Antipodean Queen 1: HEART OF BRASS

HEART OF BRASS is my first published novel; the beginning of all my (mostly Australian) steampunk fantasy stories.

You can buy it here, and in all the usual book places (online and offline).

Book 2 is SILVER AND STONE.

Book 3 is IRON LIGHTS.

The book trailer is here.

HEARTOFBRASSCover

Like to read the back cover? Here it is:


Emmeline Muchamore is a well-bred young lady hiding explosive family secrets. She needs to marry well, and quickly, in order to keep her family respectable. But when her brass heart malfunctions, she makes a desperate choice to steal the parts she needs to repair it and survive.

She is unable to explain her actions without revealing she has a steam-powered heart, so she is arrested for theft and transported to Victoria, Australia – right in the midst of the Gold Rush.

Now that she’s escaped the bounds of high society, iron manacles cannot hold her for long.

The only metal that really matters is gold.


 

The ISBN is 978-1-922200-58-7 (pbk) | 978-1-922200-59-4 (ebook)

You can use that number to quickly and easily order it into any bookshop you like. Most Australian bookshops and libraries should stock it already. If you’re in Canberra, Harry Hartog’s in Woden does a good job of keeping it in stock.

HEART OF BRASS can be bought in physical form directly through the publisher (who will post it to you—Odyssey is linked to printers in Australia, the US, and the UK, so if you’re in one of those nations the postage cost will be domestic).

You can also buy either print or digital copies from Amazon US, Amazon Australia (kindle only at the time of writing), Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Abe Books, The Book Depository, etc.

It is extremely helpful to me for readers to leave reviews at Amazon and/or Goodreads. The more you say why you like/dislike it, the more other readers will know if it suits them or not. I do read reviews but I’m not bothered by negative ones (sometimes I even learn something), so go ahead and be honest!

Like a sample?

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 8.15.35 PMScreen Shot 2017-10-03 at 8.15.55 PMScreen Shot 2017-10-03 at 8.16.07 PM

 


Full disclosure: I screenshotted the beginning of my book from Amazon (where there’s a longer sample) because I don’t know how to take the final editing marks out of the copy I have. Sad but true.

Antipodean Queen 2: SILVER AND STONE will be released on October 10 2017 (you can pre-order through OdysseyBooks.com.au) and the third book in the trilogy will be released in 2018 (probably August).

HEART OF BRASS cover reveal

Here it is…

concept-1-antipodeanqueen-type1_FINAL

On the publisher’s website it has an official release date less than a week away!

If you’re in Canberra and you want your copy signed, email me at fellissimo@hotmail.com and I’ll see what I can do.

I’ll also be at certain conferences this year, including:

Brimbank Writers and Readers Festival

1-11 September (I’ll be there on Saturday 10th only), Melbourne

Including a 2-hour panel on Interactive Fiction, and a get-together for IF lovers at the cafe around the corner (at 11am). Plus a possible spontaneous game.

 

Conflux 12

September 30-October 3, Canberra

Including a workshop on how to write profitable IF, plus a panel or two.

Conflux always includes one-on-one pitching opportunities, which happens to be how “Heart of Brass” found its home at Odyssey Books Australia.

 

Book Expo

8-9 October, Sydney

Including a panel or two, probably (to be advised).

 

Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk and Victoriana Fair

Saturday 15 October, Goulburn

Including hanging out with several other authors (including Tara Moss), free horse and carriage rides, dancing, makers, and other marvels of the steampunk world!

 

ARR ME HEARTIES!!!

The long weeks at sea have dragged by as the scuttlebutt is whispered from captain to cabin boy… there’s going to be a post-comp release of SCARLET SAILS… it’s twice as long… there are new chapters… there are even more chances to stab, shoot, or magically murder people that annoy you…

It turns out that (just this once) the rumours are true.

The beginning is free, and the rest is $2-$4.

You can buy it as an app through iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, or Google Chrome…. or on your computer.

splash.landscape2048x1536

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

It’s finally happened: my first interactive (that is, Choose Your Own Adventure-ish) Australian steampunk novel is wandering unsupervised in the great big world, gathering reviews near and far (and scaring its mother half to death).
222786_10150250551320466_688425465_8845575_7646433_n
My very first review was the hilarious comment “Worst one I’ve played”, accompanied by one star. I’m genuinely delighted by such a start to proceedings, and could only be happier if a major lobby called for it to be banned.
Moments ago, the very clever and well-respected Emily Short published her review, and said, “All in all, then, this is both the biggest and the best of the Felicity Banks games I’ve tried so far; the worldbuilding is more extensive and the plot better structured.”
She also said the beginning was nicely paced while the end was rushed… which is funny since another reviewer said the beginning was boring but don’t worry because it gets better once you get into it.
People say, “Don’t read your reviews” but with material like this, how could I resist?
It’s on Amazon (after 20 reviews – positive or negative – Amazon will start promoting the book for me for free!!), Apple itunesGoogle, and Google Chrome.
 
