Vignette No.2 – Reflections

Reflections

My cat sees shadows.

Most of the time he is a normal cat, if there is in fact such a thing as a normal cat. He eats what he fancies and sleeps where he likes, and if I want to sit it is a fair bet he will have claimed the best chair first. This, I think, is normal.

But sometimes he is not.

He jumps up on the dresser, making the lamps rattle and the porcelain birds quake, prowls up and down for a minute or two, then settles himself before the mirror and watches. There is a cat on the other side. I tell him it is his reflection, and laugh at him, and pester him, but he does not believe me and these days I no longer believe myself. He is very convincing. He watches.

I don’t know what he is waiting to see.

While he is at the mirror, I cannot concentrate. I catch glimpses of him as I pass back and forth, artificially preoccupied, trying not to look at the small stripy cat who stares into the glass like he can see through it to what lies on the other side. I have known him to sit there for almost an hour; other times it is only a few minutes. The light catches his eyes, reflecting them an unnerving gold like torch beams staring out from the mirror. Sometimes his tail flicks and I know he is angry, or scared, or thinking very hard.

Then, suddenly, for no reason I can see, he’ll relax and jump down and go steal my chair.

All right. I admit it. Some days when he gets down I sidle over to that mirror and try to see what he can see, and there are times I almost do. A flicker at the corner of my eye. A shadow that shouldn’t be there. But all I see, I mean really see, is myself. A back-to-front copy of my own face and my own room in my own house.

Perhaps only cats can see it. Perhaps only him.

I don’t know what he sees. But I’m glad he’s there to protect me from it.

© Faith Mudge, 2012

Review No.4 – A Confusion of Princes

A Confusion of Princes – Garth Nix

Allen & Unwin, 2012

It should have been the beginning of Khemri’s glorious new life as a Prince of the Empire. Taken from his parents as an infant, augmented with biological and technological improvements, he has been raised and trained for the day he will connect with the Imperial Mind and come into his full power. No sooner has he graduated to full Princehood, however, than he is running for his life. Because a crucial fact was omitted from his training – there are ten million other Princes out there and all of them want the others dead. With a new Emperor soon to be chosen, the universe could not be more dangerous for Khemri. He knows, though, that he can survive just about anything with the Imperial Mind watching over him. That is, if it deems him worthy…

First of all – what a title. It was what attracted me to this book in the first place and Nix delivers resoundingly on a gripping premise. It usually takes me some time to warm to Nix’s somewhat analytical style of writing, but his world-building is of such quality that I am always entirely convinced and absorbed into its reality. The Empire is no exception. The character of the young Khemri could have easily been exasperating, but his genuine ignorance and the wry narration of his older self helped make him accessible, while the rapid drive of the plot never allowed his situation to get stale. Every time I thought I knew where the story was headed it veered in a totally different and unexpected direction. The book is complete in itself and doesn’t need a sequel, but if Garth Nix writes one, I’ll be reading it.

Review No.3 – Me, Myself and Lord Byron

Me, Myself and Lord Byron – Julietta Jameson

Pier 9 (Murdoch Books Pty. Ltd.), 2011

I am not fond of Lord Byron. I am not a spiritualist. And while I am intrigued by Italy, I am not in love with it. So what made me pick up a book that is part memoir and part travel diary, written by a woman on a quest to rediscover herself through God, Italy and a Romantic poet? It looked interesting. And it was.

In 1816 George Gordon, better known as Lord Byron, left England for Europe in a self-enforced exile from which he would never return. Separated from his wife, outcast by polite English society, the controversial ‘rock star’ of the 19th century was determined to live life on his own terms. Almost 200 years later, Australian journalist and travel writer Julietta Jameson – a woman in self-confessed crisis – sets off to Europe in his footsteps. Emerging from alcoholism to a personal crossroads, she finds inspiration in his troubled but defiantly magnificent life as she tries to reconnect with herself and her past.

There is something magnetic about a memoir. It’s like peering through a stranger’s window, having an unashamed browse through the story of their life at your own leisure. Me, Myself and Lord Byron strikes a good balance between being informative and heartfelt. I do not necessarily agree with Jameson’s world view, and certainly have my doubts about Lord Byron’s. But taking the journey at all, and then sharing it with the world through this book, required a bravery and honesty that I can only admire.

