What is an escape room?

An escape room is a team game that involves exploring a room and solving the puzzles you find there in order to get out.

In practise, that means being put into a room with a team and figuring out how to open and/or unlock various things. In Canberra, it is illegal to actually lock the room so although there is usually a large obvious padlock on the exit door, it is purely decorative (eg put on a second handle while the first handle actually opens the door). You can leave at any time (and come back in, eg after going to the bathroom or getting some air).

Most escape rooms take place in a single physical room, although some start in one room and take you through others as you progress through the various puzzles. Mine are one-room games that can be restricted to a tabletop if necessary, and they are macguffin-based ie you ‘escape’ by finding a specific magical item in one of the boxes, rather than by ‘opening’ a door.

Most escape rooms start you off in very dim light, so one of your first challenges is finding more sources of light. The darkness and lack of torches enhances the stress and forces you to work with your team-mates. Stress, frustration, and cooperation are huge elements in a well-designed escape room.

Another vital element is skill-sharing. A good escape room has a wide range of puzzle types, so different team members’ strengths can come to the fore eg. A puzzle box, a simple maths problem, a clue hidden in an unexpected location. I am terrible at puzzle boxes and not super mobile (so I won’t be crawling under tables if I can help it), but I can do maths.

Puzzle rooms tend to steer away from any maths harder than primary school level, because a lot of people hate maths. I have found that having a simple maths problem towards the end of the game is hilarious as people panic and can’t count good no more.

Each escape room has a fictional scenario to fire the imagination, and a timer counting down (usually the time limit is 1 hour, or 1.5-3 hours for much more complicated rooms).

During the last week both my parents and my siblings attempted my magical steampunk game, MADAM ALCHEMIST, and each session was filmed. If you’d like a better idea of how escape rooms work, I recommend watching the first and second videos. If you just like watching people alternatively swear and cheer, the third video is pretty much just that.

The first video includes an opening spiel by yours truly, and a few minutes of play by my parents.

The second shows a cut-down version of my brother and sister playing the room from beginning to end (complete with my patented sarcastic subtitles). It contains very mild spoilers ie you can still enjoy the game fully after watching (I edited it very carefully), but if you’re an experienced player I recommend playing the room before watching it. Of course, if you don’t live in Canberra/NSW then you might as well watch it.

There is some mild swearing.

The third is a super-short montage of my brother and sister’s play-through (all of which is also part of video #2). There’s almost no context, just the usual escape room experience of intermingled frustration, bickering, cooperation, and joy.

 

All clear? Good.

You can book through the store link above, or email me at MagicInTheMailStories@gmail.com to arrange a time and place of your choosing.

Escape Room Accessibility

The typical escape room company is located in a hard-to-find corner—somewhere with small windows, ill-suited to shopfronts or homes. There are usually stairs, and almost always darkness.

MADAM ALCHEMIST, my portable magical steampunk escape room, is designed to be suitable for most ages and abilities. It is G-rated and has no physical challenges.

This blog post is a fluid document that will evolve as I find better ways to serve a diverse group of customers. If your own physical or mental challenges are ill-suited to the game let me know (privately, if you like, at MagicInTheMailStories@gmail.com) and I’ll see if I can figure out a way to make the room accessible to you.

Age/Anxiety Guidelines:

MADAM ALCHEMIST isn’t scary, unless a player is particularly disturbed by darkness or stress or vaguely-defined monsters.

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This is a photo of a large poster representing a window outside as soulless monsters attack.

I can leave out the poster and/or keep lights on if younger/more imaginative/anxious people are playing the room.

Having said that, escape rooms take around an hour of focused attention and part of the experience is frustration (not to mention problem solving). Most kids under ten will struggle with focus, and find most of the puzzles too difficult.

Kids 10-14 who are able to deal with frustration will be useful team members, but should have adults with them (at least 1:1).

Kids 14+ are often as good or better than adults, but could have a bad experience if they are already low in confidence, especially academically. (There are some simple maths problems that any 14 year old could solve but if they panic and recoil at the sight of numbers then this will just confirm their bias.)

People aged 16 and above will, in my opinion, be just fine, and can act as the adult for kids aged 10-14 (if they’re willing).

My own children are 4 and 7, and helped play-test the game (with lights on, and assisted by their dad). Although they enjoyed the edible clues, the frustration of the game made them behave badly (snatching etc) and they were not rational in their problem-solving attempts (eg they believed they could guess the padlock combinations). But a well-behaved younger child can certainly tag along if their guardians can’t arrange babysitting (and are confident their kids won’t break anything).

Sight/Hearing/Dyslexia:

I’m still working on making the game accessible to those with sight/hearing limitations.

Those who are slightly sight-impaired or dyslexic can have a typed version of written clues (rather than the twisty scrawl of the mad alchemist).

The lights can be left on or off, the props can be laid out on a single large table to make searching simpler, and the number of torches can be increased or decreased. I have a friend who’ll be play-testing the game in March and will help me identify aspects of the game that need adjustment. Not all the clues are visual, so if the team has a range of abilities cooperation is always necessary and will help here.

No clues require good hearing (although communication within the team is essential). I can improve access for hearing-impaired players by simply turning off the sound effects. My father has significant hearing issues that didn’t impair his enjoyment at all since he played with my mother, who is an expert at talking with him.

