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Dancing, Duelling, Delicious: The official book launch for HEART OF BRASS

You know what’s cool? Nurofen tablets are sugar coated.

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HEART OF BRASS had her official Book Launch yesterday as part of the inaugural Canberra Writers Festival, an absolutely huge event. I was written about (with a cover image) in Canberra Weekly magazine (96,000 readers!) and in the Canberra Times, as well as various other places.

The launch took place in the National Library of Australia (pictured behind the kids and I), in the Ferguson Room. The Ferguson Room overlooks the foyer of the National Library, which gives it a grand air and means one can watch guests coming in. That was particularly fun for me, since I’d encouraged steampunk/historical garb and was well rewarded for my efforts. My kids loved it too. Louisette got to talk into the microphone before anyone else showed up, and she imitated my own test speech by saying, “I wrote a book”—which in her case is quite true (if you haven’t read “The Adventures of Pirate Captain Louisette”, just scroll down a couple of entries).

 

I’m usually a very confident public speaker, but I was intensely nervous (enough to have patches of time when I was breathing funny) before this event, even though I was rationally confident it would go well.

The best and most important thing is people.

I was very lucky in that regard. The Ferguson Room is meant to seat forty people, which is rather a lot for a debut author—but within a day of setting up the facebook page (and SMSing and emailing various people to invite them personally), I knew I had at least twenty people. The phrase “book launch” is haunted by the horrifying spectre of a desperately awkward room of four people sitting in a sea of chairs and wishing fervently that they were elsewhere (none more miserably than the author). By the time the big day rolled around I was slightly nervous that the room would be unpleasantly crowded or that we’d run out of books for people to buy (what wonderful issues to have!) I estimated 50-60 guests beforehand, and I was exactly on the money. Someone had added a few more chairs to the room, which was useful. We sold a very healthy number of books without selling out altogether (my publisher and I both had extra stashes of books just in case). I would have liked to sell more, but this means that the National Library bookshop still has copies on the shelf (excellent promotion in itself).

50-60 people is a lot. That’s a larger number than any event I’ve hosted before (with the exception of my wedding), and it was in a location I didn’t know well.

I get panicky in new places. The National Library as a whole is somewhere I’ve been to many times, and I visited the room before the launch to get a sense of the space, but the technical equipment was new on the day. It all worked well (strange but true), including the book trailer and the dancing music. I really enjoyed the location and I wish I could start over so I could have that confidence from the beginning. Bring on Book 2!

Robbie Matthews is a friend, a writer, and a generally charming and funny person who’s well known to the Canberra writing community. He was MC at my wedding, and I was very pleased with myself for thinking of him again for the launch (especially as it prevented me from haranguing other authors who I don’t know as well).

At my wedding reception one of the tables was “the minion table”—full of people who’d helped decorate, give lifts, take photos, etc. As MC Robbie was on that table and he made friends. Then he made a highly memorable speech about the wide range of colourful threats I’d made to all my sweet innocent minions in order to let them know what would happen if they didn’t do their assigned jobs. I vividly recollect how impressed I was at the time that I’d subconsciously tailored original threats to each person.

As the book launch drew closer I wondered what Robbie would say about me, since I hadn’t threatened anybody this time. He got up and explained how we’d met: We did Live Action Role Playing (LARPing is like a play where all the players have a general character and plot outline and then improvise to amuse one another), and I was his fictional daughter. “By the end,” Robbie explained, “she was wearing my spine as a necklace.”

Oh yeah… I’d forgotten about that. (To be fair, my character was under a lot of stress at the time.) One may draw one’s own conclusions about my general mental health…

A lot of book launches are introduced by the writer’s publisher. It’s a very neat way to do things, but I always felt it was a bit sad since the author and publisher are the people who are the most desperate to sell the book. Having Robbie meant that we had a disinterested party recommending the book (which he read before the launch). That made me feel much less like a grasping novice.

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I realised belatedly that the reason I was so nervous was that I was, in the most literal sense of the phrase, “selling something” (and to an audience that was trapped for the duration, too). It’s impossible for a writer to truly know if a book is good or not (although being published certainly helps) and that’s why I always find book launch speeches so horrifying. I acquitted myself well enough, I think.

I’d described the launch to Louisette in advance, and she said she wanted to help with my speech, so when I got up I summoned her as well. She is an adorable child and was adorably serious about the entire process—but she stood bravely (by herself, because I needed to stay near the podium microphone). She was very pleased afterwards with her own courage. Hopefully this will lead her to be a confident public speaker, rather than turn her into a full-time writer (creative jobs have a high personal cost that I wouldn’t wish on anyone).

