Friday, September 30, 2011

Conflux day one

It was a big day, although not a big day spent at the conference!
Just getting down to Canberra was nearly four hours in the car - and four hours of dealing with crazy drivers.
A couple of things I noticed:
If your 4WD is too big to stay in one lane, then you probably have some major body compensation issues.
And what part of ``Keep Left Unless Overtaking'' do people not understand? When you've got caravans doing 90km/h in the fast lane and dozens of people queued behind, you would think they might notice.
The HarperCollins rep for Canberra and South Coast, Jodi, told me today she reckons it's the theory of ``If my name isn't on it, then it doesn't apply to me''. I think she's right!
When I hit Canberra, I hit the bookstores. Sadly, the local bookstore scene is much reduced since the last time I was down here, with the Borders and A+R stores all gone.
Luckily the three Dymocks are still alive and well and truly kicking - I did Belconnen at lunchtime and then Canberra Central in the afternoon.
Canberrans love their books and I talked to a great many fascinating people - including several authors and people who want to be authors.
One of the most memorable was actually a bloke called Henry.
He didn't buy the whole trilogy, just book one, but he stood out.
You see, I always ask people, ``Do you like reading?'' and then if they stop, I then talk to them about the books and go from there.
He gave me the reply - ``I don't read''.
Usually I just smile and then turn away, but Henry wanted to talk. After chatting, he decided to buy the first book.
For a writer, that's a huge responsibility. If he doesn't get into this, then he might be turned off reading.
I hope, I really hope, that he gets into it and develops a love of reading.
I sold, I think, getting on for 50 books at the two stores (I'll have to go back into Twitter to check!)
Then I checked into the hotel before rushing off to check into Conflux.
I have the nasty feeling the hotel may be a big mistake. With Floriade, there was nothing available for two nights in the mid-range price. I'm in the Formule 1. It's cheap. For a reason. Still, there's always the hope the bed might be comfortable ...
The first panel at Conflux was on media franchises and while it was an interesting discussion, I wasn't able to make the point I had been thinking about when I signed up for it.
I see the development of spin-offs and fan fiction etc around TV shows and films as a demonstration of pure imagination, the imagination that speculative fiction fans need.
That's imagination being used for a positive thing.
Of course everyone has imagination but, sadly, too many people use it for purposes such as:
1) Imagining their bum does look good in those pants
2) Imagining that calling their kid Britney - but with two `i's, three `t's and four `e's is creative
3) Imagining that footballers with the morals of an alley cat and the sexual appetite of a randy goat make good role models for little Brittteeneei and her brother Cooper (spelt with a K, two `p's and two `h's)

Anyway, plenty of panels and one more bookstore tomorrow!
And the strange room at Formule 1 awaits ...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conflux Schedule

Here's my plans for Conflux this October long weekend.
If you're going to be at Conflux then these are the places you can catch me; if not, then there's still plenty of chances to say hello or get books signed as I go out to Dymocks stores!
If you aren't going to be in Canberra this long weekend, then why not follow things on Twitter? I'm going to be Twittering live at bookstore appearances and, if it's true to form, will have plenty of amusing tales from the shopping centres!
Look for @DuncanLay if you're not already following me.
Not on Twitter?I'll also be updating things on the blog and Facebook, so jump on there if you like.

Friday September 30
11.30am - Dymocks Belconnen
1.45pm - Dymocks Central Canberra
5.30pm - Media franchise panel

Saturday October 1
10am: Starting The Journey panel
11.30am: Dymocks Tuggeranong
2.30pm: Author-in-residence at Conflux
3.30pm: Writing With Dinosaurs panel
4.30pm: Mass Signing at Conflux (perfect for a chat as there'll probably be far more authors than readers!)

Sunday October 2
10am: Fantasy Accoutrements panel (where I'll be unveiling my new Goblinator 6000 Mark II ... )
11am: Kaffeeklatsche
12.30pm: A reading of The Radiant Child

Hope to say hello to as many people as possible!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Darth Vader strikes back at George Lucas