Mobility:

Anyone who has trouble moving around/standing/crouching can play MADAM ALCHEMIST, depending on the venue.

My personal mobility isn’t great, so I’m pretty good at arranging things for chronic pain conditions. The simplest step is to have all the props and clues placed on a single table, so players can simply sit around and pass objects to one another. Someone without the use of their arms will need an assistant.

Venues:

The gazebo in my yard in Macgregor is accessible by wheelchair. There is some lumpy fake grass but no steps (other than a one-inch foam ‘carpet’ within the gazebo). I usually leave the gate open but sometimes the wind blows it shut (in which case it needs someone to reach up quite high to unlatch it).

Capital Pancakes has a very long flight of stairs and no lift.

Other venues (such as the home of the host) will vary dramatically.

Cat allergy:

My backyard is not an option, as the cat is difficult to contain and is sure to snuggle up to whoever is most allergic. But of course there are plenty of other venues.

Food/scent allergies or intolerance:

There are 3-4 edible/drinkable clues in the game. None contain nuts of any kind.

The ingredient list varies by availability and location, so if a player has a serious allergy other than nuts, please let me know so that I can ensure they don’t come into contact with anything that could harm them.

If players have a range of food intolerances/allergies, I can cater to you specifically or adjust the edible clues into written clues as needed.

People with epilepsy/migraines:

The possibility of flashing lights can be eliminated by keeping ‘normal’ lights on rather than depending on torches.

Madam Alchemist

This weekend is CanCon, and I have a stall there, with the tabletop version of my escape room (now called “Madam Alchemist” since it takes place in a mad scientist’s secret laboratory). I ran five play-tests during the day yesterday, and all of them went off without a hitch.

I also had people approaching me asking about party and conference packages. I seem to have discovered a market. *blink blink*

I’m already developing a second room, scifi/horror/comedy called “The Amazing Shrinking House” (adjective may vary) so I can run two different games at the same time… and sell a “Party Package” that lets party guests swap rooms so they can do two in one night.

Sometimes I wish I could buy my own products!

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This is the CanCon setup; the stall in its entirety. Also corset and tutu 🙂

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It was nice to see fairly equal proportions of men and women, and this notice in the ladies’ bathroom:

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Plus plenty of teens, some (usually slightly bored) kids, a range of age and fitness levels, and several gay couples and singles. CanCon is a happy place.

 

Shooting Through: the escape room that comes to you

It’s happening.

I’ve playtested the escape room three times so far, spotting serious mistakes on my part every time and fixing them for the next time.

Today is the beginning of the Invasion Day long weekend, so I’ll be at CanCon—Canberra’s annual board gaming conference.

The perfect place to test it way, way more!

This weekend I’ll be running free tabletop versions of the game… and signing people up to play it for real.

Here are some gorgeous pics, all taken by Louisette!

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Zipper investigates.

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Zipper cheats her way out.

Naturally, Louisette focused on the lollies (literally).

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Everything in the above picture was laying around the house, waiting for this moment.

 

Tentative price list:

$25 per person, with the following minimums:

$100 minimum if it’s in my back yard (running approximately 8-9:30PM including introductions).

(NB This will be moved inside if the weather is too hot/cold/rainy, which is rather cramped by climate controlled. It should be noted that my cat will almost certainly come and say hello, and that I supply bug repellant.)

$200 minimum elsewhere in Canberra (or by appointment when I’m at a nearby conference/fair/festival).

(I require a room that can be darkened, free of trip hazards, with a table and chairs—in a house that is fairly accessible by moving trolley.)

 

I’ll almost certainly increase the price when I’m more confident.

How to book/ask questions:

At the moment, email fellissimo@hotmail.com and/or magicinthemailstories@gmail.com to talk dates and times. Most Saturdays are good for me coming to you, and 8pm is usually good at my place any night except Wednesdays (but definitely including Saturdays).

How long does it take:

Theoretically 1 hour, but usually closer to 2. Allow 2.5 hours if you can, and advise me if anyone in your team has specific time restrictions.

Physical restrictions:

It’s great for wheelchair users (because you can play sitting at a table—although your team members will need to cooperate to pass things close enough for you to examine).

I think most physical or mental restrictions can be balanced by having a range of ability in the group (in much the same way that there’s bound to be ONE person who can add a string of numbers without screwing them up… right?)

There are no physical challenges.

Is it scary?

You will be operating under a threat of (fictional…) monsters, competing against a clock, in near darkness. So the level of scariness depends on your imagination. But it’s definitely rated G, and safe for kids of virtually any age BUT escape rooms are intrinsically frustrating and some items are fragile or sharp. Use your discretion. Kids 10+ should be genuinely useful in places; kids 4+ should be okay IF they’re very well behaved and calm.

 

Escape Room

I have designed a portable escape room (with a tabletop version that I shall be running at CanCon this weekend). There will be more info soon, but here are some pics in the meantime!

It’s set in the same steampunk fantasy world as all my steampunk, but takes place at the same time (with none of the same characters) as “Choices: And The Sun Went Out”.

 

In case you can’t tell, I’m very excited. I don’t expect this to be a big moneymaker (apart from anything else, it requires a staff member—most likely me—to be present, which means I need to leave the house, ugh!) but it’s awfully fun right now.

