less they are definitely someone to watch in future. I feel like even one beta reader would have dramatically improved this story. It’s also possible that the writer is simply a newbie writer (newbie here meaning less than 1000 hours spent writing creatively and learning the basics like grammar). I also feel like there were no beta readers at all, which shows a lack of understanding of the (very generous and helpful) IF Community.

It was really good to see some diversity in the story, which felt natural and showed that the writer has the ability to write interesting stories.

I’m giving it 2 stars, which I feel terrible about, but there are two flaws. First, the writing is fine but not brilliant, and lacks truly interesting choices. Second, the spelling/grammar is quite bad. So if a perfect story gets only 4 stars, this one has to be penalised twice.

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(The above is a screenshot, go here for the full list of IF Comp entries, including this one.)

(Great cover, by the way. I would add half a star except covers aren’t officially part of the judging criteria.)

It’s awesome to find a G-rated story that kids could play safely.

IF Comp

I looked forward to entering IF Comp all of this year, as my reward for finishing an unexpectedly difficult story (due at the end of August). I’d done a bit of research and written the opening. The first week of September I did barely anything. I was utterly exhausted—and besides, I had two months to write this thing. It was gonna be fine.

Then I realised I had the date wrong. The IF Comp deadline is the end of September, not October. And I wrote like a wild thing, often writing 5000 words  a day. Then, with 48 hours to go, I went to the web site to do an upload test and… I couldn’t. Because the deadline had passed.

I’d got it wrong twice. It was due 28 September, not 30 September.

The good news is… it doesn’t really matter. It’s going to be a Hosted Game eventually anyway, which will get me more money than the IF Comp anyway. I’m going to take the extra time to write another couple of chapters and of course much more editing. It’s a great game, I think. Here’s the cover:


It’s a prequel to “Choices That Matter: And Their Souls Were Eaten”, which means it’s a prequel to alllll my steampunk tales. It starts in late-1700s France (a rather exciting time) and the player character is a mad scientist who gets off death row by volunteering to be the first person to fly in a hot air balloon. If you want to help edit it (and read it for free), go ahead and email

But the point of this entry isn’t that. It’s the IF Comp, which I can now judge freely (although I can’t rank anything I beta tested).

So here’s my method for selection: I scrolled past the first ten or so entries, on the basis that most people would start from the top (and a strong minority would start from the bottom), so I should start from the middle (this was unnecessary because the comp automatically shuffles entries for you anyway). I went right past everything parser-based (parser makes me cry, possibly because of the same brain damage that made me get the due date wrong twice). I also skipped anything dealing with suicide, death, or horror. Or experimental (again, brain damage – I’m already confused, and don’t want more confusion on top of that), poetry (which is more or less experimental, isn’t it?). Also anything that’s too close to my real life (making money, raising children), because that’s way too stressful. And I skipped most of the super-short ones on the basis that they should get plenty of readers.

I’m gonna try and do five today. Five is the minimum amount for a judge to do, so if I can do five today then I have room to not do any more (assuming the rest of life overwhelms me, as it usually does).

So here is my opening impression of the comp, based on skimming through less than half of the entries:

People definitely put a lot less time into a lot of these than I did into “Flight”. Some don’t have cover images at all, and a lot of others look terrible. (I confess, I have a weakness for beautiful imagery, which isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for a good cover. Still.) I gather a lot of people joined the competition for the same fundamental reason I did—for fun. But I was aiming for a top ten finish, which meant writing a game that was between 1.5 and 2 hours (the rule is “judge on the first two hours of game play” but games with more content tend to do better), and highly polished.

I’m going to try to be a harsh critic, just so I can differentiate good games from brilliant. So if a game is fundamentally perfect, I’ll give it a 4. If I think it might win outright because it’s so incredibly amazing, I’ll give it a 5. Anything else gets less.

Wish me luck. I’m diving in…

Edited to add: So, games are scored out of 10, not 5. I adjusted my official scores accordingly.

