Wollongong Writers Festival Wrap-up

One of the important things about being a writer, is not just churning out the words, re-writes and edits in your dark writer’s cave, but also connecting with other writers and story-tellers to connect with your people, your community. Local writers festivals are a great way to do this and a few weeks back I was lucky enough to volunteer at the Wollongong Writers Festival!

So what did I get up to (beside being a volunteer)? I kicked off my Saturday with a speculative fiction workshop with local horror and urban fantasy author, Alan Baxter.

alan baxter
Author, Alan Baxter, photo credit: Author website

No matter how many workshops I attend I always learn something new, and this time was no exception. I loved Alan’s neat definitions of speculative fiction as fiction that speculates in a way that stretches the reality of our world, stretches using science is science fiction and stretches involving the fantastical, is fantasy with horror able to genre hop in the same way comic fiction does. He also gave us timely reminders about ignoring genre and market and telling the story you want to tell.

I sometimes struggle with narrative drive so found Alan’s tips to check in on pacing, immersion, investment, empathy and tension super helpful, with good pacing leading to tension and tension created through one or more of immersion, investment and empathy. I will definitely be getting future beta readers to tell me when they get bored by my story, when they stop caring about characters and their struggles and if they have empathy for those in the story.

Quote of the workshop to leave you with: Reading equals staring at paper and hallucinating.

Thanks Alan! What an awesome image!!!

I then attended a session on how writers ‘feed themselves’ (because it doesn’t come from the money we make on our art!). It was great to hear about the importance of supportive communities and ways collaboration can lead to better outcomes for more writers. Being a nice, interested person and supporting other people’s work in a genuine way is so key to making sure the literary scene stays vibrant, but also helps you in the long run.

panel talk
Photo credit: Codie Croasdale

Saturday afternoon, I caught up with some fellow Hard Copy alumni and we mooched around a rooftop bar drinking cocktails and mocktails and talking about our various wips.

Sunday was kicked off in the great outdoors behind the Wollongong Art Gallery in the Arts Precinct, with some slam poetry, live music and Hidden Harvest to feed us a brunch of re-purposed bread and jam made from unused fruit. This was such a chill way to spend the morning and left me in a great head space to attend more panels!

hidden harvest
Hidden Harvest all set to get brunch started, photo credit: Wollongong Writers Festival Facebook Page

I started off with a super interesting panel on romance and consent. The all-female panel discussed whether society distrusts romance fiction because it’s overwhelmingly written by women in Australia (95% in fact) and therefore often deals with women as subjects rather than objects and the liberating and challenging way we can write romance when we start with the two golden rules of 1. Make sure characters seek active informed consent at all times and 2. Anything consenting adults do after that is natural. There were also welcome reminders for being mindful of slut-shaming, ageism and the alpha male slipping into a creepy emotionally abusive style relationship with the heroine. These things are pervasive story tropes in our society, but we should think about them and critique them and challenge them in our writing.

I had some great fun in a break seeing a bibliotherapist (a librarian who gives you tailored one on one book rec’s), then ran off to another interesting panel on lived experience of mental illness and telling stories about madness. I loved that the panel covered the importance of thinking about who has the right to tell such stories and that voice matters, that ‘truth’ can be owned by people and claimed back and that stories can be a way of escaping from the DSM medical narrative of mental health experience as a problem to be fixed. Writing poetry and stories becomes a matter of expression, rather than a means to treat the experience of mental illness itself.

By now, I was getting pretty tired, though I managed to fit in one more session right at the end of the festival on writing as a person of colour or from other marginalized groups such as First Nations or Muslim Australians. The panel discussion was full of interesting points on writing genuine experience and getting away from mainstream, often harmful, stereotypes of race, gender or culture which definitely got me thinking about how I consume mainstream TV, film and books and how this can accidentally bleed into my work.

I drove home to collapse in a heap, but what a great weekend! Congrats to all the guest speakers, organisers and volunteers who helped make it all so great. See you next year!

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Doctor Who Re-watch: Fear Her

This is weird. My memory told me Love and Monsters and this episode were the two worst Doctor Who episodes of the RTD era. My memory has lied in a happy accident. Or maybe it’s just I really am not feeling the Thirteenth Doc so the re-watches seem better than they are? I dunno. Either way, this was bad, but not as bad as I remembered.

Pre-title sequence

Ben: This episode started with a feeling of disquiet between the warnings of the old lady, Maeve, and Chloe singing Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree. Then a kid named Dale gets trapped in a drawing! I wonder how Maeve knew it was about to happen? Plus, it’s pretty clear that Trish knows what’s going on from the beginning and doesn’t know what to do. #mysterious

Maureen: I was too busy being all,’hey didn’t this come out in 2006 and like wasn’t the Olympics in 2012? Was the UK forward planning that much? Damn!’ and ‘what have I seen the actress playing Trish in before’ and ‘why an aussie song? How very specific.’ Ahem. I promise I can be a TV critic! Anyway, I thought the opening had a great sense of horror atmosphere until the cheesy drawing of the kid wearing the Union Jack shirt.

fear her

The Companion

Ben: Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching the current season of Doctor Who and the Thirteenth Doctor and her three companions just don’t have any chemistry to speak of, but I could practically feel the crackling in the air between Rose and the Doctor.