I’ve run one test so far (with Chris, Lousiette, and TJ—yep, it’s child friendly), and have more already lined up ready to go.

Christmas: Stress

NB: The Mary Sue pop culture site wrote a far better article on Christmas stress. Go read it here.

I live in fear of Christmas from about October onwards. (I also start buying presents for my kids at that stage, which I like doing—so there’s that.)

It’s particularly tricky for those who are at the “moved out of home but don’t have a family of their own” life stage (which can be incredibly lonely) or those who have recently lost a close family member to death or divorce.

And of course for those who suffer from depression, social anxiety, or other chronic illnesses. The pressure to be happy and joyful can be horrifying, and it climaxes on Christmas Day. It feels like the whole word is saying, “You must be happy and healthy at this time and place!”

There are four major sources of stress around the holiday season:

Finances

There are two ways to make finances better at Christmas. Either you spread things out over the whole year (buy one present a month, for example; buy travel tickets in February and then pay off a little each month) or you reduce the cost of Christmas.

Sometimes, the only option is to be honest: If you can’t afford travel, tell people that you can’t. If you really want to travel, it may be possible to receive travel costs as a gift—send an open group email to the whole family and say, “Instead of gifts, can everyone put in $20 so I can come to the beach without breaking the bank?”

Gift-wise, especially with kids, remember that YOU are setting the standard of what is normal. If the kids get a single gift from you each year, then that’s what they’ll accept as normal (with the occasional comment of, “All my friends get ten presents for Christmas” which you’ll have to resist along with every other “All my friends…” comment that the kids send your way the rest of the year).

EXPECTATIONS are crucial, and honesty, though awkward (and I guarantee some people will just think you’re cheap—screw ’em) can save a lot of pain.

I knew someone who would pick a fight every December and then not show up at Christmas. That’s… certainly a strategy. I would really rather this person just talked to us.

I know someone else who gave spectacularly expensive-looking but wildly thoughtless gifts. Every time they saw something on a massive sale they bought several. And that’s what everyone got for Christmas. They once got really weird about having gifts with half our family at one event and half somewhere else—because of course they’d bought the same thing for everything. Again, that’s a. . . strategy. That one could have worked great if there was any correlation between the gifts and the recipients. Like, if someone hates reading, don’t give them a book? Save it for someone else.

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Family

Family is complicated. Some people love getting the full set together in one room (I’m one of them). Other people would rather not see a single member of their family ever again.

If your family is truly abusive, you don’t owe them anything. Get out fully if that’s truly what’s best for you.

If your family is annoying, or just one or two are awful but the rest are great, see if you can work out a way to take the bad with the good (or, if you’re especially cunning, find a path where you get more good and less bad).

If your family is mostly good, be honest about your abilities to give/host/travel/etc. Traditions don’t have value if they’re hurting you. For me, it’s often easier to host than go somewhere else.

Travel

It’s really, really hard. Things will also go wrong. Travelling at Christmas is harder than at any other time because (a) So many people are doing it, and (b) You gotta pack gifts (both giving and receiving).

If you know you’re not physically, mentally, or emotionally up to it. . . you have a choice.

If you can handle travel, work out what you need to make it suck less. For me, an ample supply of chocolate, water, and snacks makes a huge difference. Air conditioning is crucial, and so is ‘down time’.

Take your painkiller of choice, and if you’re inclined to get travel sickness of any kind then take supplies for that too.

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Pure Busyness

Don’t be an idiot and promise a 3-part Christmas blog.

Manage expectations, both those others put on you and the ones you put on yourself.

Learn to say “No” and/or “Not this year”.

Basically, expectations (including traditions) can be helpful (“I know I’m meant to bring a plate every year”) or harmful (“I know I’m meant to bring a whole roast turkey even though I’m driving interstate to get there in time aieeeee”). In the end, although manners are important, you are the boss of you. Take charge, and make Christmas fun for you—whether that means staying home and watching “Die Hard” with no pants on, or travelling in convoy with your 32 cousins to great-grandma’s retirement home and eating nothing but funyuns for two days.

Kids home from school

That’s a whole ‘nother story. I haven’t worked out a good strategy for being “on” for ten hours a day for 6 weeks, so feel free to share your strategies in the comments.

The moral of today’s blog: Kids, animals, travel emergencies, and health are unpredictable. Plan for that.

But most of all, plan for who you are and what you can realistically do.

Good luck.

Christmas: Gifts

Last Christmas was tricky. Louisette (then aged nearly-6) well and truly understood Christmas, and she knew exactly what she wanted. . . and was loudly disappointed when a gift didn’t live up to her expectations.

She’s a sweet girl really, and we’ve had a lot of conversations since then about how to react when you don’t like a present, including the fact that she can secretly come to me if she truly doesn’t like something and I’ll buy it off her.

This year both kids have been pure adorable. So that’s nice! TJ has been opening incredibly random items and saying things like, “This is what I always wanted!” which is hilarious.

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(Those are not oars, by the way. They’re novelty pool noodles; one with a unicorn head and tail and the other with a shark head and tail.)

There is a fundamental problem that permeates virtually every aspect of parenthood. Every parent wants to make their kid’s life better than what they experienced. Did they always desperately want that one special toy? Did they wish with all their heart that they didn’t have to share a room with their siblings?