Review No.2 – Cocaine Blues

Cocaine Blues – Kerry Greenwood

McPhee Gribble, 1989

I was aware of these books before but it wasn’t until the television series aired on the ABC earlier this year that I realised they might be something I’d like. Generally I avoid murder mysteries on the principle that however brilliant the detection, there still has to be a murder, and it is generally grisly. This book, however, is markedly different from the episode based upon it. Don’t expect a straightforward whodunnit opening with a murder. This is the world of Miss Phryne Fisher, exuberantly unconventional 1920s heiress, and she couldn’t be straightforward if she tried.

Bored with aristocratic life in Britain, Phryne packs her considerable wardrobe and discreet lady’s handgun and heads off for her childhood home of Melbourne to do some digging on a friend’s troubled daughter. She is soon way out of her depth in the local cocaine scene, but that’s not going to stop her. Fuelled on sex, cigarettes and cocktails, she’s out to take on the mysterious King of Snow and maybe prevent a couple of untimely deaths along the way. Or, if need be, cause them.

Fans of the TV series will recognise soon-to-be recurring characters, including Phryne’s long-suffering maid Dot and communist cab drivers Cec and Bert. There is a light-hearted wit to this book but it isn’t afraid to get gritty, with a storyline that includes abortion and attempted rape. Phryne has been likened to a female James Bond and she has a similar level of skill at pretty much everything she tries her hand at, which stopped me from totally engaging with her as a character – the focus devoted to her clothes also went over the top for my taste, but as a whole I enjoyed the book and will be looking for Flying Too High, the next in the series.

Review No.1 – Entwined

Entwined – Heather Dixon

Greenwillow Books, 2011

Fairy tale adaptations have a lot to live up to. The more I like the original, the higher my expectations of the reimagining, and I am very fond of the fairy tale that serves as foundation for Heather Dixon’s YA fantasy Entwined. ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’ (also known as ‘The Shoes Which Were Danced To Pieces’) is an ambitious choice, with a cast of at least twelve sisters and a rather murderous storyline.

In Dixon’s rather cleaner version, twelve impoverished young princesses live together in a pseudo-Victorian world where magic lingers in small traces, such as hidden passageways and an aggressive tea set. Isolated from their restrictive father after their mother’s death, the girls turn to dancing as a means of comfort and are heartbroken when this, too, is forbidden. When they discover a secret passage in their bedroom that leads down to a beautiful pavilion and the enigmatic magician Keeper, it seems the answer to all their dreams. But no one is exactly what they seem, and Keeper least of all.

There are high recommendations from other authors all over the hardback edition I borrowed from the library, including Elizabeth C. Bunce and Aprilynne Pike, but it just didn’t work for me. The main character of Azalea didn’t have enough strength of personality for my taste, and her romantic interest was underdeveloped. It’s never a good sign when the most interesting characters are the ones you’re not meant to like. Some of the princesses’ names felt too cutesy (Bramble, Clover and Hollyhock in particular; they sound more like the names of mice from Brambley Hedge) and out of keeping the darker elements of the story. On the other hand, there are some genuinely original ideas (killer chandeliers are cool) and the story held my interest enough for me to keep reading and finish it. It’s not a world-changer, but makes for a pleasant, easy read.

Vignette No.1 – The Dawn Train

The Dawn Train

The conjurer’s train came at dawn.

She had been watching him since he arrived. A young man in a fleecy-collared aviator’s jacket and skin-tight black jeans, a pair of thick-rimmed sunglasses propped over his unruly dark hair, a red scarf knotted rakishly around his throat; he lounged against the glossy white wall like a highwayman of the skies emerging from the blank pages of a story as yet unwritten. A duffel bag was deposited at his black-booted feet. It wasn’t too great a stretch of the imagination to picture it spilling stolen jewellery onto the concrete platform, bright golden coins bouncing and dancing over the yellow safety line and down, chinking, chiming, onto the tracks to wink roguishly up at the half-awake sun.

The conjurer pulled back one sleeve to check his watch, and frowned.

The trains were all late, of course. They usually were. Even for conjurers.

