The world, not as we know it

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As a fantasy author, I’m occasionally required to put on a cartographer’s hat and sketch out a map of the world I’m creating. This helps me with continuity of distances between kingdoms, how long treks/flights should last, relative temperatures during various seasons etc. The current fantasy world I’m working on is a duplicate earth, a parallel world, and to give you an idea of how I was planning it, here is an early map I created:

FlorentiaI’m writing new scenes at the moment where my protagonist Dan, who comes from our world, has just entered a palace that has a mosaic on the floor detailing the continents on this new world he’s entered. It looks a bit like this:

European segment of the "Jewel of the Universe" mosaic by Chris Chamberlain

European segment of the “Jewel of the Universe” mosaic by Chris Chamberlain

Our boy Dan immediately recognizes Europe and realizes he’s on a parallel world, but it’s his next insight that changes everything. He has knowledge of geography, climate, mining history and food production from our world that might also pertain to this one. That moment of recognition changes the balance of power between himself and the prince who wants him dead, and alters the trajectory of the story.

With that pivotal moment plotted in, I really didn’t need to do much more on the subject, but I couldn’t help myself wondering how the people of that parallel world would feel when they realized that what they’d believed about the size and shape of their world was incorrect. They didn’t have satellite mapping or sophisticated cartography, so they couldn’t be expected to have pinpoint accuracy. But we did. And that confidence in our own technology led me to do a bit of research into our latest maps to appease my curiosity and see the shape of our world as accurately as we were now able to show it.

That, friends, is when I opened a can of worms. In case you’ve missed it on Facebook and Twitter (I had) there’s a huge controversy ongoing about the maps we use in atlases and how inaccurate they are from a land-mass perspective. Apparently most textbooks still use the Mercator projection map which was created in 1569 to help sailors navigate from landmass to landmass along a straight line. The continents were deliberately skewed in size to translate a 3D globe onto a 2D map and keep the maritime routes straight. Landmasses at the top and bottom of the map were expanded to allow it to sit flat, and the landmasses in the ‘middle’ of the earth were shrunk proportionally to keep everything neat! What this has eventuated in (and incredibly is still being taught in geography) is a world view that shows some landmasses as being up to fourteen times larger than they actually are!

Let’s compare. The first map I’m going to show is a typical current version of the 1569 Mercator with skewed landmass size. The bottom map is the 1973 Peters map that corrects the landmass sizes and actual position on the earth:

Textbook World MapPeters World MapCan you believe that? Let me sit these babies side by side so you can really get the full impact of how totally incorrect our world view has been for almost 500 years:

Textbook World MapPeters World Map

The white patch on the Mercator projection map (left) is Greenland, and it looks almost as big as Africa. When in fact, Greenland is 14 times smaller than Africa! South America is actually double the size of Europe, not smaller. And while Alaska appears to be three times the size of Mexico in the Mercator map, in reality Mexico is the larger landmass.

Apparently this was ‘outed’ in an episode of West Wing in Feb 2001, and if you’d like to see the section of that episode pertaining to the maps, it’s here:

Honestly, this was the last thing I’d expected to uncover, and it’s now making me wonder if the guys on my fantasy world actually have a more accurate map of their world than we do. That would be a surprise to my poor protagonist. Clearly I have some more thinking to do on the topic!

I’m passionate about perspective and looking at the world in a new way, but this has really thrown me. What do you guys think about this? Does it change anything for you?

The Cruising Author

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SAMSUNGI recently went on my first cruise. It’s been a long time coming, but I was scared of the ocean (love to look at it, just don’t want to be on it) so the time had never been right, until I was offered the gig of being a Special Interest Speaker on a cruise, and I thought This is a year of firsts (see Game for a Change), why not!

Why indeed…

I won’t bore you with my two-day-terror as we crossed a known rough patch of ocean (known to everyone but me, thankfully, or I may not have had the wherewithal to go) but would rather share the sparkly parts of the journey. Firstly:

Food

Anyone who has ever been on a cruise will know what I mean. Cruise companies do food very, very well. There are multiple restaurants (bistro, a la carte, poolside, intimate cafe, gelateria, you name it) and most serve multiple styles of food. All whims catered to: Indian curries, wood-fired pizzas, sushi, tropical salads, roasts, the list goes on. Most are open all day, some half the night, and if that wasn’t good enough, there’s 24hr room service. As a vegetarian, I occasionally have to work hard to source a nutritious meal, but not on a cruise. Everyone is catered to. No one misses out, and gluttony is the order of the day. Then there was:

Pampering

Beds turned down every evening with chocolates, afternoon hors d’oeuvres served to the stateroom, waiters everywhere looking to serve you, and on your weary way back on board after an exhausting excursion day, hot chocolate and warm towels to welcome you ‘home’.