So we give our kids what we never had… and they take that as normal, because for them it is. Yay. And then they want a BIGGER room, and a more expensive toy… and the parents are left wondering how their kids became so spoiled and ungrateful.

My only advice is to say ‘no’ often, and stick to it. But choose your moment to say “no”, and choose your moment to say “yes”, too. And teach your kids that life is never perfect, but if they work hard and make sacrifices, they can probably get a bigger room (or whatever) when they’re an adult. They still won’t be able to get everything they want, but they can choose what to give up and what really matters.

I looove buying gifts for my kids. But I do get stressed when there are toys all over the floor and/or no room to move because there’s just so much STUFF in my house.

Some parents incorporate charitable giving in their family Christmas traditions (I really like TEAR Australia’s Really Useful Gift Shop for that—keeping in mind that it’s usually more efficient for recipients if you simply give a donation and let the charity sort out where it’s most useful at the time).

There is a famous ‘list’ going around (if you know the original source/s, let me know):

Something you want

Something you need

Something to wear

Something to read

And there are a couple of variations: Something to do and something to love.

I think most kids would be annoyed at getting something they need and/or something to wear. How would you feel to get a new school uniform under the tree? So I personally would only use those if I wanted a few extra things to wrap (and I thought I could get away with it… it very much depends on the kid and the age).

Having said that, TJ is getting an insulated lunch box for Christmas (he’s going into pre-school so he’ll be taking in his own lunch for the first time… and the lunch box has dinosaurs on) and Louisette received drink bottles (Doc Macstuffins ones).

So there’s a different between getting something plain and something that feels special, even when it’s something the kid legitimately needs. But I’d still advise caution.

And I definitely think every xmas gift list should include something to DO. A puzzle, construction set, activity book, etc etc.

In all honesty, one of the reasons I like getting the kids gifts is so that they bother me less when I’m trying to work. Is. . . is that the real meaning of Christmas?

I usually buy more than 4 presents, but then “sell” several to relatives who want to give the kids gifts and ask me what to get them. (FYI That kind of relative is the BEST.) But four gifts is usually plenty.

My mum tends to buy a LOT of gifts (it’s her love language, and definitely expressed in quantity), and one will be the ‘main’ present—considerably more expensive than the rest. That’s a good system in its own right, although not well suited to those who get stressed by large amounts of cheap plastic nonsense in their house.

Sidebar: Christmas is a great time to have family members with inattentive ADD (aka Chris and Louisette). This year Louisette was looking through photos on my phone when she came across a gift I bought for her. It’s literally sitting on our couch, out of the packaging—I took the photo for Chris since I thought he should know what I was spending all our money ON before I wrapped it. It’s a Doc Macstuffins pet carrier including a pet, and one of Louisette’s biggest gifts (she’s obsessed with Doc Macstuffins at present).

“Oh, Mum!” she says. “That is so cute. It would be a really great gift for me for Christmas.”

Me: *internally swearing* Hmm? Oh yes, it’s very cute.

Aand… she accepted that, and has forgotten all about it.

 

And of course, as far as adult presents go… it’s all about books for me. I buy lots for others, carefully chosen (I get all bewildered with friends who don’t love fantasy novels, but I do like one or two non-fantasy books a year so that’s handy). It’s tradition in my family to read a book before giving it to someone, and then give a kind of review as part of the gift. “This is so deliciously eccentric; you’ll love it” “Watch out! It’s a 4-book series and the cliffhanger at the end of Book 3 will drive you nuts” etc. Great tradition.

I get quite stressed nowadays when I receive physical books, because I vastly prefer reading on my kindle (it’s easier on my wrists and neck). So that’s awkward. But they’re still books, and books are always good.

Between Chris and I, Christmas is an excuse to buy something way more expensive than we’d normally buy for ourselves. Chris is getting ug boots (he likes ‘proper’ ones, and wears them constantly around the house), and I’ve already ordered and received a made-to-order corset from Gallery Serpentine (they make high-quality corsets and are the go-to shop for Canberrans despite the fact they’re based in Sydney).

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For many years, when I was living on very little (there were times when I didn’t have enough to eat three meals a day), Christmas was all about tricking people into buying necessities for me, like clothes or a secondhand microwave. My finances revolved around Christmas, and I’d carefully think about what I needed most, that could appear to be a fun and frivolous gift. There are definitely others out there going through the same thing. If you know your friends are super pov, a gift of shoes can make a big difference (obviously you have to figure out where they’d like to buy shoes from, and give them a voucher). Or a gift basket of food (either sensible or silly; both are expensive). Or something they can regift to someone else, because of course gift-giving is very hard when you’re too poor to afford anything much.

Christmas, commercialism, and the sheer push-and-pull of STUFF are all inextricably bound together. It’s worth thinking about what you really want, and what you really want to give.

Christmas: Jesus, Gifts, and Stress

So Christmas is about three things for me. (Cunning readers may guess what they are based on the title.)

This is the beginning of a three-part blog series on Christmas (aka holiday therapy for yours truly).

Fairly obviously for a Christian, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus aka the God I follow. Yes, I’m aware that the date is wrong and most of the traditions are stolen/borrowed from Pagan traditions, etc etc.

