Whatever happened to the Jetsons?

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I’m an author of fantasy and romance, but one day I hope to write science fiction, so it’s a habit of mine to explore ideas about what the future might be. Yesterday, however, my musing triggered a sudden, sharp excursion into the past – a memory of my father, way back in the sixties, saying “When you’re my age, you’ll be living like the Jetsons. Life will be all about leisure time and travel. Holidays! People will have lots of holidays.” He was convinced that everything labor-intensive in his day would be done by robots in the future.

For the benefit of those who are too young to remember the Jetsons, this is the cartoon he was talking about:

The Jetsons foreshadowed a life of automation, robotics, and above all, a lack of physical labor. The Jetsons didn’t even walk their dog – it walked on a treadmill. The father went to work, the children to school, and the mother to the shopping mall if she wasn’t hanging around the house doing nothing. Despite these outings, they didn’t walk anywhere. Conveyor belts took them even from one room of their house to another. In the real world, their fitness would have been appalling, but my dad couldn’t have comprehended that. He was born in the 1920’s and lived a life of fresh air, abundant physical exercise (he’d been a carpenter) and lots of fresh, healthy food – much of it grown in our own garden. Back then, nearly everyone was fit and healthy, so there was no mass instruction for people to exercise more or eat better. They were already doing all the right things.

Mum and Dad 1953

Mum and Dad 1953

Life was idyllic health wise, but like most people back in the sixties, my dad wished for more leisure. When he wasn’t at work, his time was filled with meetings, yard work and taking us kids places. My mother spent all day every day either washing, ironing, growing vegetables, cooking, baking, shopping or cleaning. We only had one car which dad took to work, so she had to walk to the shops and back towing four kids and pulling home a cart of groceries.

With this image in mind, I can easily see why the Jetsons would have had such appeal to my parents who were – by current standards – overworked. It was a fantasy of the life they craved, but beyond that, my dad genuinely believed these innovations would come – that men would invent these things and everyone would have them.

And yet… robotics hasn’t created a culture of leisure time. And it’s not because we’re not smart enough to invent these things. We could. Instead, our society is becoming more geared towards individualism, toward wanting bespoke everything, from travel, to furniture, to clothing. The uniformity of fast food is growing passé as the Slow Food movement is gaining ground, with cooking shows and gardening shows topping the ratings. So why is it, in this age of high-tech devices that go so much further than the Jetsons ever dreamed possible, people seem to crave a genuine hands-on experience of life,  rather than a sanitized, easy ride.

Ally's Garden

Ally’s Garden

Just today, while I was writing this blog, a girlfriend rang to catch up. She’s just a regular single woman, working in retail (which she hates) living with a cat and making fabulous handcrafts that she sells at weekend markets. I asked about her week and she shared this picture with me of her garden. Listening to her chat about it, I was struck by how happy she sounded telling me about her lavender covered in bees, the tomatoes letting leggy and the star jasmine at the front door that smells like heaven! She actually said to me that while she was in the garden pulling weeds, she felt such an upswelling of joy it almost made her cry. Her garden made her that happy.

When I got off the phone, I couldn’t help thinking, there’s no garden at the Jetsons house…

So it that why we, as a society haven’t gone down the path of all those stainless-steel and concrete landscapes I read about in sci fi as a teenager and saw on sci fi movies from Logan’s Run to Minority Report and The Fifth Element? Is there something about being in nature that makes us happy? Something about doing simple tasks with our own hands that makes us feel satisfied? Something about the act of creativity that feels our soul?

My dad’s been dead thirty years, and I’m quite sure he’d be shocked to see that houses haven’t changed all that much since he left, we’re not driving around in space cars (or even driverless cars yet) and we still bother to hang out our own washing, make our own meals – often from scratch – and mow our own lawns.

Is that a good thing? I always thought the Jetsons were something to aspire to. Now… I’d really like some feedback from others about whether “the future” is living up to your expectations, and if it isn’t, what would you change?

Goodbye Winter in Australia

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GoodbyeWinterWe’re not quite to the end of August, but my first freesia flowered today, the weather is warmer and kangaroos are racing around with a new spring in their hop, so I’m ready to let go of the cold weather (not that it really gets all that cold here by the beautiful Coral Sea just outside Bundaberg) and herald in the warmer temperatures with a few of my favorite winter recipes:

Breakfast of champions: Hot custard (as thick as you can make it) topped with toasted muesli

Lunch: Potatoes mashed with French Onion dip

Dinner: Anything hot and tasty (this meal was mushroom pasta and toasted olive bread), so long as you can watch the moon rising over the water while you eat it!