Death at the Rectory

It’s been a long, long time but I finally have another ChoiceScript interactive story.

DEATH AT THE RECTORY (iOS, Google Play, Amazon, etc) is a cozy crime mystery (with magic) which was very much inspired by the real-life rectory of St John’s Anglican in Gundagai. Here are some pics from the actual rectory:


And here’s a bit of the church, made of the same beautiful local slate:


I’m no professional photographer, though, so here’s the real cover (and an unrelated church):


Want those shiny links again? Here they are!

Editing a ChoiceScript Game

The interactive fiction community is a wonderful, welcoming space. It is common practice to share a book (aka a game) with other people before officially publishing it. Those first readers spot all manner of errors and are extremely generous and helpful.

But with THE FLOATING CITY, I needed a Sensitivity Reader to check I wasn’t unwittingly writing harmful tropes into my characters who are disabled. So that meant hiring someone from outside the community. I wrote this quick and dirty guide to coping with the weird-looking files that magically turn into shiny happy games… because if you’re SERIOUS about editing, you need to go ‘backstage’ and read every single word.

Without further ado….

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A quick guide to editing/understanding the game files.
Each reader choice looks a little like this:
You are a person.
     #This is a choice, eg. Walk left.
     #This is a different choice, eg. Walk right.
This is the same choice, slightly expanded:
You are a person.
     #This is a choice, eg. Walk left.
          Oh no! You walk into the jaws of a monster and are covered in slime.
          *goto next_bit
     #This is a different choice, eg. Walk right.
          Yay! You find a pile of treasure.
*label next_bit
Well, that was interesting.
Now the reader gets a different line of text depending on which choice they made. The *goto and *label commands bottleneck the reader’s experience, so that everyone would read, “Well, that was interesting.”
This is the same choice, but with a way for the game to remember a piece of basic information for later. Don’t stress about numbers; they’re just a method of record keeping.
You are a person.
     #This is a choice, eg. Walk left.
          *set happy %-10
          Oh no! You walk into the jaws of a monster and are covered in slime.
          *goto next_bit
     #This is a different choice, eg. Walk right.
          *set happy %+10
          Yay! You find a pile of treasure.
*label next_bit
Well, that was interesting.
*if happy > 5
     You feel happy.
     *goto next_next_bit
     You feel unhappy.
*label next_next_bit
The orange part is a ‘test’. It can happen at any point in the game. Here, all it does is comment in the text. In later chapters, it might make the character succeed or fail at something.
In this example, one player would read:
“Oh no! You walk into the jaws of a monster and are covered in slime. Well, that was interesting. You feel unhappy.”
The other player would read:
“Yay! You find a pile of treasure. Well, that was interesting. You feel happy.”
With me so far? It is possible to have choices nested within choices (the number of indentations helps you track what set goes with what), and it’s also possible to have subroutines, which are just a section of text that can be located anywhere else in the same chapter, which work like this (using *gosub, *label, and *return):
You see a mountain.
     #Ugh. I hate mountains.
          *set happy %-10
          *gosub description
          *goto nexty_bit
     #Yay. I love mountains.
          *set happy %+10
          *gosub description
          *goto nexty_bit
*label description
The mountain is super tall, with trees on it.
*label nexty_bit
You start walking up the mountain.
One player would choose to read: “You see a mountain. Ugh I hate mountains. The mountain is super tall, with trees on it. You start walking up the mountain.”
The other would read (including the choice they made): “You see a mountain. Yay. I love mountains. The mountain is super tall, with trees on it. You start walking up the mountain.”
If something is written after *comment, it is not visible to the reader. Usually it’s notes to myself for when I’m editing.

The income of the full-time author

Many years ago, I learned that the average full-time writer in Australia earns $12,000 per year (that is, considerably less than minimum wage).

Here’s what I earned over the last three years:




Soooo…. this year was better than last year. Yay?