Maureen: OMG BEN I AM SO HAPPY YOU THINK THIS BECAUSE I WAS BEGINNING TO THINK I WAS GOING MAD. But enough current show slamming. I am not the biggest fan of Ten/Rose, but there’s no denying that they’re always better sans Mickey and other quasi companions. If Mickey had never existed on this show, I would have dug these two a lot more. You can just tell that in the scenes where it’s all on Billie and David, they are having a right laugh and it bleeds into every scene. I loved them laughing over hot banana and I even shipped them at the end when they held hands and I never ship these two.

Ben: Plus, her hair and makeup was nice.

Maureen: Superficial. But I cannot deny it. I wrote that in my notebook too. Also, yellow does not Billie Piper suit when the fake tan she embraces.

Ben: I also (to be a broken record) really loved how much Rose got to do this episode. She was the first one to suspect Chloe, not the Doctor. And she was the one who investigated Chloe’s room, and the one who figured out where the Isolus’ ship was! Not only that, but she’s instrumental in restoring the ship to a working order, and guided Chloe and her mum through the attack by nightmare dad. You go Rose! Her and the Doctor have become a great team in the time they’ve been together, but that doesn’t mean she can’t do her own thing if she has to!

Maureen: Yeah, which is why I’ve never understood the show’s obsession with having Rose spout lines about being nothing without The Doctor (but more on that in next week’s episode). Also, nice callback to The Idiot’s Lantern as The Doctor runs off as Rose is mid-sentence … again. My favourite Rose moment was actually the scene in Chloe’s room when she’s all, I’m not gonna open it (the box), I’m not gonna open it, and does only to get attacked by a scribble.

The Doctor

Ben: Ahh yes! It’s been awhile since we’ve had a ‘the Doctor can’t drive the TARDIS’ gag.

Maureen: God, I can’t wait for River Song!

Ben: And then we get the whole ‘Doctor gets lost in his memories and ignores his companion pointing something abnormal out’ chestnut. And then we get the ‘Doctor gets too focused on checking out A Clue™ and gets himself in trouble’ situation. Luckily the psychic paper sorts that out quick.

Maureen: I’m loving these trope names. You missed the whole lonely God trope though, which is surprising, BECAUSE THIS IS ALL OF TEN’S SHTICK.

Ben: The gag with the cat and the back combing was worth a chortle or two. Then we get to the heavy stuff, as the Doctor deduces Chloe is using ionic energy to trap people in her drawings. It’s just a shame that the parallels between the Doctor and the Isolus never really were explored, but they’re both lonely travellers who’ve been travelling the universe for years upon years.

Maureen: Wait. What? I thought they were about as subtle as a sledgehammer. But then, I have like bells going off in my head or something every time there’s even a hint of Ten’s lonely God. I present to you the key last of my kind moment:

Rose: You knew the Isolus was lonely before it told you. How?
Doctor: I know what it is to be alone.

But also, I found this throw away line intriguing.

Rose: Kids can’t have it all their own way.
Ten: They deserve understanding … I had a son once.

From such dialogue whole new series arcs are born. I was way less keen on everything that happened from The TARDIS vanishing. So Rose whispers ‘the magic of love’ to Chloe and somehow that makes the alien leave Chloe, except the leftover alien energy manifests as Chloe’s violent and abusive Dad? What now? Also The Doctor running with the Olympic flame and the onscreen reporter saying he’s a symbol of love and hope can fuck right on off. Leave the love stuff to Moffat. And even then not always.

The Alien of the Week

Ben: The episode’s premise was really interesting to begin with – children vanishing, energy being drained from the street, and the strange smell of ionised air left behind wherever someone vanished. Then we see the kids living in Chloe’s drawings, and the nightmare dad coming to life in her closet. It’s a shame Chloe’s actress was a bit out of her depth as the Isolus and it’s motivations were really quite compelling, plus they set up the parallels between it and Chloe – two lonely kids just managing the best they can in a bad situation. It made a lot of sense that the Isolus is a child, it makes emotional and illogical decisions and can’t be reasoned with. It’s also a shame that the resolution of this episode was rather ridiculous, with the Olympic torch and the power of love reawakening the Isolus’ ship. And then we get the ridiculous spectre of nightmare dad, which really didn’t make sense to me.