Entertainment

Everywhere. Honestly. Everything from classical strings to reggae to soft rock spread out across the ship during the day, and at night, spectacular stage shows with world-class performances – either Broadway style shows, piano or violin recitals, big-name US comedians. You name it, they had it. Plus all the fun stuff people are apparently used to on cruises: bingo, bocce, ballroom dance classes, gambling, shopping.

My talks were part of the entertainment program, so instead of being ‘teaching workshops/talks’ as I’m used to presenting, they were to be infotainment. This meant fun and laughs sprinkled amid the info, which was a delight to plan and prepare, and even more fun to deliver. I presented 5 one-hour sessions over the course of the cruise on various topics related to writing, unlocking creativity, research and development of ideas, the power of story, using your own life to create stories and writing in different genres. My audience built over time and basically fell into two categories: Those who wanted some intellectual stimulation and were curious about how writers work. And those who wanted to write and were keen for tips. Of the latter group, many came up to me afterwards and said things like “Now that I’m retired I’ve finally got time to pursue my dream of writing a book, and thank you for inspiring me to get started!” So it was lovely to have been able to do that. Part of my career mission statement involves helping others achieve their dreams, so I was thrilled to have achieved that.

Larnach Castle - perfect research for a fantasy author

Larnach Castle – perfect research for a fantasy author

Was it a fabulous experience? Absolutely! I am so glad I went. Was it what I’d expected? No, not at all. It was way more glamorous, exciting and exhausting than I could ever have imagined. I took books with me to read and got none of that done. When I wasn’t on a ‘working’ day either presenting a session or chatting to people and socializing (also part of the job for Special Interest Speakers) I was on a shore excursion. The shore excursions were free time, and I got to do some amazing exploring, but all of that required energy and focus as well, so to be honest, there was very little downtime and by the end of the 12 days I was exhausted! Knowing what I know now, I’d probably pace myself better and have at least one day out of five relaxing on the ship (ignoring the port we’d docked at) and maybe having spa treatments or lying by the pool with a book. Napping. Napping would be good.

WellingtonLookoutCroppedThe extroverts among us would fare better, I think. I’m great at presenting, but being an introvert at heart, I need to crawl into my shell regularly to recoup, and I think that element of the trip was lacking. Next time I cruise, I’ll be more organized with pacing, and also checking out the route to make sure it’s smooth sailing all the way!

So that’s my story, now I’m curious about you. Have you cruised? What did you love about it? What would you do differently next time? I’d love to hear.

Game for a change

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WiiControlAs a fiction novelist, I work alone. I draft, I edit, I polish. If I get stuck I might spend the day working through a plot issue with a colleague, but the majority of my writing time is solitary, and I like that.

Yet… I’ve always been drawn to the idea of working in computer gaming, which I know is a highly collaborative industry. So when QUT (Queensland University of Technology) advertised for artists to be part of the [imi] (Interactive Media Innovation) project, where the outcome could be a residency with a computer game company, I thought, Here’s my shot.

I completed the creative task that came with the application, and was excited to win through to the workshop round where “…artists and interactive entertainment company representatives meet and engage in professional development and creative play.” Workshops were conducted in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, and at the Brisbane one I was joined by 8 other artists – another author, visual artists, circus and performance artists, producer/directors and interdisciplinary artists – and 10 ‘industry partners’ from a handful of Brisbane based computer gaming and interactive media companies. We spent the day working together on a variety of different creative problems in constantly changing groups so the industry partners could scope out how we artists worked, with an eye to engaging us in a residency. It sounds like a job interview, but it was one of the most fun, rewarding and exciting working days I’ve ever spent. So many clever creative people working together. Apparently the Sydney and Melbourne workshops had a similar experience.