Or you can play directly through the publisher’s web site, here. That’s the simplest if you’re not tech savvy (although you’ll need a credit/debit card there).

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

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

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

Interactive Fiction: My Shiny New Obsession

If you’ve set eyes on me for more than thirty seconds at any point this year, you know all about my shiny new obsession: interactive fiction. It’s the digital form of “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels.

As of seven minutes ago, my first publicly-available interactive fiction story is live (and also free… for now) right here – scroll down to the bottom of the linked page and click on this:

 

DownTheWombatHole

You don’t need anything more specialised than a computer, and you’ll read the book within a Firefox browser.

This particular story (which takes about twenty minutes to read) is about what happens when a two perpetual students fall through a portal into the magical, tropical world of Rahana. It’s a place where a pregnant queen’s island is under siege, and where a handshake can kill.

You, dear reader, are one of those perpetual students. You choose whether you’re male or female, happily single or crushing on your best friend (who just happens to fall through the portal with you – you also choose their gender). You decide whether you’re a natural fighter or a master manipulator; a doctor or a jack of all trades. When the battle begins, you can choose to kill or heal, to strategise or inspire. Even if you’re completely useless as a character, you get a good story out of it – and you can be someone completely different the next time you read it, too.

How does it work?

Funny you should ask.

As a player, it’s a simple matter of clicking your mouse (or in some cases your finger, since most interactive fiction can be read on smart phones) on the choice that looks best to you, then on the “Next” button to go to the next page. Your choices make a difference in various ways. Usually, choices change your statistics (for better or worse) – recording your personal traits, your relationships with others, and the skill/s you practise along the way. Later on in the game, those choices change your ability to succeed or fail in certain endeavours. You can check up on your stats along the way (there’s a button at the top of the screen), or ignore them and choose with your heart every time (that’s what I do, especially on the first read-through). I also like having “Achievements” listed as a tantalising hint of some of the story’s possibilities. There’s a button for achievements, too, but it’s not possible to gain all of them in a single play-through.

I really like the American company Choice of Games (yes, that’s why my spelling is suddenly non-patriotic) because they’re fun, non-graphic, and determined not to discriminate. In their games, it’s always possible (when relevant) to pick both your gender and orientation.

The lack of strong female characters in fiction magically disappears when a player chooses his/her own gender – and I love that!

So, that’s a lightning-fast preview of the big news I’ve been hinting at all year. “Down the Wombat Hole” isn’t even my first interactive novel…. but the details of the others will have to wait for another post! Let’s just say my days of steampunk and piracy are just beginning.

Oh, and by the way? It just so happens that “Down the Wombat Hole” is set in the same world as my print novel (coming out in 2016) “Stormhunter”. So if you’ve ever read a fantasy book and wished with all your heart you could visit it yourself, now is your chance.

Edited to add: “Down the Wombat Hole” is now part of a full-length collaborative game called LOST IN THE PAGES (with the new chapter title THE QUEEN’S CHILD, and no wombat).

And the small press Satalyte that was going to publish STORMHUNTER has stopped running, but Odyssey Books has just (as of October 2017) taken on the middle-grade pirate trilogy set in the same world, which suggests STORMHUNTER will sail again (it’s young adult, and set hundreds of years after the middle-grade trilogy, so it makes sense to publish the middle-grade trilogy first).

Do Pirates Squee?

This one does.

Fifteen – yes, fifteen – years ago I invented a fantasy world called Rahana based on Indonesia (I was sitting on a folding chair in a concreted Indonesian room attempting to listen to a sermon at the time). My idea was that if I had a rich and complicated world I could base a whole lot of books inside that world.

I was sick of white men dominating. . . everything. . . so I wanted a fantasy world that, to me, felt female. And non-white (much as my own heritage is Omo-white for generations). So I created a tropical world where there was enough magic that physical strength wasn’t necessarily important to gain power, and where art and storytelling was considered to be the most valuable (and best-paid) type of skill. People looked Indonesian, and people and place names were based on Indonesian words.

Soon after that, I began writing a young adult trilogy set in that world. Then I wrote a middle-grade trilogy set in the same world. Altogether so far I’ve written around half a million words and received seventy rejections just for this series.

Every time a book was rejected I asked myself, “Why was it rejected? How can it be better?”

The first book of the young adult trilogy has been edited so dramatically and so often it barely resembles the original draft (which I wrote in three weeks). Eventually, gradually, it became a good book. The simplest way to describe it is in three words:

Narnia with pirates.

A few days ago I received an offer of publication for that book – my paper baby – STORMHUNTER.