Maureen: What Ben said. I also felt like the abusive dad side story and Mum not talking about him could have made for deeper exploration. I wondered at the end with the rushed sugar sweet denouement if this shouldn’t have been a two-parter.

Final Thoughts

Ben: Having an episode set in 2012 being in the not too distant future definitely made me feel old. And in a lot of ways this episode reminded me of The Idiot’s Lantern episode, a good/interesting premise let down by a shocker of an ending. The shoehorning in of the Olympics was a bit awkward too, similar to the Queen’s coronation. Additionally, Chloe’s mum Trish was really the highlight of this episode. She’s an excellent actress portraying a complicated woman. A woman who’s scared of her child, but at the same time trying to protect her. Which unfortunately only helped to highlight how bad Chloe’s acting was. The casual racism at the start of the episode also felt really out of place with the accusation of the black council worker of being behind the vanishing kids, but I guess is now surprisingly realistic in today’s climate. All in all, it was an episode that started off well but then lost it’s way. I’m giving it a 5/10.

Maureen: I’m with Ben as usual. I think you’re right about The Idiot’s Lantern comparisons. With a second script edit and perhaps a second part, this could have been a lot stronger. Given the rushed and cheesy ending and some bad acting at times, I’m giving this 4/10 inky stars. I gave it one star less than Idiot’s Lantern because my attention wondered after the first twenty minutes in a way it didn’t with the latter.

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The Washer Woman’s Favourite by Maureen Flynn (SNEAK PEEK)

The lovely people who have published my horror short story, The Washer Woman’s Favourite, have posted an excerpt at their website. You can read it following the link below. The anthology came out November 24th if you want a book or an ebook 🙂

via The Washer Woman’s Favourite by Maureen Flynn (SNEAK PEEK)

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Doctor Who Re-watch: Love and Monsters

Before I get into this review a quick note on why no episode by episode reviews of Series 11 starring the thirteenth Doctor. Here’s the honest truth: I love Jodie, I don’t mind the visuals or the almost X Files vibe the show has going for it, but alas, I can’t stand how plain dull the writing is. I’ll do an overall series write-up, but not episode by episode. Sorry if people were holding out for it, but I’m not keen on trashing every single episode week after week.

So, we’re up to the infamous Love and Monsters. When this episode first aired, I hated it with a fiery passion. I thought the character drama was boring, Moaning Myrtle was annoying, the comedy misguided and the alien of the week pants. The last part still holds true, but actually, I quite enjoyed this re-watch. Yes, even Shirley Henderson. This episode is deliberately experimental in a way that RTD often wasn’t, pushing the envelope of what an episode could be and establishing the Doctor lite genre. It also served as a pretty nifty metaphor for fandom. I timed where the story jumped the shark and it was at exactly 30 minutes in, so we’re not even talking a lot of bad episode.

LINDA_Love_Monsters

The Pre-Title Sequence

Ben: This was a bit of a weird way to start what is admittedly a very weird episode. The first non-Doctor/companion centric episode, in fact! I wonder what David Tennant and Billie Piper did with the time off …

Maureen: Put their feet up, Ben!

Ben: Also, I would have liked the title sequence to have been pushed back a bit, and started right after the Doctor pauses, looks at Elton and says, “Don’t I know you?” But that’s just nit picking on my part.

Maureen: To be honest, I really liked the opening. I usually identify Marc Warren as a guy who plays the seedy villain in hard-hitting dramas or as Teatime in Hogfather so it was nice to see him get to play a socially awkward nice guy and do comedy. Maybe I’m reading too much into the opening, but I thought the Elton chasing after the TARDIS scenes were meant to play on audience expectations. Normally, Marc Warren is a villain so we assume he will be this episode. Except he isn’t. From the beginning there’s a note of farce about the proceedings which establishes this will be a different kind of Who episode (Rose/Ten chasing an alien up and down a corridor with a bucket and Ten talking to the alien like it’s a pet). Also, I kind of like Elton talking to the audience through his video camera. He’s endearing in the same way Rory was.

The Companions Who Never Were

Ben: Elton is a pretty loveable goof with a ~mysterious past~ with the Doctor, having encountered him in his house when he was 4 when a shadow escaped from the Howling Halls and killed his mum. And since then he’s borne witness to a few other of the Doctor’s Earth based adventures, in a nice little call back to seasons past.

Maureen: So many callbacks! The plastic Nestine in Rose, the Slitheen invasion in Aliens of London/WW3 and then the Sycarax invasion of The Christmas Invasion. There’s even references to Torchwood and Bad Wolf. Also, the whole Elton past thing … I wonder if Moffat was inspired a little by it with Amy Pond. Maybe I just see reflections of The Eleventh Hour in everything, but it reminded me.

Ben: I don’t really have much else to say about Elton. He was a relatable lens through which we got to experience this episode, and he was dumb and sweet.