Still.

It is extraordinary that my God chose to set up a universe in which he himself would be required to be tortured and killed and condemned in order to show us in the clearest possible terms that being “saved” is a gift that he desperately wants to give us. Easter is at the heart of every Christian. It’s why we call it “Good” Friday when it’s marking the darkest day in the history of the universe.

In some ways, Christmas is even more shocking. The God of all creation had his nappy changed, was breast fed, struggled with toilet training, and probably grew up wondering in his heart of hearts why he always found the smell of manure strangely comforting.

For those just tuning in, I have two kids of my own. Currently Lousiette is 6-nearly-7 and TJ is 4 and a half. Exhibit A:

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Exhibit B:

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It is incredible to think about the whole “having a kid” thing. These two started off as nothing more than a goofy hypothetical notion, then Chris and I MADE them… but they were only about this big:

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And now they walk and talk and have opinions and dreams and say all kinds of weird and wonderful things both good and bad. In the blink of an eye they’ll be as old as I am now—then older—perhaps with kids of their own, and jobs, and much stronger opinions that I may find utterly horrifying.

How can a tiny dot grow into a whole person?

It’s part of the glorious nonsense of being alive.

Even more bonkers is the idea that God could squash himself down to fit into that tiny dot.

Exhibit C:

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And even more bonkers is… why?

Jesus spent thirty-three years on Earth, as a man. He was sweaty, and he was sometimes attracted to people he didn’t want to be attracted to, and he ate freshly-baked bread, and he sometimes disagreed with his mum and brothers, and he lived through the death of his mortal dad. Why didn’t he just skip the whole ‘being human’ thing, get crucified, and save the world over a single rather intense long weekend?

It wrecks my mind that he chose to become one of us. He really understands, from our side, what it’s like to be mortal: messy, scary, and smelly.

I love that.

I even made a little YouTube video trying to point out just how bizarre it is that God really did become a slob like one of us.

It’s a mishmash of different messages really. Is it just an excuse to show off old pics of my kids? Is it a brilliant mix of the carnal and the divine? Is it just too much fun to see babies looking wise/annoyed/gassy? You can make up your own mind. There are a couple of other baby pics in there too so go ahead and play “spot the cousin” if you like.)

 

So. When Jesus Christ, creator and saviour, was born, he probably looked not that much different from my own brown-eyed, dark-haired TJ (although being from the Middle East, Jesus would have had darker skin):

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If you want to know what God looks like, that’s pretty similar to one part of it.

Cat VS Tiger

I acquired this giant tiger, which Tim shall receive for Christmas.

When I chucked it on the couch, Zipper PANICKED and FLED FOR HER LIFE.

So I sat down next to the tiger and gently encouraged Zipper to overcome her deep and genuine terror. While I took photos.

 

 

Then I put it on the floor for her to stalk, as her courage slowly grew.

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It was terrifying for the poor innocent kitten. She crept closer bit by bit.

 

At last she attacked!

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After a lightning strike, she decided to declare the tiger beaten and retreat.

And so our house returned once again to peace.

NaNo Oh No!

Astute viewers may have observed a certain lack of blog posts lately… a dearth of content that started just before November and is now ending just after November.

Not a coincidence.

November (and sometimes July) is National Novel Writing Month, when thousands of writers around the world attempt to write the first 50,000 words of their novel in a month. It’s a glorious, unhealthy, stressful ride.

This year I wrote a game. It’s a magical murder mystery named “Death at the Rectory”. It’ll most likely be available via Choice of Games’s “Hosted Games” label sometime in 2019.

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It’s set at a very real, very specific location: the 140 year-old rectory of St John’s Anglican Church in Gundagai. It’s no coincidence that my mother is currently the priest there (until the end of this year). Every time I go there I think how amazing it would be to have a writing retreat there (bags not organise such a thing, though) because of the history of the house and the ridiculously high number of external doors (8, almost all in bedrooms). And incredible views from a deck that wraps around three sides of the house.

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The idea of doing a fictional writing retreat there percolated in my brain for a while, and now it’s a fully-written interactive fiction story. With murder. And magic.

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(This is the church, which is even older than the rectory—and right next door, too.)

By “fully” written I mean there are over 50,000 words, the quality of which I cannot vouch for.

Zipper is doing just fine, for those who come here exclusively for the cat pics.

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Dogs, Goths, Kilts, Pirates, and Octopuses

Last weekend was the weekend of the annual Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair. It’s always an absolute blast. The standard of garb at Goulburn is always amazing: corsets, top hats, pocket watches, waistcoats, bustles, crinolines, and epic boots galore!

I thought I’d do a super quick blog on some of the side effects of steampunk: some of the grand traditions that are steampunk due to pure coolness factor rather than any rational connections.

Goths of course.

Okay, that connection is obvious. Lace parasols and corsets for both men and women? Yes please! One of the many definitions of steampunk is that it’s what happened when goths discovered brown.

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(I’m sorry I didn’t turn that pic around the right way. I’m VERY tired. Not only was the Goulburn Steampunk Fair two days long this year—yay!—but I also just completed a 3-day speed game-writing jam. Over the same weekend!)

I believe I mentioned dogs. There’s a dog in my Iron Lights trailer (from the Goulburn Fair last year, in fact*) and there were loads of dogs (many in costume) this year too.