It’s really happening. My first book is going to be published. I can’t believe it. . . this is so great. . . I’m going to tell EVERYONE EVERYWHERE. . . pirates are so cool. . . this book helped me meet my husband. . . I’m going to sign books, and do conferences, and schmooze reviewers!. . . What the. . . has it really taken FIFTEEN YEARS!?!?!?!?

I won’t actually publish this blog entry until I have the green light to do so, but I thought I’d better write it now (Easter Sunday 2015). At the very beginning. [Observant readers will notice that I accidentally posted it at the time, then deleted the content. . . but left the tags, which are pretty awesome clues.]

Anything could happen from here. Ninety percent of published books flop. . . but I’ve come this far, and I intend to keep going. Ninety-nine percent of books don’t get published at all, so I’m doing pretty well 🙂

This is a picture of some of my pirate research – aboard the Young Endeavour sail training vessel at the tender age of twenty-three. That was ten years ago, and I was doing research specifically for STORMHUNTER. I guess it paid off, huh?

Some of my main audience wasn’t born when I came up with the idea for the world of Rahana. In fact, the middle grade readers weren’t born when this picture was taken five years later. What were YOU doing in the year 2000?

tallship1_0002

STORMHUNTER will be released in both print and digital formats in 2016, by Satalyte.

If you’re interested in writerly stuff, stick around and/or like my facebook page. TJ turns one in less than ten days, and after that this blog will be much more about writing (and piracy, and reading) than it has been for a long time.

If you want to know major announcements only (but reliably – unlike facebook), send me an email at fellissimo[at]Hotmail.com and I’ll add you to the official mailing list, which will average less than an email a month (including info on conferences I’m attending and book signings etc).

Squee!

Best Playgrounds in Canberra

Earlier this year (and adding to previous experience) I set out to become the world expert on Canberra playgrounds. I think I succeeded, and I have the travel articles to prove it. First, a not-very-plausible Tour of Canberra (seriously, all of it) through playgrounds. It really does work for seeing all Canberra’s best bits in a single day, and it involves art, science, culture, history, and music! pic12   Secondly, the best ten playgrounds rated – by imaginative fun, parental seating, safety, toilet facilities, fatal flaws, likelihood of crowding, and more! I write a LOT of travel articles. These two are the best by far, hence being put on the blog. Louisette’s godmother saw the Epic Tour and said she’d like to attempt it! I’ll let you know how far we get before Louisette begs to go home 🙂   pic8

NB These picture are the property of WeekendNotes.

Open Letter to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton

Felicity Banks

fellissimo@hotmail.com

 

Dear Mr Peter Dutton, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection:

I was a teenager when I first realised there was something wrong with Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. A case was being discussed on the radio of a gay man in danger due to his homosexuality. When I heard the story, he had already been returned to his country of origin on the basis that he was faking homosexuality in order to gain entry to Australia – despite the fact that he was in a relationship with another asylum seeker at the time.

I’m in my thirties now with two children of my own that I would protect with my life – but I still fear for the children and adults who have come to Australia for help only to face an immigration system that is designed to send away as many asylum seekers as possible. It seems asylum seekers are presumed to be guilty of “faking it” – but statistics indicate the majority are genuine refugees1.

I know that as a police officer you have seen the best and the worst of humanity, and have protected and defended the most vulnerable people in our community. You have also seen first-hand that justice requires an open flow of information.

Thanks to the recent Migration Bill, your job includes the power to hide Australia’s legal processes regarding our asylum seekers. You even have the power to knowingly send genuine refugees back to likely torture and death without ever letting the Australian media or the UN find out2.

I do not believe that is the kind of person you are.

There are three things I think you and I both believe in:

1. Transparency.

The Australian government must be 100% transparent about exactly what is happening to asylum seekers who attempt to find a home in Australia (except of course for hiding names and faces of asylum seekers who feel they or their loved ones may be in danger if revealed).

2. Freedom.

No innocent person (particularly a child) should be imprisoned.

a. We urgently need to get kids (and adults) out of detention and into Australia (not Papua New Guinea or Nauru, where they are in immediate physical danger from locals when released into the community3). The Uniting Church has volunteered to find safe homes for all the unaccompanied minors, and there are many other organisations falling over themselves to volunteer to help more people – at zero cost to the taxpayer4.

If sorting out aid organisations is too complex, ask the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to do it for you.

b. Our legal process is appallingly slow5 and the lack of a firm release date from detention is causing enormous harm6. It is not right to treat asylum seekers as badly as we do7, even in an effort to discourage people smuggling. The “stop the boats” policy looks good on paper, but only because the horrors are happening out of sight8.Our legal process should be weighted accordingly. The purpose of law is to protect the vulnerable – punishing the guilty is a secondary concern.

The fast-track-style legal process would be a good thing if it was used to get genuine refugees out of detention fast. It is not a good thing when it results in genuine refugees getting deported due to a lack of adequate examination of their case.