Maureen: He was incredibly likeable. I had a huge grin on my face when he danced around the room to ELO on camera and cracked jokes about being different to Elton John. I also thought his romance with Ursula (until the shitty end) was very sweet in a Richard Curtis kind of way. He was under-confident, awkward, shy and a bit of a coward too, but kind and gentle and good too underneath it all. I’m kind of sad he didn’t get a two-parter.

Ben: Perhaps my favourite scene of the episode was the scene in the laundromat where Elton attempts to make contact with Jackie and finds himself way out of his depth.

Maureen: I liked this Elton scene a lot too, but it wasn’t my favourite. My favourite would be him realising the Doctor conspiracy stuff has made him lose sight of what matters and what’s moral and tells Jackie he’s going to order them both a pizza and watch TV with Jackie, “just mates.” In fact, all of the Jackie Tyler scenes were solid gold.

Ben: Elton’s way of asking out Ursula left something to be desired, but at least he realised his feelings and acted on them finally. There was passion behind that proposition that he and Ursula grab some Chinese.

Maureen: Just quickly on Ursula, I kind of liked her too. She started off so damn awkward (check out the bench scene where she sits at an angle that positions her body away from Elton even as she’s talking to him and her shy little smiles) and then I just love her and LINDA and their little band and then when she loses her temper at Victor. OK, so she wimped out on hurting the alien when she shouldn’t have, but I kind of enjoy Henderson doing mad. She’s just so slight and small, but has this crazy voice. It works for her.

Ben: I also love Elton’s hell of a speech at the end of the episode about how The Doctor brings death and destruction to those in their orbit, which was a nice little bit of foreshadowing of what’s to come in the finale.

Maureen: I liked his final quote too. I’m sure Rose used something similar before. (Any commentators, please feel free to confirm me right or wrong with the particular episode.)

Elton: When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all … grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.

That’s the kind of hopeful, life affirming Who quote I love!!!

Ben: Jackie Tyler also had some great moments of characterisation this episode. It was really refreshing to see her living her life sans Rose or The Doctor. You get a real glimpse of a lonely mother, forever waiting for her daughter to return to her. It was really humanising, and you see in her a person who just craves company (“I can’t stand the quiet”) and the human touch, just like everyone does.

Maureen: Jackie Tyler has never really worked properly for me as a character. She too often descends into the ‘has been whore’ stereotype women always get lumped in (alongside virgin and crone tropes) and it annoys me. I didn’t understand the point of these Love and Monsters scenes as a teenager, but now I can understand their significance. They show why Jackie tries to fill her life with a string of men. Because she’s so lonely and feels so inadequate and so, so scared.

Ben: Yeah, my heart really broke for her when, after talking to Rose on the phone, she discovers the photo of Rose in Elton’s jacket and she realises Elton is being kind to her not for herself, but because of her connection with The Doctor. And then she gives this amazing speech about how the people who get left behind get hard, because it’s hard to be abandoned. I mean, couldn’t Rose have brought her mum along for an adventure or two? Jackie has a point!

Maureen: God my heart broke when Jackie she used to have a mate called Mickey who used to do all her handy man work.

The Alien of the Week

Ben: The alien this week, Mr Victor the Absorbaloff from planet Clom was, well, he was a choice. I get what they were going for but … he was definitely the weakest part of the episode.

Maureen: Just an FYI, Ben, this alien was designed by a ten year old as part of a Blue Peter competition so the fault doesn’t entirely lie with RTD and co.

Ben: True and I’m not sure what I would have done differently with the alien of the episode to keep the story/ideas they were trying to explore, but I feel like the alien was the result of no one saying no in the writer’s room. And what was the point of the Slitheen reference?

Maureen: I feel like perhaps this should have been a two-parter. There was thirty minutes of set-up and about ten minutes to reveal the alien threat and deal with it. Everything felt rushed and silly in the denouement.

Ben: At least the alien’s motives were sound with him wanting to absorb The Doctor to experience his life and existence through the power of digestion. But why did he only have the faces of the members of LINDA? Were they his first ever victims? I feel like he needed a bit more of a back story, or something.

Maureen: I found it odd that LINDA didn’t get more suspicious with all of their members vanishing one by one on flimsy pretexts and why they didn’t arc up sooner with Victor being so mean. Also, the denouement where The Doctor saves Ursula as a concrete slab to be Elton’s blow job on tap can go die in a fiery hole of sexism. Which is what that writing was.

Fandom Meta

Ben: The whole story of LINDA (that name is so dumb) is something of a metaphor for fandom, with passion for a thing bringing people together.

Maureen: Oiii, Ben. I liked the LINDA name. It was funny.