The main reason I lost so much money last financial year was that I accidentally started a small business—”Murder in the Mail” and “Magic in the Mail”. Starting a small business is even more expensive than writing for a living—and yes, I’m still very behind financially on those stories (which, in small business terms, is perfectly normal).

Don’t start a small business, kids. (I mean, unless it’s what you really want to do, and you’ve saved up a huge pile of money to invest.)

As you can imagine, all this puts a huge strain on our finances. Which in turn puts a huge stress on my already-teetering mental health. Not to mention physical health (as a relatively minor example, I currently need a CPAP machine to treat my sleep apnea—that’s been on the ‘to-do’ list for about a year so far).

I’m relatively lucky, by writer standards. Weirdly enough, the main reason I’m able to write full time is that I’m not well enough to do anything else (so our finances would suck whether I wrote or not). And I also have a husband who works full-time. It’s a dirty secret that most full-time writers have a spouse who’s paying most of the bills.

The positive side of this is that writing doesn’t have to be expensive. You got a computer? at least one finger? Internet? That’s all you need. (Yes, it’s a good idea to do professional development and networking and so on, but you genuinely don’t need to bother until you’ve written and polished at least one novel, which most people will never do.)

(Yes, writing takes time. If you care about it, you find time. If not, then why fight it? Watch TV instead, or garden, or whatever.)

If you want to write, write. But remember that every dream has a cost.

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About My Boy

I have a son.

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I still remember how odd it felt, when pregnant, to be carrying a boy. Obviously, boys are born all the time—but it felt instinctively strange to me to go through such an intensely female experience to produce something masculine.

(When we were told Louisette was a girl—again, at the 20 week ultrasound—Chris said to me in the car on the way home, “Don’t die, please, because I have no idea how to raise a girl.” I understood that sentiment a little better when I found out TJ was a boy.)

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There’s plenty I still don’t know about boys, but spending every day looking after someone eventually makes a parent feel moderately competent. (Which is probably quite silly, because children are changing constantly, so you’re never an expert on the person that they are at this exact second…. but as a parent you’re the closest thing to an expert that exists.)

TJ was immensely strong from birth, able to lift his head immediately, and scream bloody murder for a good twenty minutes without pause (which is pretty much when we gave up on breastfeeding, although I kept trying for another day or so). As a baby, we marvelled at his ability to amuse himself, without needing anyone else in the room. I was able to shower and go to the bathroom freely.

But if we left the house, he would not leave our arms. He knew who his parents were (and soon learned his grandparents) but anyone else was a Stranger To Be Shunned. He was about 9 months old when he started actually enjoying venturing away from us in public, and the whole world of playgrounds opened up. From that point, we took precautions to make sure he didn’t simply wander away from us (because he was confident enough to do so, and as usual he didn’t need company to have adventures).

For a long, long time he would only sleep either in our arms or with my arm draped over him. We had one of those bassinets that hook onto the side of the parents’ bed, and that was an absolute lifesaver.

TJ was born with an introvert’s disdain for social pressure (from either peers or parents). While Louisette’s automatic answer is “Yes” (“Do you want to go to the playground?” “Do you want to wear this shirt?”), TJ’s automatic answer is “No”, even to questions like, “Do you want some ice cream?”

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He’ll often pause and then say, “Actually, yes” but sometimes he’ll stick to his decision no matter how irrational. This trait by itself would make him a strong-willed child but it’s extremely modified by his calm and cheerful nature.

TJ is, in many ways, the perfect little boy. He has SO MANY BEANS and takes so much joy in life, and is so delightfully sure of himself.

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He’s also very, very smart academically. He knows all the letter sounds and several words, can count and add and do some multiplication, and he can tell a really good story, invent great imaginary friends (usually superheroes, with an awesome range of powers), and build amazing creations (either following step by step instructions—he can accurately follow incredibly complex lego instructions—or inventing his own things).