The needs of the incarcerated children are paramount, and their innocence is clear. But the majority of adults in detention don’t deserve to be there either1.

3. Humanity.

Please formally reaffirm Australia’s commitment to international human rights law, including the Refugee Convention that we helped to write9. Until now, we had a good human rights record. You have the power to make us a human rights leader once again.

Yours Sincerely,

Felicity Banks

Please note this is an open letter that, excluding my contact details, will be shared online.

1. https://www.facebook.com/australianwelfarenews/photos/a.1415143595422337.1073741828.1415019052101458/1505522853051077/?type=1

In 2009/2010, 80% of boat arrivals were deemed to be genuine refugees, and only 3% of asylum seekers arrived by boat (ie “boat people” are an incredibly minor part of the issue, and are usually genuine refugees).

2. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/malcolm-fraser-savages-scott-morrisons-new-asylum-seeker-laws-and-senators-who-passed-them-20141210-124bp1.html

Former PM Malcolm Fraser is appalled at the recent Migration Bill and the powers it bestows upon the Immigration Minister (including secrecy and the ability to knowingly return people to a place where they are likely to be tortured).

3. http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/oct/28/child-refugees-australia-sent-to-nauru-report-beatings-and-death-threats

Men and women granted refugee status and released into Nauru face persecution and threats, including police harassment when they ask for help. Women are afraid of being attacked and raped in their camps (both in and out of detention, but out of detention is more dangerous).

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/dec/31/refugees-living-on-nauru-say-they-want-to-return-to-detention-to-flee-violence?CMP=share_btn_fb

Unaccompanied children granted refugee status and released into Nauru face persecution from locals including beatings and threats.

4. http://www.mdainc.org.au/sites/default/files/Assessing-the-economic-contribution-of-refugees-in-Australia-Final.pdfhttp://wbttaus.org/better-ways/

Although studies vary considerably in their estimates, all agree that in the long term refugees settled within Australia benefit the national economy.

http://wbttaus.org/better-ways/

Suggestions of better ways to process asylum seekers (especially children).

5. http://wbttaus.org/

At the time of writing (30 December 2014) 603 children are in immigration detention in Australia, 186 on Nauru, and the average time spent in detention is 413 days.

6. https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2014/12/13/taliban-targets-afghan-family-scott-morrison-stalls/14183892001364#.VKF0pfCcC (trigger warning)

A case study of a girl given asylum in Australia after her father refused to allow her to become the concubine of a Taliban chief. While she waited three years for paperwork to process so her family could also be given asylum, her father was killed. Her brother is missing and probably also dead.

7. http://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/opinion/topic/2014/10/25/open-letter-living-the-hell-called-nauru/14141556001165#.VKF2EfCcC

An asylum seeker mother details the horrific and unsanitary conditions in Nauru, including a lack of adequate drinking water.

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/dec/23/immigration-policy-in-2014-reza-baratis-death-was-a-low-point-and-just-the-beginning

A summary of 2014 for asylum seekers in Australia: “Under Australia’s watchful eye, asylum seekers face an environment of intimidation, violence, self-harm and procedural uncertainty. “

http://theconversation.com/asylum-seeker-code-is-a-rhetorical-tool-with-severe-consequences-35083

The bizarre rules for refugee visas (eg not being allowed to swear in public or they may have their visas revoked) are designed to dehumanise legitimate immigrants and promote racism in the community.

8. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/11/scott-morrison-may-gloat-but-asylum-seekers-take-more-boats-than-ever?CMP=share_btn_fb

The “stop the boats” policy is putting more people in danger (the most vulnerable are ignored because they are forced to go and risk death elsewhere).

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/dec/31/stopping-the-boats-a-fiction-as-australia-grows-ever-more-isolationist-on-asylum?CMP=soc_567

According to the UN, the reason there are less people arriving in Australia by boat is because the “stop the boats” policy is causing more to die at sea. A more effective method of reducing people smuggling and needless death would be to create better legal channels where possible (but for many of the most desperate asylum seekers, there IS no legal path to safety because their own government wants them dead).

http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/nov/29/australia-hands-over-37-intercepted-asylum-seekers-to-sri-lankan-navy?CMP=share_btn_fb

Sri Lankan asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka were immediately (and predictably) arrested.

“Less than two years ago, the Australian government’s own statistics showed that about 90% of boat arrivals, including those from Sri Lanka, were judged to be in need of protection. Yet suddenly, under a secret process on a boat on the high seas, with no legal oversight, only one of 38 is judged to need protection.”

http://www.smh.com.au/national/asylum-seekers-return-to-living-hell-20120723-22kq6.html

Tamil asylum seekers deported from Australia allege torture (sometimes to death) and imprisonment without trial. Their allegations fit into human rights abuses already documented against Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

 

9. http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2014/nov/28/australian-asylum-seeker-policy-contravene-un-torture-convention

Australia is breaking international human rights law, and is therefore condemned by the UN.