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Kilts and military attire are both well represented at such events (this year there were real cannons firing across the water, too!)

 

So if you like a man in uniform and/or admiring a man’s legs (or the unpredictable thrills of seeing men in kilts on a very windy day) then you should hang out with steampunks.

Especially if you like them sideways.

 

Ditto pirates and octopuses.

And reimagined superheroes/princesses.  I saw a lot of amazing steampunk Iron Men a few years ago. Lately lots of steampunk Wonder Women, and some really excellent steampunk Belles (especially at Supanova events).

My kids dressed as a unicorn rainbow princess (who then had her face painted as a kitten) and Batman (painted as a scary monster). As you can perhaps tell, my children are at the age when they’re very strong on external expressions of gender identity.

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Steampunks like cats too. Because steampunks are cool. So here’s a pic of Zipper I took today. May it please you.

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GUI ChoiceScript?

I just found out that various people are working on making ChoiceScript easier to learn and use.

I… probably won’t use these tools because I’ve grown comfortable with using CS directly and don’t want to mess with that (yes, I am old and crotchety. Shut up).

Here‘s the link to much usefulness!

Here’s Zipper, getting better at venturing outside (but still terrified by birds).

IRON LIGHTS review

My fellow Odyssey Books author, Carmel Bendon, reviewed IRON LIGHTS for me on Goodreads. Here’s what she said:

Iron Lights is the third book in Felicity Banks’ The Antipodean Queen trilogy and the next in the adventures of the series’ heroine, Emmeline Muchamore. Iron Lights, however, stands alone as a cohesive read and there is sufficient reference to key elements of the earlier works – mainly in terms of characters common to all three books – to orientate readers who have not read the first two books.

Emmeline is a very appealing lead character, full of energy, optimism and conviction, and totally human in her devotion to her sweetheart, Matilda Newry, and an array of disparate and revolutionary friends, and all this powered by her amazing steam-fired heart of brass. When Emmeline is called into action by the quicksilver-generated vision of the impending fiery and brutal destruction of Melbourne and its inhabitants by an invading [mechanised] army, she responds with courage and determination, gathering her own extraordinary army of humans and machines.

Banks’ imagination has filled the story with mechanical wonders – activated metals with magical qualities and inventions that extend far beyond the usual machines to include such marvels as (deadly) Australian spiders with activated metal inserts that enable them to carry out their mistress’s bidding.

Banks’ evocation, and then subversion and manipulation, of small details of Australian colonial history is clever and got me checking (historical) names and details on more than one occasion. The story’s action is fast-paced & drives the plot forward with a precision akin to the machinery it embraces. At times the pace was almost too fast and I found it hard to keep up with Emmeline’s quickly-made plans and their even quicker implementation that saw her dashing across (and above) grand exhibitions and battlefields, and building and overseeing an extraordinary laboratory in an even more remarkable fortress but, in some ways, the rush added to the fun. In all, Iron Lights is well-written, imaginative, energetic, and a very enjoyable read.

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Zip Zip

The kids are having a sleepover tonight, so the house is unusually quiet.

Zipper is very concerned. She still follows us if we go to the bathroom, so the notion of spending a whole night without two members of her litter is Just Wrong.

Here is a nice pic of her, and a not-that-nice pic of my kids. PRIORITIES!

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In other news, I’ve cut down my chocolate intake—I’ve regained most of the weight I lost earlier this year, so it must be done—and as a result I believe all life is pain, all humans are hateful, and every breath I take is an imposition on both myself and the universe.

This is why I don’t often attempt to lose weight.

In other other news, I am reading the first Harry Potter book aloud to Louisette. It’s an extraordinary experience. My own writing has been going very poorly lately, and it helps to be reminded of what good fiction feels like from the other side.

99 cents

IRON LIGHTS is on Amazon now, which probably means it’s almost everywhere! So to celebrate, Book 1: HEART OF BRASS is having a 99c promo.

I’m posting it here for those of you on an RSS feed.

https://www.amazon.com.au/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=felicity+banks

And here’s Zipper, but sideways.

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More Important Matters

So IRON LIGHTS is out (through my store and Dymocks Belconnen ONLY at the moment—it’ll be available everywhere in October, including digitally), MURDER IN THE MAIL is exhibiting at The Front cafe gallery… and all you really want to know is, “HOW IS THE KITTEN THO?”

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She is good.

As you can see, she prefers her collar half untied (and will unhook it every time I try to neaten it) but it doesn’t freak her out any more. I think she enjoys chewing on it when the rest of us aren’t sufficiently entertaining.

Today is day 15 of her life with us. It feels much longer.

Chris and I quite often wake at 6am or so to hear, “Noooo, nooo, Zipper, nooo, ouch!” in the morning as the kids wake up before us and don’t always remember our new golden rule (“when Zipper is playful on the couch, you go on the floor, and when Zipper is playful on the floor you go on the couch”) but I don’t think she’s actually drawn blood on the kids yet. Of course Chris and I have some (very minor) scratches because we do things like pick her up.

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I’ve begun altering her food from the RSPCA’s preferred brand to a more ordinary kitten-friendly food. The change disturbed her yesterday but she’s definitely eating it so that should be fine.