These are not diet recipes! But winter is a challenge for me, and for most writers I suspect, because we have to sit still for so long. A cold day just gets colder as it progresses! So we need something warm and comforting to get us through.

Summer is for diets and fresh fruit and frolicking. Winter is all about hot meals, snuggling up and LOTS of coffee!

I hope winter is fabulous for you wherever you live. I try to enjoy all the seasons, but I suspect I was a bear in a past life because during winter I just want to hibernate, until the mashed potato comes out, and then I come alive!

I’d love to hear if you’ve got favorite winter food that helps you get through the cooler months wherever you live.

Go Set a Watchman is Awesome

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I want to defend Go Set a Watchman, because I loved it, and because I’m tired of reading superficial OMG Atticus is a racist slams by people who aren’t even commenting on the story itself.

Nikki Gemmell’s column To mock a masterpiece in the weekend Australian magazine a fortnight ago said of Watchman and its author: “It’s a dated mess of a book and damaging to her legacy,” as well as “Watchman is nothing more than an off-cut, a scrap of cloth from the sewing room’s leftovers basket.”

I couldn’t disagree more.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorite books, and I re-read it often, simply to spend time with Scout, Jem and Atticus (who I’ve always had a crush on). Go Set a Watchman picks up the story when Scout (Jean Louise Finch) is 26, and yes, it is replete with ramble and unnecessary diversions into the culture of the time (which, by the way, I found fascinating). So it could have used a structural edit. However, I found its commentary on human nature profound – and despite the ramble, I consider it to be a far more mature and hard-hitting book than Mockingbird. In fact, I felt as if Scout was a grown up in Watchman, forced to confront the grey areas of life that were studiously avoided in Mockingbird where everyone turned out to be either “good” or “bad”.

I know Watchman was written first, and Lee’s editor told her to write another version of the story where the characters were younger. I can’t help wondering if this was because racism is so baldly exposed in Watchman, and perhaps that was too much for the readership of the time to cope with. So we got the watered down version, Mockingbird.

Either way, I understand that readers who adored Atticus Finch would be shocked to discover he’s a racist. I was stunned to discover that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father.

Atticus is a racist_But I got over that, and I’m sure readers of Watchman will get over this too.

So here’s another slant on the story. Maybe Harper Lee intended readers to be shocked by that revelation, and every bit as angry as Scout is when she yells at Atticus about it. But I also suspect that we’re supposed to listen to Uncle Jack when he points out to Scout – none too gently – that by not trying to understand her father or her fiancé, just railing against their attitudes, she’s being a bigot.  20150811_183052I might be missing something, but it seems to me that every reader who carries on about Atticus being a racist (when they are not) is likewise being a bigot. And it’s not as if Atticus wants Scout to be a racist. He’s fine with her being “color blind” as Jack calls her non-racism.

20150811_183421Atticus isn’t a monster. At the end of the day, he will always uphold the law, so he’s not about to let Klan members beat up on anyone. For those readers who bothered to finish the book, the point Lee was making wasn’t that racist = bad, because that’s self-evident. The point was that bigot = unhelpful.

In this particular moment in history, I honestly feel we need this book, because bigotry is so widespread. It’s about time we stopped saying to racists, “You’re wrong and you have to stop,” (displaying our bigotry). Instead, we could try to understand why they might think that way – unpack the baggage and see if there’s a different discussion we could be having, because You’re wrong and I’m right isn’t fixing racism, any more than it fixed sexism, religious intolerance or speciesism.

Go Set a Watchman is a raw read. There’s none of the gentility of Mockingbird about it. But I liked that.

This book isn’t for everyone, but I would ask you to read it for yourself. It changed the way I think about bigotry. I thought bigots where those people who didn’t believe the right things (the things I believe in). I was wrong. I hope to see more grey in the future.

And I would LOVE to hear your opinions of the book and the hype around it in the comments below.

The adoration of Gilmore Girls and other unlikely franchise fetishes

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So I’m channel surfing and happen to click onto an episode of Gilmore Girls. Without conscious volition, I squeal, “Oh my God, Gilmore Girls!” I put the remote to one side, away from my viewing partner, away from any chance that the channel might be changed. Because for the next twenty minutes, or however long the episode lasts, I’m watching it.