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/australias-position-on-refugees-is-despicable-20141213-124abc.html

Australia is a safe, wealthy country that is not pulling its weight in terms of international responsibility to the poor, desperate, and endangered.

 

Plot Device Film, and Ten Untranslatable Words

Here is a movie and an article that are sashaying around the writerly blogosphere at the moment.

Yes, it’s a long film for youtube. But it’s way shorter than a movie, and just as good. Say hi to the zombies for me.

 

And this is an article by someone who has picked ten words that have been adopted from English into other languages due to their precise meanings.

Advice to Victorian Ladies

This is taken from a mid-book compilation by author Liza Picard, in Victorian London. Enjoy!

Advice to Ladies:

Most wind instruments are decidedly inelegant, they should be left to the gentlemen. Playing the violin-cello is of course out of the question, while the violin, while not so openly obscene, necessitates an awkward position of the head and neck which is not recommended. The piano-forte is an elegant woman’s best friend. There is room on a properly designed piano stool for two, in delightful proximity, when attempting pieces for four hands. Remember that if your companion stands up you may be deposited on the floor unless you stand at the same time. Pages need turning, by someone standing close behind you. This will be present to your mind when adjusting the neckline of your dress before a musical evening. Do not spare the application of perfume.

Never be in the company of an unmarried man alone, unless considerations such as the imminence of an acceptable proposal of marriage outweigh the normal rules. If about to faint with emotion, make sure there is a convenient sopha on which to subside. Not all gentlemen can be relied upon to catch a falling female in time.

 

When other peoples’ children are presented to you, express delight and admiration, no matter how unprepossessing the infants. Resist any temptation to call attention to their running noses, wet pantaloons, or digital nasal explorations. One can only hope that all these matters will be taken care of by some third party such as the nursemaid. Mothers are often blind to any imperfection in their offspring. Meanwhile try your utmost to avoid physical contact with them, combining an adroit management of your skirts with uninterrupted paeans of praise. Much the same applies to other peoples’ pets, with obvious amendments.

“Send sleep, vodka, and bacon. . .” (PG)

Chuck Wendig did another brilliant post on his new baby, and I couldn’t resist reposting it below (remember, his blog is often MA). The original is here.

*PSSSHHcracklehisss*

“– you hear me? The stuff’s everywhere — black tar — came pouring out of diapers — could lay shingles with this stuff OH GOD HERE COMES MORE OF IT –”

*kkkkpsshhhhfsssss*

“– haven’t slept in days — seeing things — cherubs with wings, but not like out of a greeting card but like out of the damn Bible — so many eyes — fiery swords — chubby cheeks –”

*weeooooFSSHHHHcrackle*

“– think they’re cute but they’re deadly –”

“– energy levels low, rations dwindling –”

“– everywhere you go it’s always there watching waiting peeing –”

“– alert, alert, this thing’s got witch nails, it killed Samson, merciful Jesus it killed Samson! –”

“– we thought we controlled it, but no, no, it controls us! –”

” — such hubris, we thought we understood the parameters –”

*KKKKFSSSHHHHHBSSHHHH*

“– OH SWEET SID AND MARTY KROFFT IT’S CRYING AGAIN WHICH MEANS ITS HUNGRY — “

” — send sleep — vodka — baaaacon –”

CARRIER LOST

TheLittlestPenmonkeyBeseechesYou

The baby is well.

He’s covered in the acne of an 8th grade math nerd.

He’s still trying to tear off his own face with his komodo claws.

He still looks like we enrolled him in Baby Fight Club.

He sometimes smiles. He likes dancing to the Beastie Boys. His poop has transitioned from the foul black hell-slurry to something that looked like swamp mud to something that looks like deli mustard.

He’s good. And we’re pretty good, too.

Read the rest.

I’m pregnant

The rumours are true.

Every Wednesday from now on will be about the baby (aka Mini-Me) until he/she is old enough to need some privacy (it’s quite likely I’ll mention breasts, breastfeeding, and maybe periods – but that’s as gross/adult as it will get). I’ve also prepped literally dozens of blog entries in advance – awesomenesses, pregnancy thoughts, and book reviews – to make sure I don’t let you guys down.

I was irrationally terrified CJ and I would be infertile, but it turns out we’re quite the opposite. We had one month of just trying, one month with a chemical pregnancy, and now we’re pregnant for real. Most people take 6-12 months to conceive – not three.