Twenty years ago, I interviewed Dave Prowse, who played the body of Darth Vader in the three original Star Wars movies.
To a newspaper cadet who had grown up on Star Wars (it was the first movie I had seen), this was an absolute thrill - not least because he demonstrated on me the classic scene where he picks up a Rebel officer and holds him two foot off the ground. Luckily he didn't do it by my neck! More on that later ...
But one of the things that surprised me was the way he spoke about Lucas, and what Lucas had done to the films after the actors had walked off the set.
Bear in mind this was in 1991, long before The Phantom Menace hit the screens and introduced Star Wars fans to a character hated more than Vader and the Emperor combined - Jar Jar Binks.
This week, George Lucas released all six of his Star Wars movies in Blu-ray - and the controversy reminded me vividly of what Dave Prowse was saying, 20 years ago.
For those who haven't been following it, or have been living underground in a small farming settlement on Tatooine, Lucas has taken the opportunity of fiddling with the movies for Blu-ray. Now, he's done this before - the Special Edition films tidied up many of the - admittedly - primitive special effects and sound, as well as reinstating scenes that had been cut from the original for budget and/or technology reasons (such as Han Solo meeting Jabba the Hutt in A New Hope).
But, to many fans, Lucas has gone too far now.
His biggest ``crime'' is to play with the climax of the original trilogy - some could say the climax to the entire saga.
Luke Skywalker, having defeated his father (Vader) refuses to take his place and turn to the dark side. The Emperor is shooting lightning bolts into the hapless Luke while Vader watches. Finally he can take no more and silently changes back to his former self, to Anakin Skywalker, destroys the Emperor, saves Luke - and sacrifices himself in the process.
In the new version, Vader now screams ``Nooooo!' as he acts, infuriating fans across the world.
But, 20 years ago, he had already infuriated Darth Vader.
Dave Prowse was out in Australia for a convention and visited Woy Woy to thank one of the organisers. I went to a small, fibro-style home to meet this giant of a man. He was struggling with arthritis (well, he was about 56 then) but a massive presence.
He told me Lucas spotted him in A Clockwork Orange and offered him a choice - either Chewbacca or Darth Vader. He said he chose Vader because ``everyone remembers the baddie''.
Obviously he and the other actors had no idea how big Star Wars was going to be - but he said he also had a huge shock when he watched the film for the first time. Having spoken all the lines himself, he told me he was surprised - and disappointed - to hear not his Bristol accent but the dulcet tones of James Earl Jones.
Frankly, this was a great choice by Lucas as Prowse's voice is not a patch on Jones - but Prowse was most disappointed that Lucas never told him, that the first time he learned of it was at the premiere.
Of course Lucas may have a different recollection of this; I haven't interviewed him.
Prowse was most proud of his work in The Empire Strikes Back, with what he called ``the thinking man's Vader'' but, by the time Return Of The Jedi came around, he had fallen out with Lucas.
He admits he was not happy on the set and he was deeply saddened he never got to show his face as Darth Vader, not even as the ``scarred'' Darth Vader in Return Of The Jedi. This role went to Sebastian Shaw - although Shaw was later edited out of the sequence where Anakin Skywalker appears as a Jedi spirit with Yoda and Ben Kenobi. Hayden Christensen was morphed into this - although why Anakin would be a young spirit when Kenobi stayed as Alec Guinness and not Ewan McGregor made no sense ...
Prowse was certainly a charming man to interview, dropping such tidbits as how he was Christopher Reeve's personal trainer for the original Superman, helping the skinny Reeve stack on 5kg of muscle for the role.
Still, he's huge and if I was Lucas, perhaps I wouldn't tell him bad news personally!
He also demonstrated the famous scene from A New Hope where he lifts up a Rebel officer by the throat. It was done in two parts - he held the actor around the throat while the man stood on a chair. For the second part he simply lifted the man in the air by his shoulders. To demonstrate this, he simply reached out, clamped his massive hands around my upper arms and lifted me a foot off the ground. Back then I was about 80kg but I might as well have been a feather.
As I hung there, feet dangling, it was a perfect moment.
Now I hear about the changes to the pivotal Vader moment and feel sad. Sad for Prowse, sad for such a wonderful character and sad for every child that watches the `new' print and misses out on a little bit of movie magic.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

In praise of beta readers

It's a fine line between your manuscript getting published - and it getting rejected.
There are any number of great ideas for books out there, and plenty of people with a talent for writing.
So what does make the difference?
For me, it is the quality of the advice you get - especially from beta readers - and of course what you do with that advice.
I've written before how a gust of wind was the difference between my first book, The Wounded Guardian, being published or not.
Of course it was the advice I was given, because of that gust of wind.
Beta readers make a huge difference to a book - but how do you find them?
They've got to be people you can trust to be honest, people able to find the flaws in your writing and also able to offer constructive criticism.
It's a fine line. You don't want to have too many people reading early drafts, because you can get too much conflicting advice.
But there's always the danger of not being able to see the big picture - the wood for the trees.
I am very lucky to have a couple of beta readers whose judgment I trust.
It was their suggestions that led me to a massive rewrite of the first book of the new series.
Of course you can't write a book by committee, but beta readers make all the difference.
I have no doubt there are many wonderful books languishing in dusty drawers or forgotten folders deep in the bowels of computers, all for the lack of beta readers.
If you don't have one (or two) then begin searching.
Most people know the value of a publishing editor, a copy editor and proof readers. I've been lucky enough to work with fantastic ones.
But I wouldn't have had a chance without a beta reader.
Truly, they are a vital part of the process.