He and Louisette both make great engineers, inventors, and storytellers. TJ’s intelligence is much more obvious than Louisette’s, because a lot of Louisette’s ability is hidden behind her ADD. TJ doesn’t seem to have any health issues other than dry skin in Winter, so that’s awesome for him (and us).

TJ is incredibly entertaining. He loves to make sound effects (eg rocket sounds for when he’s running up the hallway), is extremely expressive, and is the class comedian.

When he goes to his regular class, other kids are happy to see him and call out for him to sit with them. There are two girls in particular who come up to him and try to make him laugh. Both girls are very pretty and popular in their own right, but they clearly enjoy TJ’s humour (which mostly consists of nonsense words, silly faces, and falling over). In their interactions I see foreshadowing of TJ’s likely popularity with pretty girls in his teen years. He’s pretty good looking himself, and everyone likes a laugh. He also gets on well with nearly everyone, because he’s very good at backing down over confrontation (eg two kids fighting over a toy). TJ is the main reason our kids mostly get on and play well together.

Having said that, he takes a while to warm up to new people or situations. I generally stay with him quite a while after drop-off, because (a) I get lots of hugs that way, and (b) It means he will eventually let me leave without crying. (Also it means I can observe his classmates a little—I want them to consider me a safe adult/friend in their teens.)

Sometimes, his humour and strong sense of self combine in ways that I don’t like as much. It’s well established that he prefers his dad to me, and he’ll often be quite rude to me. (By “quite rude” I mean things like this picture, which includes his aunt and uncle, cousin, sister, and Dad—but not me. When questioned by Chris, he said, “I didn’t want Mum in this one.” He also almost never hugs me goodnight—although if Chris encourages him to do a “surprise hug” involving a long creep across the floor followed by jumping up and hugging me, that usually works.)

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Other times he’ll be sweet and lovely. When I was at IronFest this year, talking to the kids on the phone before they went to bed, he told me, “I love you times a googol.” (Eat that, Iron Man.) But he’s ALWAYS sweet and lovely to Chris, and I’m so jealous! (Which of course puts pressure on TJ, which makes him less likely to show affection…)

He’s also discovered the delightful world of poo-related insults lately. Since I feel a rebel needs something to push against, I always react sternly if he calls someone “poopy pants”. I suspect his humour will always be edgy (calling someone a poo is 100% edgy at age 5), and I hope it never turns truly mean or hurtful.

TJ is, most likely, an able-bodied straight white male (he’s definitely able-bodied, white, and male). That automatically gives him power, and my job as a parent is to teach him to use his power for good and not for evil (or pure selfishness). As the youngest in our family, he has very little power thus far, and I think having a pet is absolutely essential for his development. “Be careful of those smaller, younger, or weaker than you” is such a crucial message (along with consent, which is why I don’t force him to hug me), and TJ’s best practical application is our cat(s).

I have a bazillion photos of TJ with our cats (the fluffy one in the pics above died last year), and at a certain point cats can teach boundaries themselves—if you mess with a well-trained cat, they will show physical signs of distress, then hiss and/or swat you, then scratch you.

Zipper (new cat) likes TJ, but he sometimes yells at/near her, or runs around too much, or teases her—so Zipper prefers Louisette (the person in our house most likely to sit still for a decent amount of time). I keep a sharp eye on TJ’s treatment of Zipper, because it shows any bullying tendencies that I wouldn’t otherwise see.

TJ is so darn full of life and joy and enthusiasm. He’s an absolute delight. He and Louisette both have an issue of shutting down when their emotions are running high, which makes it hard to solve a problem (since it can take a long time to get essential info out of them, like “I hurt my toe” or “I wanted the blue spoon”), so we’ll continue to work on emotional resilience with both of them. They don’t get much good modelling on that score because Chris is extremely calm and I am borderline manic depressive.