My sister has two young daughters (6 and 7.5) who visited us yesterday to meet Zipper and have a play. They’re not nearly as familiar with cats as my two, but Zipper was clearly quite interested in them (despite her obvious nerves) and if they ever sat down for more than ten seconds I bet she’d hop on their lap/s.

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It’s very exciting having a cat that’s NOT a long-haired type, because she can actually sit on the couch without leaving it covered in fur. This is a new and wondrous thing—and she certainly looks good on green.

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She still sleeps a lot, usually sitting on one of our dining chairs (hidden by the tablecloth) or in a lap, or at/over my feet. She still follows me to the bathroom and calmly waits for me before following me back into the living room.

It’s rare for her to meow these days, so hopefully she’ll just grow out of it. But keep the habit of saying, “Prrrm?” by way of greeting or query.

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She still plays a lot, and has begun enjoying different toys—the balls we bought for her, crumpled paper, my doona, Louisette’s soft toys. She still doesn’t really ‘get’ the whole treat thing (she tends to sniff at a treat, bat it around a bit, and then walk off).

And she’s still utterly perfect.

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Art for Schools

The full list of MURDER IN THE MAIL: A BLOODY BIRTHDAY contributors is here, but this article is specifically about the art from the exhibition currently showing at The Front cafe & gallery, with teachers and school principals in mind. I have chosen the most school-appropriate image from each artist to recommend (and have neglected Annabelle Lee because her books are too naughty, and I know she’ll forgive me).

These pictures are especially well suited to English, Art, History, and Psychology departments.

YES, Felicity Banks (yours truly; curator, head writer, and novelist) is available for discounted school author visits and the MURDER IN THE MAIL: A BLOODY BIRTHDAY story can be purchased here. It is suitable for 12+.

For schools/libraries, some prices are negotiable if the art is not sold during the exhibition period (especially if you buy more than one picture).

Michelle Bedford (Kija/Jaru people)

Full Moon Beaming

original painting

55 x 65 cm

$600 framed

Why buy it?

Because every school should display some original Indigenous Australian art. Michelle is a Canberra artist and poet who is active in the local community.

This is a great piece celebrating nature and it’s best hung next to a window so the specks of shining paint in the moon can be brought out.

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Shauna O’Meara

 Naomi’s Room

fromMurder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

limited edition print

42 x 30 cm

$250 framed

Why buy it?

This is an incredibly detailed piece that works best in the context of the MURDER IN THE MAIL: A BLOODY BIRTHDAY story. I can include a folder/display version of the story so students can explore interactive storytelling.

There are five clues in the picture, some of which require specialist knowledge (such as written Japanese) as well as a large number of ‘Easter Eggs’ (such as books by several authors who each wrote a character in the story).

Shauna O’Meara is an award-winning Canberra artist and writer.

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Jane Virgo

Cattitude

fromMurder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

“There’s something you don’t know about me.”

original painting

42 x 60 cm

$500 framed

Why buy it?

This is a painting of Canberra writer Cat Sheely by Canberra writer and painter Jane Virgo.

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 Adam Lee

National Museum

fromMurder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

“I kept her secret because it was hers.”

 photograph

60 x 42 cm

$350framed

Why buy it?

This is a stark and elegant photograph of a Canberra icon by a Canberra photographer.

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Tash Turgoose

Hands

fromMurder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

“When I draw, the world disappears.”

limited edition print

30 x 42 cm

$250framed

Why buy it?

This minimalist picture shows how a skilled artist can use detail to render a simple image powerful—and that it is possible to draw hands well!

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Keely Van Order

Rorschach

fromMurder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

“It’s over. And also beginning.”

limited edition print

42 x 60 cm

$350framed

Why buy it?

This complicated image has a million different interpretations. Is it wings? Faces? A blot of ink? A person could see a different image every day and never run out of impressions.

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“Iron Lights” Book Launch

Book launches are like holidays*: You look forward to them like crazy, and then when they’re over you’re deeply relieved. Win-win?

The first and third books of my steampunk trilogy were launched at the Canberra Writers Festival (2016 & 2018; the middle book was launched at Conflux 2017).

In 2016 the venue was the National Library of Australia, which was very cool!

This year the venue was Kings Hall in Old Parliament House (aka the Museum of Australian Democracy). It is, technically, a hallway between the senate and the hall of representatives. It’s a very nice hallway.

The pic on the left was taken by a good friend of mine. It’s King George in his Order of the Garter outfit. I’ve never wanted to give ‘best steampunk costume’ to a statue before.

Here’s my friend’s son out the front:

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And one of the chambers, which I was entirely blasé about beforehand, but found very impressive when I actually walked in. The whole museum is brilliant.

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The rest of the pics in this blog entry were taken by the brilliant writer and photographer Cat Sparks.

The selfies I took were blurry, but these photos are great. As is this:

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This picture is an absolute classic. TJ was in a stroppy mood all day and his face and posture is so him I adore it. And I like the way my skirt looks, too.

I brought an adorable waistcoat for him, and offered several bribes for him to wear it—all to no avail. Oh well.

The mischief continued throughout the day, although between pouts TJ was not-so-secretly having a grand time. And Cat Sparks caught it all.