It’s like finding the last few squares of a family block of Cadbury and deciding their mine. Completely selfish, but I’m not sharing. And when the teev hits Gilmore Girls I’m not sharing the remote either.

When asked to explain why, I’m at a loss. It’s a crap episode. Not much is happening, and some of the acting is off. But I love the characters. Time spent with them is such a joy, I don’t care if they’re off their game. It’s Lorelai flirting with Luke. It’s Rory arguing with Kirk. It’s Richard and Emily scheming to manipulate. I just want to hang with them. To be honest, I don’t care what they do. I just want to spend time in their world.

When the episode is over and I come back to the real world, I feel embarrassed. It doesn’t make sense to be obsessed about a show that I haven’t even seen all the episodes of. But that was deliberate. Like not seeing Michelangelo’s David in Florence, I want a reason to come back (not that I need one for Gilmore Girls) but it feels good to know that I can be surprised by episodes I haven’t seen. I haven’t allowed myself to glut on it. I’ve had some restraint, and as a result of that, I don’t know everything about the show. There are still things to learn in my lifetime – yet another reason to stay on the planet!

The Terminator franchise is another irrational addiction of mine. Sure, that epic romance between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor – I came across time for you Sarah – is worth watching again and again, but the subsequent movies with all their shoot-em-up gore and mind-numbing chases? Last week a trailer came on tv for the new movie Terminator Genysis and I just about wet my pants.

Seriously. My movie buddy said, “You’re a Cinderella girl. Why on earth would you want to see a blood-thirsty movie like that?”

I had no ready answer, but can only assume that the first Terminator movie imprinted me. I’m locked into the franchise now, perhaps in the vain hope that I’ll see Kyle and Sarah together again (and in Genysis I will). There’s something about truly great characters that inspire you, and make you watch the most dreadful things in hope that they’ll be better than they are: In 2002 I saw Star Wars II Attack of the Clones three days in a row, telling myself each time that it wasn’t that bad, but I was wrong. It was appalling. I adored Han and Leia and Luke so much, I simply couldn’t believe that Padme and Anakin could have such a lame romance.

Anakin-Padme-KissBut I digress.

The topic of this blog is the adoration of unlikely franchises. So fess up. What do you love and why? What do you tolerate when you know damn well it’s an hour (or two) you’ll never get back? Is their some vain hope for a lost romance (there has to be some reason we kept watching Moonlighting back in the eighties). Or were you hooked on House, waiting for the patient he couldn’t cure.

Don’t leave me hanging here in Lame-O Land all alone. Surely I can’t be the only one…

Rainy weather is writing weather

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This was my morning (thanks to Lisa at Blainey for my beautiful coffee cup).

pablo(5)If you’re not a writer yourself, you might not realize that writing and water are intrinsically linked. It’s one of the reasons I moved to the beach, so I’d have those crashing waves. The sound of running water (having a shower, hosing the lawn) can loosen up the most stubborn writers block. So rainy days are a gift to writers, no matter where they live.

But don’t imagine you have to be a professional to benefit. Anyone can have their creativity triggered, so if you’re stuck indoors on a rainy day, don’t mope. Pull out that journal you’ve been meaning to start, or create a blog. Rain is creativity pouring down, so don’t waste it! Tap into that abundant stream and let your own ideas flow.

Note: a dressing gown and slippers will earn you bonus points, as does a pet curled up at your feet.

Happy writing!

Kangaroos by the Coral Sea

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In the aftermath of Cyclone Marcia roaring down the Queensland coast, we’ve had some delightful visits from kangaroos, and I had to share a clip of this family crossing the road near my place. The joey on the road with his paws up to stop a car (which did stop) is particularly cute:

(Apologies for the dirty window and unsteady camera. I’m learning!) You wouldn’t think wild life would inspire love stories, but trust me, this does!

Guest Post: Sophie Masson’s Russian Inspiration

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Sophie portrait blue and redI’m really excited to welcome one of Australian’s best know fantasy authors Sophie Masson to my blog, so she can share details of her exciting travels in Russia and how they inspired her latest novel TRINITY: The Koldun Code (Book One). I’m always interested to see the link between an author’s lifelong fascination and the story it produces. But first a little about Sophie:

Born in Indonesia of French parents, and brought up in Australia and France, Sophie Masson is the award-winning author of more than 50 novels for readers of all ages, published in Australia and many other countries. Her adult novels include the popular historical fantasy trilogy, Forest of Dreams (Random House Australia). Sophie has always had a great interest in Russian myth and history, an interest reflected in several of her books for younger readers.