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Clothing is tricky while I’m still waiting for my stomach muscles to be put back together (not helped by weird sensory overstimulation stuff that tends to give me panic attacks if I wear new clothes), but I’d had an idea (on Friday) to adjust a favourite skirt, and that very much improved things for me.

My other main panic was that I’d simply forget to bring something essential. I started putting things in the car last Thursday, and although there were certain things I meant to do and didn’t, all the important pieces (such as a copy of the book to give away to the best costume, and having my kindle prepped on the podium for my reading) were in place.

This was all very much complicated by the fact that I’d gotten overenthusiastic and decided to write and run a Live Action Role Play game inside Questacon after the launch. But that’ll need its own entry 🙂

The tea duelling and catering was complicated by the fact that no outside food was allowed, and no food was allowed in the room. That meant paying a huge sum to the cafe (which reserved tables for us and did a great job from beginning to end) and having biscuits that were fresh and delicious but not the right kind for duelling. Although the cafe staff were excellent and the location classy, the lack of ability to bring in a pack of plain dry biscuits was annoying. Still, it was entertaining and it looks great in pictures (useful for media coverage, which is useful for selling books, which is the point). And even though we under-catered, most people were so distracted by the duelling that they didn’t eat or drink at all.

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The waltzing was a huge highlight. I had one couple primed to lead the way, and Louisette is an enthusiastic amateur. I figured I’d waltz with Louisette while my dancers hopefully lured a couple or two to join them over the course of the piece.

Actually, I danced with Chris the second the music started, and several other couples willingly took to the floor in an instant. The space was perfect (everyone moved the chairs back); roomy enough to dance without feeling either crowded or lonely.

It’s been a long time since Chris and I waltzed, and it was a lovely moment for both of us. I found out later that one of the other people dancing was stepping out (invited by a nearby acquaintance because Canberra is like that) for the first time since major surgery, and it made her realise she might be healthy enough to dance regularly again soon.

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Adrenalin does wonders in carrying my wreck of a body through things (in fact that’s probably part of why I do things like this—for a while, I feel normal). My muscles were freaking out last night as the adrenalin wore off, and today I’m weirdly sore in a dozen places (hence the nurofen). Luckily I’m not involved in the rest of the Canberra Writers Festival so I don’t need to do anything more strenuous than writing and napping for the rest of the day.

I still can’t quite believe how many people came.

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The launch was as close to perfect as it could be. The festival, venue, and volunteers were all top notch. Ultimately I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Filed under Advanced/Publication, Daily Awesomeness, I get paid for this, Love and CJ, MegaList of Awesomeness, My Novels, Reviews, Steampunk, Steampunk Australia Stories, Steampunk Series, Writing Advice, Writing Ranting

“Worst one I’ve played”: Reviewing the Reviewers

It’s finally happened: my first interactive (that is, Choose Your Own Adventure-ish) Australian steampunk novel is wandering unsupervised in the great big world, gathering reviews near and far (and scaring its mother half to death).
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My very first review was the hilarious comment “Worst one I’ve played”, accompanied by one star. I’m genuinely delighted by such a start to proceedings, and could only be happier if a major lobby called for it to be banned.
Moments ago, the very clever and well-respected Emily Short published her review, and said, “All in all, then, this is both the biggest and the best of the Felicity Banks games I’ve tried so far; the worldbuilding is more extensive and the plot better structured.”
She also said the beginning was nicely paced while the end was rushed… which is funny since another reviewer said the beginning was boring but don’t worry because it gets better once you get into it.
People say, “Don’t read your reviews” but with material like this, how could I resist?
It’s on Amazon (after 20 reviews – positive or negative – Amazon will start promoting the book for me for free!!), Apple itunesGoogle, and Google Chrome.
 
Or you can play directly through the publisher’s web site, here. That’s the simplest if you’re not tech savvy (although you’ll need a credit/debit card there).

On most sites, it LOOKS like the game is free, and has in-app purchases. This is just a backwards way of saying, “You can read the first bit before you pay for the rest.” It’s a one-off $5 payment.