But this is my favourite TJ sequence (with my friend’s kid—Louisette was deeply missed but TJ adores him):

 

There were events in the rooms to either side, so foot traffic had a very dramatic ebb and flow as sessions started and ended. I gave TJ a balloon to play with, and many fond looks were cast his way by the passing crowds. Then the balloon popped.

Kings Hall has a highly polished floor and very little furniture. It echoes, amplifying sounds in an incredibly dramatic manner.

The balloon popped… like a gunshot.

The room paused, subtly, as everyone there (and in rooms beyond the hall) thought, “That wasn’t a gunshot. . . was it?”

I called out, “It was a balloon!” so nobody properly freaked out, but even so a couple of security types came and checked that yes, it was harmless.

So that certainly livened things up. I imagine that if a balloon had popped in the foyer across the road (that is, in the current Parliament House, where Barnaby Joyce was speaking) then the response might have been even more exciting.

Moving on.

Dymocks Belconnen supplied all the books for the festival, and did a great job organising everything at their end. (They now have IRON LIGHTS in stock—signed—by the way.)

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Here’s the crowd desperately trying to restrain their ecstasy at the very presence of the famous authoress Felicity Banks.

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Here’s a compilation of volunteers and audience, most of whom are wonderful friends of mine:

 

And here’s Katie, aka the writer KJ Taylor, another Odyssey author who assisted me in editing Iron Lights and then volunteered to introduce me.

You can actually see from the pics why I like her (and not just coz she’s a good editor, a flattering reader, and she bought me flowers).

I did the typical launch thing of blabbing briefly, and then doing a reading. I tend to read opening chapters so the text can explain itself, but I felt there was a bit of exposition and fourth-wall-cracking in the first few pages so I was planning to skip some bits. But then I did my practice reading**. My launch took place after a week of transparently selfish machinations among the Liberal party (turfing out yet another Prime Minister), while also forcing moderates to face the horrifying spectre of the awful Dutton and/or Scott Morrison and/or Tony Abbott (three of the most racist politicians of our time) gaining in power (we now have ScoMo as PM, who is the best of the three… which is not saying much). And it was all too appropriate to read every bit my opening chapter, especially standing in Old Parliament House. Things like. . .

‘I can hardly give your precious police force credit for catching me, since I appeared as expected at the door of Parliament, along with tens of thousands of signatures on the grand petition for women’s suffrage.’ I suppressed a shiver, remembering how frightened I was that day. ‘And what is more, that impressive battalion of police utterly failed to stop me’—I waved generally at myself, indicating my small stature and misbehaving red hair—’giving said petition to the relevant gentleman… which led directly to universal adult suffrage in this great colony.’

Dry clenched his teeth in a manner I found highly amusing.

‘In fact, if it wasn’t for sweet little Emmeline Muchamore getting shot,’ I said, ‘my own dear Matilda might not have been included in the victory for women’s suffrage.’

Dry wasn’t the only man to hate the original residents of Australia. I wondered what I would have done if the parliamentarians had spent longer thinking about who they wished to exclude from political rights, and was glad I didn’t have to live in that world.

and. . .

In a darker world, men like Dry would have made sure natives could never have a true political voice. Not as long as white men lived, or as long as their children and their children’s children readily took on the burden of hatred.

If ever my own book was going to make me weep, that was the moment.

—–

Back when PM Kevid Rudd finally apologised to the Stolen Generation, Peter Dutton walked out of the chamber, visibly showing his loathing for a simple apology.

Is there any more damning indictment on the man’s character?

Unfortunately yes. There is his treatment of asylum seekers. But I digress.

 

I said my bit, signed my books, lurked about the place in case the literary- and politics-loving crowd would like a bit of steampunk, and then went home.

The pic on the left above has a quote in the background that begins, “I’ve always loved politics”. It’s part of an exhibition celebrating female politicians.

More than one person has pointed out that Julie Bishop was virtually ignored by her own part during the leadership chaos last week.

What a time to release a (slightly) historical novel. We have come so far, and yet there is so far to go for Australia to be a decent and fair country.

I hope that my over-optimistic, magical, cheerful books can show a little of what Australia could be.

And I’m so glad I write fiction.

*when you have children and/or disabilities.

** on the way to the launch, naturally.

Me, me, me!

The brilliant writer and photographer Cat Sparks was kind enough to photograph the IRON LIGHTS launch at Old Parliament House today. If you’ve heard her name linked to the Canberra Writers Festival before, it’s because she was on some of the panels.

There are so many brilliant photos that I’ve decided to save this entry for pics that are specifically of me. Which is, not surprisingly, a lot. I suddenly have a million options for my next Author Photo.

The lady in the top hat is my friend, another Odyssey writer and also an editor for Iron Lights, KJ Taylor.

Tragically, Louisette was absent due to having a birthday party today. So no Sparksian pics of her.

Addendum: A Bloody Fantastic Cake

Here’s Cassie’s own pic of the cake she made, next to Shauna’s picture. Artists are so amazing! They never cease to impress and delight me.

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It tasted good too.

 

PS The launch for IRON LIGHTS was pretty cool too. Cat Sparks did the photos and I already have them. They’re so incredible I’m going to have to write a seriously impressive blog entry to go with them.

Here’s a pic to tide y’all over until it’s ready:

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Hilariously, the quote behind me is, “I’ve always loved politics. . .”