What’s a chemical pregnancy? It’s an extremely early miscarriage – within the first five weeks, and often before the first period (I only know about it because I used Forelife brand pregnancy tests, which turned out to be MORE sensitive than the urine tests at the doctor). Chemical pregnancies happen when the baby is malformed somehow. Which means that if our second-month pregnancy had come to term, it might have looked a little like this:

http://www.mykeamend.com/paintings/Purple.png

But THIS pregancy will probably end up looking a little like these samples my associates prepared earlier (especially the first, my niece):

When are you due? January 18 (although that may change as doctors learn more about the baby’s size – and it’s likely I’ll be up to two weeks late, like my mum). As of today, I am at six weeks.

Observant readers will notice that January is always an eventful month in my life – CJ and I married in Janury 2009 (I had in fact told him the previous August that we HAD to marry in January, and my mum and sister and I had discussed it in detail for over a year), went to China and Indonesia in January 2010, and had a second honeymoon in January 2011. For me, Christmas holidays are a dark, empty period of no tutoring income for two months (and the excess of free time doesn’t help things at all). We timed our conception attempts deliberately to (hopefully) hit the Christmas holidays. . . and we actually did it. So the timing is GREAT. Plus, my sister will be here – awesome.

Are you concerned about miscarriage? Mildly. I know the chances of miscarriage are relatively high in the next seven weeks, but I come from strong baby-making stock so I’ll almost certainly be fine.

Do you want a girl or a boy? Yes.

Before I was married, I wanted girls (because girls mostly make sense to me, and boys mostly don’t). The more I get to know CJ, the more I want a boy. But then again, girls have smaller heads.

How’s CJ coping? I love change and CJ hates it – but he’s also naturally VERY calm (any calmer and he’d be dead), and surprisingly good at adapting when change happens. He’s quietly excited about becoming a father, but to a certain extent he’s not convinced Mini-Me is real (which is fair enough, as well as being handy for coping with the thought of the epic journey  ahead of us). The first few days after we found out were probably the only time in our lives that I was calmer than him. I enjoyed that.

How are you feeling physically? Pretty normal, with a host of minor side effects so far – stomach cramps, pain, nausea, gastro, stomach-muscles twinging if I lift something heavy or reach for something high. Back pain. Sore breasts (I’ve already gone up a cup size, yay!), flatulence (yes, CJ, that was me – not the cat), dry skin, bigger belly (yes, already – to be fair, it was big to start off with), fatigue, emotional sensitivity (in every direction – exactly like PMS), and a cold. It’s fascinating how much pregnancy screws with everything in one’s entire body – but so far, it’s all extremely minor. Oh, I’m also extra unco and extra forgetful – no surprises there.

Since writing the above a few days ago, proper nausea has kicked in – particularly in the evenings. It’s just like being seasick, which means I have a pretty good idea where the increasing nausea is inevitably heading. Yo ho. . .

Actually, the most annoying thing so far is that on the steam train day I had another side effect: thirty mosquito bites all over my ankles and legs. Not a single other person I spoke to had any bites whatsoever. So remember, next time you go camping, to save yourself from insect attack all you need to do is pack a pregnant woman.

Here’s hoping my blood isn’t as delicious to vampires. Note to self: carry a stake (and/or exacto knife).

I also had a wacky pregnancy dream that I was a man (a sailor, incidentally – talk about foreshadowing) whose fiance gave birth to a large potato. After a careful discussion about whether smaller offspring would be bullied by the other children, we cut the potato in half – making it into twins.

Evidently, my subconscious skipped out on sex ed classes.

Have you thought at all about, ya know, having a baby – and how you’ll deal with that? Having a baby (child, teenager, adult offspring) is pretty much the point of the exercise, and it’s something I’ve thought about carefully for several years. I know it’s what I want to do with my life, and I also know it’ll be harder than I can imagine. There’s no way I’d have attempted this without CJ (quite apart from the difficulty of conception without his assistance), and I also know my mum’s obsession with grandchildren is the greatest thing in the world. Hello, free babysitting.

How’s that mental illness coming along? Very well, thank you. Oh, you mean How is someone with an anxiety disorder going to cope with pregnancy, and a real live baby?

Pregnancy is a lot like mental illness, but with physical illness on top. My tutoring workload is rather low at the moment – so I’m leaving it where it is until further notice (resisting the urge to earn more money while I still can). I’ve been madly stocking up on frozen meals – consciously planning for around six weeks of bleaugh and lolling around the house (I observed my sister’s pregnancy closely, and she was basically fine except for the second half of the first trimester – so I’m right on schedule). The good thing about my anxiety disorder is that I am very familiar with my own limits, and extremely aware of danger signs. I am not trying to be superwoman, and I’m certainly not going to attempt to be a supermum.

I’m already napping every day, doing less writing (I’m two months ahead on my quota anyway – did I mention I planned this?), and eating WAY more vegetables, milk, and protein. I’m also eating 30-100 grams of chocolate each day so that if I snap and have a binge it’s not a huge shock to the system (caffeine can harm an unborn baby, but since I don’t drink coffee I’m okay so long as I stick to my preference for milk rather than dark chocolate). My no-no foods are soft cheese, soft serve ice cream, raw food (unless it’s peeled and/or washed in hot water and detergent, ugh), paté, and processed cold meat. And (obviously) alcohol.