Sorry kids :/

TJ turned five last week, which is what inspired these reflections on his character. When Louisette turned five and I was talking on facebook about what a big milestone it is, the Aussie author Pamela Freeman (who writes historical fantasy as Pamela Hart) commented that if they’re a decent person at five years of age they’ll most likely be a fairly similar person as an adult.

I could definitely handle that. They’re pretty great human beings.

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To sum up: TJ is smart, funny, happy, introverted/socially independent, energetic, curious, and strong-willed. I hope he finds healthy ways to channel his need to push boundaries. I’m pretty sure he’ll do just fine in life, and will earn more than any other member of his family. Hopefully he’ll look after the rest of us when we need it.

I have many more fun years of TJ’s childhood to come. I suspect I’ll barely see him in his teens, but he’ll come through all right thanks to his strong sense of self. I think he’ll be a lot like his dad when he’s all grown up: largely content, a bit oblivious at times, and a contributing member of society with a small but solid core of nerdy friends.

Do your legs stop working when it rains?

I got pissy today, and wrote this piece for the school newsletter. When I googled how much the fine was I stumbled across some stuff I didn’t know, so I thought it was worth a blog post.
Dropping and fetching kids is a hassle in winter, but remember… don’t park in disabled spots even when you really, REALLY want to.
Although wheelchairs are relatively rare there are many people with painful chronic conditions who regularly and legally use disabled parking spots. Some people use their disability permit in order to avoid danger (due to conditions that hamper vision, balance, or coordination—or conditions that are made worse by even gentle physical movement). Others use their permit to limit their pain levels, since some medical conditions are invisible but make it painful for the person to stand or walk for even a few steps.
You can recognise legitimately disabled people by the permits in their cars even when their condition is not immediately obvious. Most medical conditions are not visible at a glance.
In NSW, the fine for stopping in a disabled spot is $549 and a demerit point even if:
-You are still physically inside the car.
-Your engine is still on.
-You’re there for less than 60 seconds.
-You have a perfect driving and parking record.
-There is an empty disabled spot right next to you.
It’s fine to use the disabled spot to reverse into a different parking space, or if there is a medical emergency.
This PSA was brought to you by winter rain and Someone Who Thought It Was Okay To Park In My F***ing Spot.
And also by all the people who see me slinging children, bags, and my fat self in and out of disabled spots and think I’m okay.
This is what I looked like before I got sick (I’m on the left):
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*The massive obesity is actually a clue that something has gone badly wrong with my life, but of course it just makes me look ugly and lazy rather than making people think, “Ooh, that poor woman is clearly dealing with a lot and not coping, poor love.”
Here’s a recent photo:
Life sucks a bit, sometimes.

Things I should be doing right now

Most importantly, I should be writing my quota for the day: 1000 words.

And gluing some stuff back together.

And tidying the living room.

And sorting three loads of washing; washing two loads including cleaning up an epic blood nose from last night (by TJ).

And sorting out the ominously paper-filled sections of several “I should totally deal with this” piles: my work table, a basket full of ancient papers that may or may not be important but has been lurking for months; part of the kitchen bench.

Sew repairs on 5-10 items.

Buy time-teaching clock from Aldi (and tissues, and milk). – DONE

Drop Louisette at school – DONE

Pick her up; go to grandparents; fetch TJ and Chris; come home.

Take out the recycling.

And the kitty litter.

Sort out all the escape room stuff currently in my living room.

Edit “Feuding Fae” and coordinate postcard printing (and letter printing).

Sort “Murder in the Mail” stock.

Design and post ad for “Murder in the Mail” final subscription period (and “Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae” first subscription period).

Organise a launch for “The Princess and the Pirate”?

Write business plan and sign contracts for “See Through” (yup, that’s a whole new book).

Organise a launch for “Feuding Fae”?

Write a blog post. With pics.

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Appropriately drowning-like picture (actually swimming in a tidal pool last Christmas, which I LOVED).