Louise: Welcome to the blog Sophie. Please tell us about what inspired the Trinity series:

Sophie Masson: Trinity grew out of my long fascination with Russia and its amazing culture. I’ve been enthralled by it since I was eleven and read Jules Verne’s thrilling Russian-set adventure story, Michel Strogoff. Progressing rapidly as a teenager to Russian novels, with side excursions into Russian fairytale and folklore, and influenced also by my French father’s interest in Russian icons and Russian music, my interest grew and grew.

But though I dreamed of visiting Russia, the Iron Curtain made it seem just that, a dream. Even after the Soviet regime fell, the hurly-burly of personal and professional life stymied the idea of a trip, and the horror stories of the 90’s, with the threat of gangs and street violence, didn’t help either. But still I kept an abiding interest in Russia, and finally in 2010, we decided there was no time like the present—and booked the big trip!

Spooked by warnings about not going there on our own (outdated warnings, as we soon found out!)we decided to go on a cruise, rather than by ourselves as usual. Despite our reservation about group tours, the cruise proved to be not only enjoyable but the perfect introduction to the country, giving us not only a taste of a fair number of places, from the great cities of Moscow and St Petersburg to marvelous historic provincial towns and villages, but also exposing us to grand natural scenery and unusual sights that you only get while traveling along waterways rather than roads.

Uglich kremlin (citadel or castle)

Uglich kremlin (citadel or castle)

In some ways it was like being back in the pages of Michel Strogoff, where so much of the hero’s journey had been by water, and it touched me very deeply. Everything was so vivid, each sensual impression, each small experience, each casual conversation and observation worthy of being recorded in my writing journal. One afternoon, in the lovely small town of Uglich, on the Volga, sitting in a hot room in the little wooden kremlin (the word means citadel) by the side of the river, not far from the gorgeous cathedral of St Dimitri on the Blood (which appears in Trinity), I actually burst into tears as I listened to a four-man choir singing traditional Russian songs in glorious, unaccompanied male voices. Tears of deep pleasure because of the beauty of the voices and the surroundings: but also tears of disbelief. It seemed almost incredible to be in this country which I’d imagined for so long that it had become a part of my deepest personal references. Far from not measuring up to those imaginative expectations, however, the reality of Russia had exceeded them: so that even the great ugliness which existed alongside the fairytale beauty became an indispensable part of an unforgettable experience.

Lily of the Valley seller who inspired the character of Mrs Feshina

Lily of the Valley seller who inspired the character of Mrs Feshina

As soon as I got home, I began work on the research and planning that was to culminate in the creation of Trinity: The Koldun Code. But I wanted to return to Russia, to further enrich the novel, and this time also with enough Russian to get by. Enrolling in an excellent online course called Russian Accelerator, I discovered to my delight that I found it quite natural to learn it (being bilingual, in French and English, certainly helps!) and so when we went back to Russia in 2012, I was able to be the family spokesperson in everyday interactions—this time I was with my husband, sister and nephew. This time, we’d decided to focus on Moscow, which we’d loved back in 2010 and wanted to know better. So we rented an apartment for two weeks on Tverskaya Ulitsa, or Tverskaya Street, only three blocks or so from the Kremlin and Red Square, and right across the road from one of Moscow’s biggest and best bookshops. Magic!

St Basil's cathedral, Moscow

St Basil’s cathedral, Moscow

Every day was an adventure, discovering more and more of the city as we trekked on foot and by metro from central sites to those much more far-flung. We went to the circus, to the ballet, to open-air concerts, to beautiful parks, museums, fabulous patisseries and colourful markets. We took side-trips into the countryside with a Russian friend. We drank fabulous vodka and indifferent wine and ate really well and cheaply too in little restaurants and cafes and at home in the flat, using the most wonderful ingredients from the markets and supermarkets. We combed through the fantastic Izmailovo flea market where you can pick up the most amazing and interesting bargains in antiques, artwork and crafts. And all the time, my writing journal was filling with more and more ideas, glimpses, vignettes which would make their way eventually into the book, and indeed the series. Including magic and the supernatural: for Russia, where many people still believe strongly in the uncanny and unseen, has got to be one of the world’s most natural settings for fantasy!