Most of the same prioritise-the-baby-and-be-good-to-myself principles apply to a new baby experience, except with way more assistance from CJ (who gets parental leave), my Mum, and everyone else I’ve ever met. My expectations are: emotional collapse on day 3, extreme exhaustion and sleep deprivation for several months, lots of poo and vomit and screaming for several years – and joy and sorrow for the rest of my life.

I also honestly believe I can handle it (with all that help, of course) as well or better than the average new mum.

Why’s that?

When something is meaningful, I can handle it. When it’s not – I can’t. I can’t work in a shop (unless it’s a bookshop), but I can look after a newborn. The difficulty actually makes it easier for me mentally, because it makes me feel my life has purpose (yes, I’m weird, I know).

I also spend a lot of time with babies and kids, and always have. CJ and I each have an excellent set of parents, which gives us a huge advantage in knowing how it’s done. Most of all, I know my strength is limited – which is, in my opinion, the single most useful piece of self-knowledge for a mum to have.

Are you scared about labor? Not really. Firstly because it’s not until next year, and I figure I can save that fear for later. Secondly because the pain will likely last around thirty hours – and then end (pain with a purpose AND a specific timeframe is the best kind). I tend to deal with crisis fairly well (unlike ordinary life, which terrifies me), and labor definitely counts as a heroic endeavour (and an AWESOME writing experience).

Frankly, I’m looking forward to labor – it means Mini-Me is about to arrive.

Here’s to January 2012!

Politics of Fish

Right now, CJ and I have six fish.

Gandalf is a male siamese fighting fish. He can’t live in a tank with other long-finned fish because they’ll attack each other, but in general I’ve found him to be surprisingly placid.

Frodo is the last of our neon tetras, and is reasonably old now (named “Frodo” on the basis of being the last one of the tetras, all of whom are clearly small and helpless and thus names after hobbits). He doesn’t bother anyone, and is the smallest fish. He’s of indeterminate gender. Usually tetras are happiest in groups, but he appears to be coping with his newfound solitude. Sometimes he hangs with the guppies (who are the next smallest).

Our guppies are Aragorn and Gimli. Aragorn has a big decorative tail like a butterfly’s wing, and is more aggressive than Gimli. Gimli is orange – a colour most find unattractive (although there are some who REALLY like that sort of thing), hence the name.

Our bristlenose catfish is Watson, because he pootles about being a bottom feeder and generally cleaning up messes.

Our reticulate loach is Sherlock, because he runs about maniacally and is generally peculiar and fascinating. (Another bottom feeder, but a carniverous one – the last one bit off Sam’s eye. Sam has since died. Bad, naughty, violent Sherlock.) He’s also of indeterminate gender (which I can only presume is good news for Watson).

Gandalf is elderly now, and deserves his own tank. Unfortuantely, the new tank is infested with snails – so I bought Sherlock to deal with them. Gandalf took an instant dislike to teeny tiny Sherlock, and chased him excessively. Naughty, crochety Gandalf! He used to be so good-natured before I let him have his own pad.

Aragorn has been biting Gimli ever since Gimli arrived. I spoke to the pet shop staff and discovered that, basically, that’s what boys do. The only way to stop them is with women – LOTS of women. (Rather disturbingly, a single female with two guys will be killed in the battle for her love. Does that add insight into Lord of the Rings, or is that just me?)

Aragorn and Gandalf don’t get on (I never expected they would).

In an effort to maintain peace while simultaneously killing the snails in the small tank, I moved Gandalf to the big tank with Watson, Frodo and Gimli. Aragorn and Sherlock both buzzed around happily in the small tank, not killing each other. Gandalf hid in a plant and Gimli left him alone. All good!

Then the filter in the big tank broke.

Most fish need the filter for oxygen as well as cleanliness. So I moved Gimli and Frodo into the small tank with Aragorn and Sherlock. Aragorn and Gimli immediately resumed their territorial wars – but at least it’s a match of even strength.

Gandalf is fine without a filter (in the short term) and Watson is big enough that I’ll see signs of distress before he’s in any real danger – so they’re remaining in the big tank. For now I’m manually adding oxygen (ie periodically picking up water in a cup and pouring it back in again to create bubbles), and keeping an eye on everyone.

Every so often, my neighbours hear one of the following plaintive cries:

“Aragorn! Leave Gimli alone!”

“Sherlock! Eat the snails. The SNAILS!”

“It’s all right Gandalf. You can come out of your tree now.”

Lifesaving and Codebreaking

Of all the words in all the languages on Earth, “useful” is not one that is generally applied to me.