I’ve started up a facebook page just for this specific gamebook (discussion, reviews and steampunk/Victorian-era fun), at https://www.facebook.com/attackoftheclockworkarmy/

And of course the Sydney Launch is at the Freecon at 11am today/Sunday (Garry’s even promised me wine, and I know there are lollies because I brought a huge pile). If you’re in Sydney, you can just show up:
O.E.S. Amenities centre, 190 William Street EARLWOOD, Clemton Park shops, next to the ‘Thai-in-a-box’ shop, about half way between the Bexley Rd. / William St. intersection and Main St., Clemton Park.
Bus routes M41, 400, 412, 423, and 473 all pass near the Freecon venue, Campsie (Bankstown Line) and Bexley North (East Hills line) stations are nearby.
I’ve been working non-stop to get the rumbling engine of promotion moving, and I now have a weird feeling that I’ve managed to start something I can’t stop. That’s the entire point of the whole thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary to see the train suddenly belch fire and clatter off beyond my control.
Good luck, little e-baby. I know your friends are out there.

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Naked Truth Chocolate Bars

I stumbled across these in the lolly aisle at Coles. The name reminded me instantly of “nudie” juice drinks – another deliberately cute, expensive company that pours heart and soul into being the very best in its field (and charges accordingly).

There was a wide variety of options, so I chose three.

1. Sweetie Pie: Lemon Coconut Cream Pie White Choc Bar.

This was my first taste of the Naked Truth company’s wares, and it was exquisite. The flavours of lemon, coconut and creamy white chocolate were perfectly balanced. The soft centre was a delightful surprise – I’m a sucker for different textures in food.

I regretted sharing this with Chris. (He is merely human, after all – and this is chocolate). I dream of the day when I eat another.

Five stars. If you see one, buy it for me. And another for yourself, because I ain’t sharing next time.

2. PG: Coffee Beans and Popping Candy Milk Choc Bar

I hate coffee, so I confess I really bought this for Chris, who loves popping candy, coffee, and of course chocolate (he is merely human, after all). He commented that the coffee taste was paramount – he wouldn’t have noticed the popping candy if he didn’t know it was there. For people who love chocolate coated coffee beans, this is the biz. It’s got that particular “bean” taste, but without the risk of the occasional too-dry or otherwise imperfect bean.

3. Get Naked: Fig and Macadamia Milk Chocolate Bar

I was a little disappointed that the block didn’t have the soft centre that delighted me so much in the “Sweetie Pie”. Most of the fig and macadamia pieces were on top – as if they were sprinkled on when the chocolate was partly set. It looks particularly attractive, and the chocolate was lovely, but I prefer larger macadamia pieces so the taste can be truly enjoyed.

Still a very nice chocolate block – similar in quality, cost and size to a Lindt bar, but without being divided into blocks. So you’ll either have an awkward task breaking it up… or you’ll have a serious chocoholic eat it like a bar.

How did I choose to tackle it?

Do you really need to ask?

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Kindle Review

I’ve owned a Kindle Prime (the old, black and white version) for more than a month now, and I luuuuurrrve it. I’ve been rolling my eyes at e-reader devotees for years, but when my Dad asked me to look at his I was converted in an instant, epiphany-style. One glance and I realised, “Oh. It’s a book!” (All the best epiphanies sound stupid when said out loud – I love him! What if we took bread and sliced it?)

The Kindle is just….books. A portable library that aims to simply let you read the stories and forget it’s there. And it succeeds almost instantly. I understood how to buy and read a book on it in about thirty seconds, and after five minutes more I was proficient in a few features. I actually use it to check my email (it can JUST access Hotmail, telling me I have email from so-and-so but not letting me open it – on my first few attempts it’d crash and at one stage I thought I’d broken it).

The page-turn buttons on each side are great, except I’ve had to teach myself not to accidentally press them whenever I pick it up or shift position. It also takes a little while to get used to a screen that’s not a touch screen (and having seen an amazing interactive children’s book on an ipad, I realise the lack of touch means missing out on a whole world of awesome), but these days I’d much, much rather own a book on my kindle than on paper.

I’ve recharged the battery only once, and was delighted that my kindle told me (in heaps of time and repeatedly) that the battery was running low. So if my book ever does run out of batteries, it’s definitely not the book’s fault.

I’m still getting used to the sense of how long a book will take to read. I know how long it takes me to read 100 pages, and I can instinctively adjust it for the size of the book and the typeface. But the Kindle is different. If you push a button, it will display “Location 456 of 987” (or whatever) but these make very little sense. I guess there are bugs to work out. Luckily, there is also a display bar at the bottom of the screen showing where you are up to in a book with a lengthening black bar and a percentage. This is brilliant (especially because it has dots for chapter divisions) but/and it changes the timing for each book. By now I’m starting to get the hang of it instinctively, but it’s definitely not as accurate when it comes to the inevitable, “Should I try to finish it before going to bed/work?” question.