Ben: LINDA evolves from a conspiracy Doctor group to a community about genuine friendship. People have different reasons for joining LINDA and they go way beyond The Doctor. For Bridget, it was escaping the reality of her missing daughter, for Bliss it was a way to explore her artistic side. For Elton and Ursula, a way to make “proper mates.” And then, it becomes it’s own thing, almost a family of sorts.

Maureen: God, I love LINDA cooking meals and forming a band and listening to Mr Skinner read his novel. That’s my best experiences of fandom right there.

Ben: The arrival of Victor stretches the metaphor a bit, but I interpret him as the embodiment of toxic fandom.

Maureen: I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch. RTD is known for his on the nose satire. Also, for his involvement in Who fandom before becoming show runner.

Ben: With Victor’s arrival, LINDA becomes all work and no play. Gone is the food and the jam sessions, and instead they’ve been put to work hunting The Doctor.

Elton: Better get to work.
Ursula: I’ve never thought of it as work before.

And then one by one LINDA was dispatched as Victor or ‘toxic fandom’ absorbs each and every member bar Elton. The only way toxic fandom endures is by sucking people in to the point where they can’t leave. There’s something to be said about the way that Victor treats the members of LINDA like garbage, and it’s not until they stand up to him that the tides start to change. Each of the members of LINDA was charming in their own way, and I would have loved to have had more time with each of them.

Maureen: I agree. They were all sweet and good and innocent.

Final Thoughts

Ben: I’m not sure if the scene with The Doctor and Rose chasing/being chased by the alien at the start of the episode was supposed to be comedic, but I found it rather dumb. I had this same experience multiple times in the episode, of the tone feeling a bit off. Like when Elton’s computer blew up because the internet was going into meltdown about theories on the spaceship? Was that supposed to be a humorous recreation, or what actually happened? Anyway, I digress. About 70% of the episode was quite good, and then right at the end it completely jumps the shark. Ursula’s fate was particularly egregious. I feel like if they’d had another episode to properly explore the backstories and lives of the members of LINDA, and maybe had another go at the alien/ending they could have ended up with a truly fantastic episode. As it is, I’m going to give it 7/10.

Maureen: I agree with most of what you say, Ben. Sometimes the tone felt wrong and the alien of the week didn’t work given the denouement RTD went with. Also, have I mentioned before how much I loathe Ursula’s fate? Let me go again: it’s really, really, really fucking sexist. But then, for thirty minutes this was a sweet, funny, experimental look at what running into The Doctor does to people and how he brings them together which made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. So I’m also giving this odd beast 7/10 inky stars.

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Conflux 2018 write-up

I love Conflux, Canberra’s annual speculative fiction conference run by the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG). It’s the first writer’s con I went to for one thing. A lot of spec fic writer’s live in or near the ACT for another. They are my people. Still, 2016 and 2017 I didn’t make the conference and was very sad about that so it was awesome making it in 2018.

conflux
Signing my short story at the A Hand of Knaves book launch

So what did I get up to? I was on three panels; my usual Doctor Who one, though this time about our new female Doctor as played by Jodie Whittaker, another on fan fic and a third on the art of the short story (which I chaired not being an expert on this by any means). As usual, I found being on panels fun and rewarding and a great way to make new friends! The fan fic session was especially fun.

I went to other people’s sessions on topics such as new ways to fund writing careers (a super interesting session about author subscription options, patreon, kickstarter, and other rewards based platforms), what makes the perfect hero (hint: it depends on who you ask), a super interesting session on LGBTQI in pop culture mediums and how many ways there are for people to get it wrong and how important it is for people to get it right, a session on different story telling mediums and how they can work for audiences (eg. writing choose your own adventure style stories, stories that involve the physical, adventure game writing) and a session on the art of self-publishing and succeeding at self-publishing, which my friend, Dionne Lister, was on.

I also went to two stellar workshops about two totally different things. The first was on querying agents (thanks Sam, Freya and EJ – you guys taught me loads) and a second with Kaaron Warren on building character. Kaaron’s workshop was different from any other workshop I’ve done. We went to local Canberra secondhand shop, The Green Shed, and were told to find and dress in clothing that represented a character we wanted to write about. We had to inhabit the character and know the why of each of our clothing choices. The store owner event switched the lights off while we got under our character’s skins. Every single one of us came up with great stories after this exercise, yet I would never have guessed this strategy would be so effective. You’re a champion, Kaaron! Also, the bus trip back was hilarious thanks to the driver who kept getting us more and more lost till we started to wonder if we were all channeling a new horror story in real life, especially when the navman lost signal unexpectedly and told us so out loud.

Lastly, it wouldn’t have been a Conflux without oodles of books and book launches. Kaaron had a super classy bar launch complete with a cocktail she’d designed to fit her book theme. Back at the Conflux Hotel I accidentally did a Bella Swan and spilled my launch champagne on Rob Porteus’ new writer’s craft book, The Book of Lore (I’m still mortified about this, Rob). Donna Maree Hanson released the next book in her dark Dragon Wine series, and of course there was the book launch of the anthology I am in, A Hand of Knaves. It was awesome to meet people like David Versace and Claire McKenna properly and to make new friends like Louise Pieper. Also, the signing scrum was everything my primary school self had ever dreamed.