He bent over his bag and pulled out a well-thumbed paperback copy of Gulliver’s Travels. It flopped open on a cracked spine to an apparently random page, which he began to read. At his feet, the duffel bag slid slowly, so slowly, onto its side. Something inside glittered, sparkled.

A star rolled out like a firework.

The conjurer dropped his book and snatched, but the star bowled away from him astoundingly fast, sending shimmers of red and gold and white flashing over the drab concrete as it passed, crossing that faded yellow line…The train was coming. It roared.

The star tumbled over the platform’s edge, falling towards the weeds and stones and iron railings of the ground below.

The conjurer shouted.

The star’s light went out like a doused candle. From below the platform’s edge a dove soared upwards in an explosion of white feathers, streaked with unexpected shimmers of red and gold as though it had flown from inside a stained glass window. The sun rose over the horizon. The train came in.

The dove fluttered into the conjurer’s waiting hands.

He hauled his bag off the ground, swinging it over one shoulder while the dove took its perch on the other. The train was slowing, stopping, but the conjurer paused for a minute to glance behind him at the empty station where fluorescent tubes were fighting a losing battle against the rising sun. She stood where the shadows fell, watching him, and for the first time he saw her. Awkwardly, a little embarrassed, he shrugged.

Oh well, said the shrug. These things happen.

And he stepped over the yellow line, the boundary between what is safe and what is dangerous, onto the first train of dawn.

© Faith Mudge, 2012

This is the Dreamline

If you tell stories, you like nothing so much as to tell them to people who want to listen.

– Frances Hodgson Burnett, ‘A Little Princess’

Hello.

For the best possible first impression, I suppose a sentence of some brilliance and wit should follow that statement, but I’m not particularly good at producing brilliance on demand and must confess that after weeks of wondering what to say next I still can’t decide. I have never written a blog post before; I don’t know how these things are done. Having searched the net for inspiration, in the process discovering the blogs of people who can be brilliantly witty on demand, the result has been my deep intimidation and reluctance to write anything at all. Which is why I’m writing something, anything, to kick this off before my feet freeze, both literally and figuratively speaking. Two of my fundamental instincts are in collision, you see: the desire to be truthful, and the overwhelming urge to present everything as better, more beautiful, more exciting than it really is.

Perhaps it may be obvious at this point that I write fantasy and science fiction.

Having, in fact, defined most of my life by writing – mostly novels, either incomplete or obscured by editorial scaffolding, variegated here and there with short stories and outbursts of questionable poetry -last year I made my first attempt at professional publication and had the remarkable luck of falling into the hands of FableCroft’s editor extraordinaire Tehani Wessely. When she was unable to make Oracle’s Tower fit into her existing anthology, she created a brand new project to house it, matched up with work from amazingly talented co-contributors Catherynne M. Valente and Kathleen Jennings. The result is To Spin A Darker Stair, a beautiful little bookling that I am currently carrying around on my person like a passport. Not only was Tehani a white knight championing my story, she gift-wrapped my complementary copies and sent with them a congratulatory card with Mary Poppins on the front.

As first contacts with publishing go, it’s kind of hard to imagine a better start. Many thanks to everybody involved in the project and in particular to my family, who bought up multiple pre-order copies then demanded personal signings. It was a wonderfully surrealistic experience. Since when does my signature enhance a book? I am now working with a menagerie of other short stories and attempting to publish a novel about mages and spaceships.

What else do you need to know about me? I live in Queensland, where the weather is less small talk staple than more controversial, front page of the news stuff. At the time of writing it is winter. I hope it still is by next week. I collect quotes, doodle incessantly and prefer rain to sunshine except when my clothes are wet. I would rather be reading than doing pretty much anything else, but of course I’m delighted to be talking to you. If I have one specific goal in my life at present, it is to write professionally.

As I’ve already said, this is my first ever blog. Every example I have come across so far is thoroughly established so despite all my research I haven’t the faintest idea how other people introduce themselves when they first arrive online – perhaps they felt as inept as I do right now. It is an encouraging thought. A few more things you should know about me: I suck at small talk. I like to chat. I have strong opinions and haven’t any objection to you disagreeing with them. I will almost certainly make mistakes and reserve full rights to change my mind about anything I say. I will talk about books. A lot. I will review, rant and post random snippets of storyness. Like this.

Welcome to the Dreamline.