Louise: I’ve always wanted to go to Russia and now I’m inspired! If you’d like to know more about the fantasy novel that grew out of this adventure, here’s The Koldun Code book blurb:

Trinity Koldun Code coverAn unexpected encounter with a handsome stranger in a Russian wood changes the life of 22-year-old traveler Helen Clement forever, catapulting her into a high-stakes world of passion, danger, and mystery. Tested in ways she could never have imagined, she must keep her own integrity in a world where dark forces threaten and ruthlessness and betrayal haunt every day.

Set against a rising tide of magic and the paranormal in a modern Russia where the terrifying past continually leaks into the turbulent present, Trinity is a unique and gripping blend of conspiracy thriller, erotically charged romance and elements of the supernatural, laced with a murderous dose of company politics. With its roots deep in the fertile soil of Russian myth, legend, and history, it is also a fascinating glimpse into an extraordinary, distinctive country and amazingly rich culture.

The Koldun Code is the first book in the Trinity series by Sophie Masson.

Today is the release date of the print version of The Koldun Code, and you can also purchase it as an ebook. If you’d like to catch up with Sophie online, you can do that several ways, on her Website, Blog, Facebook or Twitter. And if you’d like to win a print copy of The Koldun Code on Goodreads, you can enter that competition HERE.

I’d also love to hear if there’s a place that’s always fascinated you, and why. Did you ever go there? Did it live up to your expectations? Please feel free to drop that into the comments below. I’m always looking for new locations to be inspired by!

Guest post: Louise Cusack on da Vinci, strangers, and writing

Find me over on Sophie Masson’s blog today talking about my obsession with Leonardo Da Vinci.

Feathers of the Firebird


LouiseCusackToday my blog features Louise Cusack, author of the Time Trilogy and many other books, with a fascinating post that delves into her interest in ‘strangers in a strange land’–and the amazing Leonardo da Vinci!

Charming, talented and unfortunately dead

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated obsessed with the life and work of Leonardo Da Vinci – an Italian who died 500 years ago. Not only was he the painter of iconic works like the Mona Lisa, he made landmark medical discoveries in skeletal structure and the functioning of heart valves. He came up with the idea of tanks, submarines and winged flight devices, and was renowned for cartography, hydrodynamics and botany. But wait, there’s more: he was handsome, charming, intelligent, musically talented, and a vegetarian who abhorred cruelty to animals.
I mean, really, has there ever been a more perfect man?
So many accomplishments, such…

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Fantasy inspired by an imperfect childhood

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I was asked at a weekend workshop I was teaching, “What one thing has inspired your creative writing the most?” and it really made me think. There have been many formative books and movies: Alice in Wonderland, Edgar Rice Burroughs Princess of Mars, Frank Herbert’s Dune, but when I get right down to it, the thing that really inspired me to create fantasy worlds was wanting to escape my own. Not because my childhood was terrible, but simply because I was alone a lot, and had so much time to think about how life could be more exciting.

A rare pic of me playing with someone else - telling my cousin stories

A rare pic of me playing with someone else – telling my cousin stories

I did read books, but instead of constantly losing myself in someone else’s created world, I fantasized about my own, inventing bizarre landscapes, allies and enemies, and most importantly, a reason to be in that world – a well motivated goal. My first fantasy (which became my Shadow Through Time trilogy) was about a girl called Catherine leaving our world behind in a quest to find her missing twin brother. That goal drove her actions for most of the story which was about love – the love of a brother, of a family, and ultimately of a kingdom.

I’m not sure if I craved love as a child, but I certainly fantasized about it, created stories about it, and later turned those fantasies into best-selling novels. Being alone so much when I was in a family of four children didn’t feel strange at the time, but I think I was considered a loner or at least a child who was happiest playing alone.

To a lot of adults, that would appear to be an imperfect childhood, and I can imagine helicopter parents wanting to ‘socialize’ a loner child, to fill their day with activities that involve other people. But now that I’m so much further along in life, I can see how unhelpful that would have been for me. The childhood I experienced, perfectly shaped my creativity. I couldn’t have asked for better.

DestinyOfTheLight_coverJust wanted to share that insight, for what it’s worth! If you’re curious about that first fantasy series I wrote, the opening book Destiny of the Light is currently FREE as an ebook, courtesy of my publishers Pan Macmillan. Enjoy! And let me know in the comments below whether you’ve had insights into your childhood, especially if you’ve experienced something “‘seemingly bad” that’s turned out to be perfect for you as an adult.

Thanks for reading!