So after many catch-ups with friends, much knowledge gained and with 14 books heavier in my bag, it’s till next time Conflux. Sorry to the many panelists and book launchers I couldn’t fit into my whirlwind weekend. You all still rock!

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New short story acceptance!

I’ve been quiet on the blogging front because I’ve been overseas for a month (travelling Iceland, London and Spain. More on this in later posts). On the way overseas, in Heathrow airport in fact, I received an acceptance email for my fantasy/horror short story, The Washer Woman’s Favourite. I’m really fond of this messed up beast of a Venetian story inspired by a wonderful Topdeck tour I did of Italy when I was twenty.

The Washer Woman’s Favourite comes out in the inaugural Aussie Speculative Fiction Anthology November 24th 2018. You can pre-order a copy of the anthology for a mere 99c USD here. If you’re in Melbourne, the book launch is 24th November (details TBA). If you can’t get to Melbourne, the online launch is found on Facebook here. Meanwhile, check out the gorgeous cover art below:

Beginnings

Wow. That’s three short stories I’ve had picked up for anthologies this year. Next year, I can’t wait to try and beat this number 😉

PS: I’ve had a lot of writer news this year, so will blog about Hard Copy and Conflux in coming weeks.

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Doctor Who Rewatch: The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit

Just a quick note before this review to let people know I’m overseas for a month so will a) miss the first female Doctor’s debut and won’t be able to live blog my reaction and b) The series two re-watch stops till I get back (obviously). Anyway, onwards to this two-parter. Back in the day I loved this one. Luckily, I still do. So what happens? Rose and The Tenth Doctor have their first ‘stuck on a spaceship with everyone bumped off one by one’ episode and face off the devil.

ida and ten

The Pre-Titles

Ben: So many two parters this season! This one opened with Rose being funny, ominous ancient writing the TARDIS can’t translate, and then creepy betentacled aliens repeating ‘we must feed’ over and over. Creepy!

Maureen: I found it pretty terrifying when Rose said ‘welcome to hell’ and The Doctor doesn’t laugh. What an odd, yet fascinating two-parter this was.

The Companion/s

Ben: Rose doesn’t do a whole lot in The Impossible Planet, except to be occasionally funny and stand up for the Ood. Oh, and get mysterious messages from an unknown spooky person. She did have some romantic moments with The Doctor though which was nice. The kissing of The Doctor’s helmet before he went down into the pit was a new evolution of their relationship, one the Doctor continues when he asks Ida to pass a message onto Rose before falling into the pit.

Maureen: I did enjoy Rose’s Ood puns! Also, I liked the return of Rose giving a shit about the under-trodden again. When a crew member says Rose should be part of an Ood freedom movement, my response was, HA SHE WOULD.

The Ood: There is nothing.
Rose: Yeah. I used to think that way.

Good old Rose comparing her chip-serving boredom to the Ood serving her slop.

What I liked a lot about this two-parter was the amount of quiet talky scenes that played out. Rose and Ten and Ten and Ida get the lion’s share of them (but more on Ida later). It’s ominously sad when Rose reveals that her phone has no signal and the dialogue below leading into the idea of Rose/Ten living together is one of the only times I’ve bought Ten/Rose.

Ten: Me? Living in a house?
Rose: You’d have to get a mortgage.
Ten: No. Me? Getting a mortgage? Now that’s terrifying.

Ten: I’ll catch ya later.
Rose: Not if I catch you later.

Ben: We at least get more good Rose scenes in The Satan Pit though. For starters, she stands up to Jefferson when he goes to kill Toby, then gets a gutload of foreshadowing – the thing in the pit thinks she’s going to die in battle and soon! She recovers from that pretty quickly though, taking charge of the team and getting them to think through the problems at hand. This is the kind of Rose action that I love: she’s away from The Doctor, thinking on her feet, and trying her very best to save the day. And save the day she does! Not only was she essential in getting the team to stop the Ood, she saves the survivors from The Beast possessed Toby. What a badass! And she gets her Doctor in the end, who she was so determined to wait for. Careful Rose, or you’ll end up waiting for a long time, just like Sarah Jane did. Still, all’s well that ends well, hey?

Maureen: Rose shows her idealism in a big way in The Satan Pit. She says if any crew member is shot, she has to be too. And I too love that she begs her fellow crew members to think for themselves and that she shows real bravery when she enters the Ood complex knowing the air supply is shot. We also got equal opportunity butt jokes! Also the below:

The Devil: I shall never die. Nothing shall ever defeat me.
Rose: Go to hell! (And she shoots).