Before my kindle arrived, I had a notion of happily reading in bed, not having to break a book’s spine to see words close to the margin, and not having to support the weight of the book with my arm when reading the “wrong” side. (Yes, I really am lazy enough that these things annoy me.) It’s even better: I can prop it up on its cover ($40 for lovely leather with a gorgeous look and charming tactile feel that appeals to my steampunk self) and use no hands at all. Oh, I like. (Speaking of steampunk-friendly aesthetics, I really like the black and white screensavers too.) Also, the book keeps my place for me and can bookmark other bits wherever I like. No more losing a vital scrap of torn paper and trying to figure out where I am without accidentally reading ahead.

Unlike the ipad, it’s certainly not designed to be multi-functional – but it DOES handle glare beautifully: better, in fact, than paper. And because the original Kindle is so old in tech terms, you can get one for under $100. And when your book is done, you can buy another one without getting out of bed.

I really, really love my Kindle.

(No, sadly they’re not paying me to say this.)

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Beginner’s Guide to Steampunk Lit

Yes, it’s finally here! My idea of what a map of steampunk might look like. Harangue me on my choices and omissions below! Post it wherever you like, with a link back here. Caveat #1: This is only books (I tried to make it only novels, or at least novelists). Caveat #2: I’m only one person. This was a big job, and I chose to oversimplify rather than make it my life’s work. Also, there are some errors. And, as you can tell, I chose to finish the map this year rather than take longer and make it bigger, prettier, and funnier. And yes, I read and write mainly young adult, which is also obvious at a glance. Caveat #3: More is being written all the time. Tell us about your favourite steampunk in the comments! My reviews have all been moved to Comfy Chair, where I get paid for them: “The Sky Village” by Monk & Nigel Ashland “Pastworld” by Ian Beck “Soulless” by Gail Carriger “Clockwork Angel” by Cassandra Clare (1 of 3) “Girl Genius” graphic novel series by Phil and Kaja Foglio: Incredibly manic hilarity. You can find them online here and get a thrice-weekly fix. “The Difference Engine” by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling “Worldshaker” etc by Richard Harland: Brilliant and satirically funny. “Burton and Swinburne: The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man” by Mark Hodder “The Affinity Bridge” by George Mann China Mieville: Sheer imagination from a brilliant and complex mind. “The Nomad of Time” by Michael Moorcock “Airborn” by Kenneth Oppel “Dreadnought” by Cherie Priest (not the first book in the series) “Blaze of Glory” etc by Michael Pryor: Funny and action-filled. I’ve read the whole six-book series, so clearly I liked it – but I often found the hero annoying. “The Northern Lights/The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman (1 of 3) “The Subtle Knife” by Philip Pullman (2 of 3) “The Amber Spyglass” by Philip Pullman (3 of 3) “Ruby in the Smoke” by Philip Pullman (1 of 4 Sally Lockhart books) “Larklight” by Philip Reeve (1 of 3, though they can stand alone quite well) “Starcross” by Philip Reeve (2 of 3) “Mothstorm” by Philip Reeve (3 of 3) “Mortal Engines” by Philip Reeve: Very very dark (in marked contrast to his kids’ books). Also brilliant. And violent. The prequels aren’t as good. “Ichabod hart and the Lighthouse Mystery” by James Roy “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick: Yep, the book on which the movie “Hugo” was based. Pretty clocks and pretty pictures. “Warship at the Bottom of the Sea” by Oshikawa Shunro: I haven’t read it, but apparently it’s fun and has pirates. “The Hunchback Assignments” by Arthur Slade Jeff Vandermeer: I only read one story (the first in “City of Saints and Madmen”) because, although it was wonderfully involving and the sensory detail was exquisite, it was far too violent and dark for me to read any more.  I also thought the twist at the end was stupid. “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne: Good, but too much technobabble for my liking. “The Time Machine” by H. G. Wells: Still readable and interesting (or, if you prefer, horrifying) today. “Leviathan” and “Behemoth” by Scott Westerfeld (1 and 2 of 3) “Goliath” by Scott Westerfeld (3 of 3) “The Machine Maid” by Diana Wynne-Jones: A true steampunk short story (which I wasn’t able to get my hands on).

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“Morlock Night” by K. W. Jeter

What do King Arthur, H. G. Wells, and the lost city of Atlantis have in common?

Cool factor, and K. W. Jeter.

The rest of this review is at Comfy Chair.

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“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

That is a truly fine book. I wrote last week about Sandy Fussell’s “Samurai Kids” series, which sparkles with wit and warmth on every page. “Pride and Prejudice” is like that – brimming with brilliant one-liners and clever observations. The only other series that I think hits the “every page” rule so well is the “Larklight” trilogy by Philip Reeve.

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