TJ had his first truly epic blood nose about 3am last night and Chris and I both had to get up and run around with tissues and towels and so on. Then I got super anxious about… just… life. All of it. It took a long time to get back to sleep.

I’m still feeling panicky and overwhelmed today, so I thought making a list might help. Then I colour coded the list; blue for things I can delegate to Chris; purple for “won’t take long”, and red for seriously needs to be done today. Yellow for things I’ve already done and should celebrate.

I’m gonna do the gluing now. That will be one small thing done. Then I’ll probably go have a nap (from 3am-6am I slept on the couch; I could hear Chris snoring even from there). I nap 9 days out of 10 because of one of my meds (amytriptyline, for those who like knowing such things), and I’m also recovering from the flu at the moment.

If I have a shower on the way to bed, then that’s two jobs done.

Yes, showering is a job. Sometimes I feel fine after a shower; sometimes I’m exhausted. Either way I dread showering.

In other news, I have an operation scheduled for 12 June. It’s for adenomyosis (and presumed endometriosis). I’ve been having stronger and stronger endometriosis symptoms… which is good, because if it’s bad enough (which they only know by operating on it) then not only will my overall health improve a bunch, but I’ll get an insurance payout too.

So that will be awesome.


Bits and Bobs from “Brass”

I spent last weekend at Nimmitabel’s Steampunk @ Altitude festival, and the weekend before that at IronFest in Lithgow, so it’s been a wild steam-powered ride for the last couple of weeks.

But a few old pics related to HEART OF BRASS just came to my attention, so I’m posting them here before they return to the aether and vanish.

First, here are two pics from an unusual book review. Mawson is a bear, and one of my fellow Odyssey authors (he’s published under the more visual “Publisher Obscura” imprint). You can read his full review of HEART OF BRASS here. Here are some photos Mawson took, featuring his friends:

Mark O'Dwyer - Heart of Brass 2

Mark O'Dwyer - Heart of Brass

(This is the sort of thing that makes writers go “Squee!”)

Now here’s something I don’t think the general public has ever seen before: a picture that the publisher (Odyssey Books) provided way back in the very beginning of the cover-making process. This is a fabulous pic, but we ended up not using it.

You can print it out and colour it in, if you like.


Lovely, isn’t she?

Guest Post: What doesn’t kill me. . .

Hello and welcome to Karen J Carlisle!

Karen J Carlisle is a writer and illustrator of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition. Her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, was published in 2015 and her short stories have featured in the 2016 Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’, and the ‘Where’s Holmes’ and ‘Deadsteam’ anthologies.

Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.

She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.


Karen is just about to release The Department of Curiosities. Here’s the blurb:

Miss Matilda Meriwether has a secret. Actually, she has several. One of them has shaped her adult life. Another now controls it. Her Majesty Queen Victoria has control of the Empire. She is the Empire, and creator of its secrets. Sir Avery works for The Department of Curiosities – the keepers of secrets – especially if they are useful to the Empire. When Tillie finds herself in the employment of The Department of Curiosities, she realises this is the perfect opportunity to uncover the truth she has been searching for. But the Queen has other plans for her.

The Department of Curiosities is a steampunk tale of adventure, a heroine, mad scientists, traitors and secrets. All for the good of the Empire.

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And here’s a guest blog:

What doesn’t kill me…

“Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker.”

“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche (German philosopher),

Twilight of the Idols (1888)

Today I’m writing about writing processes, the evolution of The Department of Curiosities and a long, long journey through the dark.

In 2012 my life changed. For six months I floundered. I’d worked since I was fifteen. Now, suddenly and unexpectedly, I wasn’t. I was lost. How had this happened? Why had this happened? Why me? Why?

I was given professional advice: do something I like. “Find your bliss,” they said. “Do something for yourself.”