Ben: I also liked how each of the team members gets a proper introduction and each gets a good chunk of screen time. Plus, good storylines! Toby gets a good horror storyline and is featured in some seriously scary scenes. The ‘don’t turn around’ scene, for starters. It’s typical possession stuff, but done well. The scene at the end of The Impossible Planet reminded me a lot of the séance scene from Penny Dreadful. Being able to spout intensely personal secrets about people is never going to end well, but it sure makes for a tense, dramatic scene. Poor Scooti died early on, but on the bright side it wasn’t because she was a dumb blonde in a horror movie.

Maureen: Yes, and I thought the scene where we see her floating through space was strangely beautiful cinematography. It’s also one of the first times I’ve really noticed just how perfect Murry Gold’s score can be for New Who.

Ben: Ida got the best scenes of the team, but that’s mostly because she spent a lot of time with the Doctor. The actress did an excellent job and I’d love to see her come back for another adventure one day.

Maureen: Yes, I had my fingers crossed for most of the two-parter that Ida wouldn’t die. I couldn’t figure out where I’d seen Ida before, but it turns out she played an older prostitute in Ashes to Ashes in another great part. Ida reminded me a bit of a proto-type River Song and I loved her intelligence, heart and leadership qualities, even in the face of extreme fear.

Ben: The Captain, Zach, was cool, calm, and collected initially, but does fall apart a bit when the going gets tough. The main thing is, he rises to the occasion, working together with the rest of the team to make an escape in The Satan Pit. Plus, it was refreshing to see a capable black man in a position of power.

Maureen: Yay for black representation and the black guy not being hated on by the story! *cough* Mickey *cough*

Ben: Danny, the Ood keeper doesn’t do a great deal except panic, but he does figure out a way to stop the Ood in The Satan Pit. The actor maybe committed a bit of overacting at times, but that could also be seen as the incredible panic he was experiencing. I did find Mr Jefferson to be a bit of a ridiculous character, but that could be because of the weird special effects they used for gunfire. Plus what kind of head of security can only kill one Ood after unloading a whole magazine of bullets? He is stormtrooper levels of bad at shooting.

Maureen: I liked the ambiguity of the Mr Jefferson character. The way The Devil played on his insecurities about his wife was bitterly sad. I cared, really cared, about every single crew member. I’m not sure any other New Who episode involving a big crew has ever managed to make me care for the crew so deeply.

Ben: Yes, overall, every one of the named characters was able to contribute substantially to the episode in one way or another, which was pleasing. I was invested in these characters and their fight to survive.

[about Zack]

The Beast: The captain, so scared of command.

[about Jefferson]

The Beast: The soldier, haunted by the eyes of his wife.

[about Ida]

The Beast: The scientist, still running from Daddy.

[about Danny]

The Beast: The little boy who lied.

[about Toby]

The Beast: The virgin.

The Doctor

Ben: The Doctor takes a while to get down to business in The Impossible Planet, performing general doctoring until discovering the TARDIS is gone in the section collapse. We get a cool tidbit about the TARDIS though. They’re grown not built. Although, in The Doctor’s Wife he does build a franken-tardis, but I guess that was out of old TARDIS bits. The Doctor realising he’ll have to go and live a normal life was kinda cute, plus him and Rose got to be awkwardly romantic for a few seconds. It was a nice scene. But the good stuff doesn’t really start happening until he gets to the centre of the planet, point zero.

Maureen: I’m with Ben on this one too. Ida/Ten is where things are really at. Also, a lot of the speeches and stand-alone lines are gorgeous. In some ways this is a classic horror two-parter. We are afraid because the protagonist, who is normally unflappable, is scared too.

Ida Scott: We should go down. I’d go. What about you?

The Doctor: Oh, oh in a second! But then again… That’s so human. Where angels fear to tread… Even now, standing on the edge, it’s that feeling you get, yea? Right at the back of your head. That impulse… That strange little impulse… That mad little voice saying, “Go on! Go on! Go on!… Go over! Go on!…” Maybe it’s relying on that… For once in my life, Officer Scott, I’m going to say… retreat. Ugh, now I know I’m getting old.

Watching The Doctor descend into an entirely black, silent pit was even scarier!

Ben: The Doctor’s first confrontation with the Beast goes fairly well. After it gets into the minds of Rose and the gang he’s able to bring them back to sanity. The scenes of him discovering the mind games the Beast and his jailers have set up for him were actually kinda funny, to be honest. Him shouting “oh!” repeatedly and giving the same speech from different angles was some unexpected comedic relief.