Today details one of those rare days when it was.

My neighbour and his wife stood in his front yard, staring around vacantly as I pulled up. Their car was parked half across my driveway. I carefully avoided both eye contact and car contact, and managed to park my car.

Pleased with my success in not glaring at them, I headed for my front door. Mr Neighbour ran up to me. “Please can you help jump-start our car?”

“Oh!” I said. “Uh. . . okay.”

I backed out and around, drew up next to them, and propped up my bonnet lid. He had his own jumper cables, so I simply waited. As he clipped the last jaws into place, there were sparks. He ignored them, and clipped on the cable.

See, here’s one of the grand things about poverty. When you’re so poor you need to save up for two months to buy a new battery, you get super good at jump-starting cars. Perhaps you even, in special circumstances, become useful.

My car began to smoke from the battery (which, sidebar, I bought a month ago – yay for CJ’s steady income). At first it was just a hint of heat in the air. Then it was a tiny curl of grey. Then it was chunks and gouts of “this is not right, by golly” and “uh-oh” spiced with “run away! run away!”.

I realised This Was Not Right By Golly and dived into the fray, unhooking the jaws deftly. Fortunately, I didn’t blow up. Nor did the cars.

Mr Neighbour and I looked at one another, and social awkwardness and fire-fear vied for prominence. “It’s red to red and black to black, isn’t it?” he said.

I was immediately suspicious that I’d finally found someone who knew less than me about cars. Given the logic principle that “once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth” I glanced around surreptitiously for any of the following:

1. UFOs hovering to take advantage of their human-disguised leader’s cunning ruse.

2. Brain-altering fungus spores making my neighbour stupid.

3. Punk’d cameras.

Since I found none of those, I was forced to conclude that, for this one unnatural moment, I was the most knowledgable car person around. I looked at his battery. Sure enough, he’d attached the cables between positives and negatives.

One of my friends had two uncles that did that. Apparently when they started the car a blazing arc of lightning slammed across the cables, melting both engines.

I reattached the cables to the correct batteries, Mr Neighbour successfully started his car, and I advised him and his wife on How To Jump Start Your Car Without Killing Folks.

He drove off; I parked and went inside. I thought my usefulness for the year was done, but I was wrong.

At work that day a student showed me the essay we’d worked on together. She’d done well. There was only one problem – the teacher’s comment was spectacularly illegible after the first two words.

I’ve seen some thrilling handwriting efforts in my time, but this one was so deep into “someone likes to drink while they mark, and I sure can tell” territory – the writing is actually SLURRED – that I took the liberty of tracing it for the internet’s benefit. Here it is:

For the next hour, pausing only occasionally to snarl, “Get back to work” at the student (hurrah for $40 an hour) I studied the mysterious message (and, by extension, the drink-addled mind behind it).

The first two words were “Well done” which gave me a baseline on which to decode everything else. The first word after that looks very much like “Zu” but was probably something else entirely. The middle word on the second line looks like “none” and the first three words of the final line look like “etc let is”. The final word on the second line looked like a field of poppies dancing in a breeze (another substance, interestingly, that may have been tangentially involved in the note-making process).

By careful observation, I learned that tall or long letters were considered distinctive by dint of being tall or long, and all other features were presumed irrelevent. Similarly, letters that were neither tall nor long might be represented only by the most subtle wiggle of the pen as it wandered to greener pastures. The most reliable letters in each word were the early ones, as the writer tended to lose enthusiasm for a word partway through, and simply not bother forming letters any more.

I searched through the essay and assignment sheet looking for key words that might have been used (people who mark lose originality fast). That garnered some useful data.

Dots and dashes tended to migrate, often by several letters. That was crucial, because it meant that something that was clearly a “t” actually wasn’t. For example, the first word on the final line looks like “etc” but is actually “the”.

I also carefully traced, with an unclicked pen, the shape of the “Well done”. When it comes to profiling, I’m with the method school – I needed to get into her head and hand. And I did. The blurring of letters was a significant clue. It was also clear that some blurring caused other letters – irrelevent letters – to appear. It was a trap for the unwary, and it nearly got me.

By far the greatest challenge was the mysteriously poppy-like final word on the second line. I spent a long time trying to think of words with an early “th” followed by two ls (or ts) later on.

The join between the two tall letters and the previous letter was too long. It didn’t match the hurried pesonality of the teacher. That meant only one thing: something was there. Something invisible to the naked eye, but clear to a linguistic psychologist such as myself – another tall letter. The early “th” wasn’t two tall letters in a row – it was three. With that final crucial clue, I mentally scoured the English language. It seemed an impossible task. But. . . I did it.

Here’s the full note:

Well done – you have provided some well-formulated analyses and made relevent references to the texts as evidence.

Agatha Christie, eat your heart out.