I’d always wanted to be a writer and artist, so I turned to a quirky fantasy story that had been mulling around in my head since the late 1980s. But my mood was too dark for the characters. I didn’t blame them. There were other stories wanting to be freed. I turned to a steampunk story I’d been toying with… An adventure. It had a name: The Department of Curiosities. I started writing.

For almost a year I wrote, as my professional world began to crumble, and finally crashed in 2014. I felt used, abused, betrayed, and abandoned. My mental health was stretched. After twenty-eight years of looking after everyone else – my family, my patients – I had to learn to look after myself (not as easy as it sounds). I felt selfish. I felt exhausted. I felt useless.

I stopped writing.

The characters of The Department of Curiosities slipped back into the shadows not wanting to entertain the Black Dog. I didn’t blame them either. Eventually, Viola Stewart stepped forward, willing to sacrifice herself (and her eye) to support and guide me through the next three years. Jack the Ripper, and various nefarious villains, helped me explore motives and psychology as I delved into the darker side of humanity: why do people do what they do? In the process I confronted my own daemons and my personal Black Dog, which constantly nipped at my heels.

Being trained as a scientist, I needed not only to put a name to my emotions, but to discover why I felt this way. Almost five years of professional help, and I hadn’t progressed beyond: Anxiety, ‘deep breathing’ and ‘finding my happy place’.

In 2018 I changed professionals, and was challenged to confront myself. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I started desensitisation therapy.

Finally I felt a slight ease. Things made sense. There was the odd moment of calm. A smile here and there. Aunt Enid popped by, providing a glimmer of hope in my writing worlds. She was beginning to open the doorway back to my original fantasy story… but I wasn’t (and am not) quite there yet.

Tillie stepped forward. She was ready to be heard. I glanced over my notes, pulled out my original manuscript (of almost 80,000 words). I started at the beginning –rewriting, scribbling down notes and plot changes as I went. The story was a little darker than I’d originally envisaged, but overall was a much lighter story than Viola’s murder mysteries, with adventure at its heart.

The Department of Curiosities is my longest story yet – at 104,000 (ish) words/420 pages. Most of the plot has remained intact, though I’ve rewritten almost everything – cutting back on ‘tell’, rewriting ‘inactive’ sentences and adding extra characters. I’ve learned so much about writing in the past five years! During the process, I discovered Tillie, like me, has been fighting to control her own life.

I’ve heard people describe writing as a form of therapy. But it’s not an easy path (at least not the one I took), and not one for the faint hearted. I confronted some dark themes, shied away from some, and embraced others. I discovered catharsis. I’ve excised a character’s eye in revenge, peeked into the darkness of the soul, confronted the feeling of helplessness, and struggled to free myself (and my characters) from the control (or at least the perceived control) of others. I’ve even visited the happier memories from my childhood.

It’s been a long journey, and looks to be a long, rocky trek ahead. Writing has played a major part, sometimes taking me on unexpected side paths, but all heading in one direction: forward.

I feel like I’m starting to free myself from years of expectations and self-denial and neglect. I’ve found a way to work through some of my darker thoughts. It’s helped me to accept (on good days) that I deserve ‘me time’, to look after myself and my mental health. As Writing has made me stronger. I’m starting to believe in myself again. I’m facing my fears and anxieties one at a time. Sometimes I win. Sometimes they do. Perhaps one day I will bring that Black Dog to heel?

The Department of Curiosities is my fifth book – and my longest (if you don’t count that fantasy book still squirming in the back of my head), not only in word count, but in gestation time. I wrote another five chapters and shuffled two chapters into the second book of the trilogy.

I started this journey in 2013. It’s taken five years to see it to completion. It’s taken a year to finally finish the final version of the manuscript.

The Department of Curiosities will be officially released on 22nd May (Tillie’s birthday). A perfect time for new beginnings…

You can find out more information on where to buy it at: Check out the book trailers at



If you want to follow the rest of The Department of Curiosities book launch blog tour, check out the links on my blog post: You can sign up for my newsletter at:

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