The Doctor: [the Doctor has realized that, if he releases the Beast and destroys it, both he and Rose will die] So that’s the trap, the great test, the final judgement, I dunno. But if I kill you, I kill her. But that implies, in this big grand scheme of gods and devils, that she’s just a victim. Well, I’ve seen a lot of this universe. I’ve seen fake gods and bad gods and demi-gods and would-be gods. I’ve had the whole pantheon. But if I believe in one thing… just one thing… I believe in her!

And of course the TARDIS had to reappear by means of some form of deus ex machina, meaning the Doctor could rescue Rose and the rest of the team and save the day. Although I was a bit annoyed at him not saving the Ood. Not enough time? You’re in a time machine!

The Alien of the Week

Ben: The Impossible Planet doesn’t feature much of the main baddie, focusing on the Ood being weird and Toby’s possession storyline. It’s horror 101, but it’s done quite well. The foreshadowing set up with the computer system and the Ood delivering ominous lines was unnerving, and while I didn’t know what was going on with the telepathic field getting stronger, I knew it meant Bad Things. Then comes the Beast and tell you what though, that guy sure knows how to give a good baddie speech. Although if he was chained there before time, before this universe was created, did the black hole even exist yet? It’s a big grand gesture to say you’ve been trapped there since before the beginning of, well, everything, but practically I dunno how it holds up.

Maureen: I didn’t think too hard about the how and the why of the Beast. I think the story is meant to be an ambiguous philosophical experiment. Because the Beast exists and has become an idea the devil exists across all of time and space in every culture, the Devil exists.

The Beast: [in the possesed body of Toby Zed] I am the rage and the vile and the voracity. I am the Prince and the Fallen. I am the Enemy, I am the Sin and the fear and darkness. I shall never die. The thought of me is forever; in the bleeding hearts of men, in their vanity and obsecrate and lust.

The Doctor: You get representations of the horned Beast right across the universe in myths and legends of a million worlds. Earth, Draconia, Vel Consadine, Daemos… The Kaled god of war, the same image, over and over again. Maybe, that idea came from somewhere. Bleeding through, a thought of every sentient mind…

Ida Scott: Originating from here?

The Doctor: Could be.

Ida Scott: But if this is the original, does that make it real? Does that make it the actual Devil?

The Doctor: Well, if that’s what you want to believe. Maybe that’s what the Devil is, in the end. An idea.

Ben: Be that as it may, I found the possessed Ood and Toby to be scarier than the Beast as it was unveiled, but that could be because the Beast was almost beyond the scope of human comprehension. The Beast is the truth behind the ultimate evil of every religion ever? And has existed since before things could exist? I prefer my Doctor Who baddies to be a bit smaller scale, but this story did well by having both the small scale and big scale, with Toby and the Ood paired with the Beast to make a formidable horror offering. I did feel like the method of defeat was a bit of a cop out, but I’m not quite sure how else you’re supposed to defeat an enemy that’s basically on the Lovecraftian scale of elder ones.

Maureen: Look Ben, we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I loved the Beast as a representation of an idea. It was all very Pratchett. I think the point of this two-parter is that there are some things that are beyond comprehension, some things that we shouldn’t try to understand. Somethings, even for The Doctor, aren’t worth the knowledge or the adventure. Sure, the Beast’s CGI was dodgy, but it was the early 2000s so I can forgive the production team that.

Final Thoughts

Ben: Okay, so I have some issues with the science around the black hole in these episodes. For starters, it’s not impossible to have a planet orbiting a black hole. Sure, it’s unlikely, but if you replaced the Sun with a black hole of equal mass Earth would be just fine. Well, we’d all die because of the no sunlight deal, but it’s not getting sucked into the black hole or anything. Yes, everything gets pulled in once you pass the event horizon, but beyond that a stable orbit is achievable. So, unless the planet is orbiting within the event horizon, which they don’t specify, there’s some bad science going on. Plus, the whole gravity field thing? I dunno. I don’t mind sciency technobabble, but when they reference established science is it too much to ask for some research? I dunno how big this black hole is, but to pull in whole solar systems from who knows where and consume them in a matter of seconds. It’s just not realistic. Anywho, other than a few science-based critiques, I actually really enjoyed these two episodes. I did struggle to review it because I found it to be a unique Doctor Who adventure, but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of these episodes. I’m going to give it an 8/10

Maureen: Science scmience. I am one of those annoying viewers who doesn’t give a shit about science logic if I care about the characters and the themes of a Who episode. I loved this two-parter to bits. I loved the spaceship crew and how they all developed, especially Ida, I loved the cinematography and the score, I loved The Doctor facing off an idea personified, I loved the ambiguity of the ending. Sure, there was some weird plot mcguffins, like the black hole and the TARDIS magically re-materializing and the hand wave for why The Doctor couldn’t save The Ood but he could save Ida, BUT I DIDN’T CARE. These episodes are odd and beautiful with the ephemeral lunacy of a dream. I’m giving this one 10/10 inky stars.

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