Six of us across Australia were selected by interactive media companies for a month-long residency, and when I was selected by two internationally recognized companies, Defiant Development and Hoodlum Entertainment, I was pretty darned thrilled. The residencies came with a healthy stipend funded through the Australia Council for the Arts, and while I can’t talk about the actual games I worked on, because I signed a confidentiality agreement, I would like to share my experience of translating across from fiction to gaming.

At the first residency, the game was in the initial concept stage and the parameters around what it could be were quite loose, so I was able to have an exciting amount of input into world-building, characterization and plot. I don’t play computer games myself but the companies liked that. I came with no preconceived notions. The downside was that I didn’t know the structure of a game the way I know the structure of a fiction plot. So when the honeymoon period of coming up with amazing ideas (which I’m really good at) was over and it was time to put those ideas into a format, I struggled.

I also had to unlearn Show, Don’t Tell and get it into my head that computer games were Do, Don’t Show. But the guys were awesomely patient with me so it was a super-positive experience. I could see where my fantasy world-building background benefited them, and my manuscript assessment practice allowed me to easily pull component pieces of the story apart and look critically at conflict, motivation, and goals. I particularly liked the collaboration aspect – bouncing ideas back and forth – and the other bonus was that I didn’t have ownership of the story, so there was no pressure to get it ‘right’. It was their story to tell. I was just working on a part of it, and that was very liberating.

The second residency was completely different. I was working on an already established game structure, but taking it into a different genre. The structure was immediately evident and I thoroughly enjoyed populating it with characters, plots, dialogue and action. My collaborators were experienced scriptwriters, so the quality of dialogue was particularly important, and the conflicts were on steroids! I also had to ditch  my training in withholding information to create tension, and tell back story up front. It was such a different way of storytelling, my head hurt at times, but the challenge was so rewarding – a real feeling of I can do hard things!

Background to all is this is that I live outside Bundaberg, 4 hours drive from Brisbane where the companies were based, so 90 percent of my interaction with them was via phone, skype or email. QUT liked the idea of researching how I worked remotely, but personally I’d have preferred more face-to-face time. The bouncing of ideas doesn’t work half as well over the phone. Still, I wouldn’t have wanted to be completely in-house. My normal 8hr working day ranges across 14 hours with watering gardens, hanging out washing, eating and gazing at the view as important down-times when my subconscious gnaws things over. So if I was to work for a game company again I’d know so much more about the work required, and how I could maximize my own productivity.

It also bears mentioning that I was part of the QUT [imi] project research into how artists and interactive media companies collaborate. I’m not a student, I’m an industry professional, so I found some of the uni admin processes frustrating. Facilitator Justin Brow really smoothed the way between myself, the game companies and the QUT researchers, so the end result was two months of exhilarating work and the realization that I’d stopped both residencies just at the point where I was experienced enough to really get my teeth into them!

With a bit of luck, I’ll get that chance again.

(Article first published in WQ, November issue)

Redlitzer Awards 2013: Encouraging grass roots writing

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Red.13.AnthologiesLast Saturday I traveled to Redlands, just south of Brisbane to attend the Redlitzer Awards where local writers were presented with trophies and certificates by the Mayor, and saw their winning short stories published into anthologies. I was involved as a judge, selecting the winning stories, along with authors Rowena Cory Daniells, Marianne de Pierres, Angela Sunde and Peter Matheson. Two anthologies of winning short stories were launched (ten adult and ten teen stories in one anthology, and ten Junior in a larger ‘picture book’ style anthology), and that night thirty first-time published authors did a mass book signing!

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Teen signing table at the Redlitzer Awards 2013

I have to say I was really impressed with the way Redland City Council and their libraries handled the evening. Unlike other awards ceremonies where children are involved, there were no lollies on the tables, and no patronising cuteness. The Junior Redlands writers (now published authors) were treated to a very adult function with beautiful floral arrangements, lots of bling in the silver, black and white color scheme, and formal attire for the evening. I could see their parents were impressed, as were the parents of the teen writers, and I couldn’t help thinking that the formal celebration of their success would make these children’s aspirations seem more real, more professional, and more achievable.

Redlands Mayor (far right) with judges and Junior Redlitzer winners

Redlands Mayor (far right), councilor, judges and Junior Redlitzer winners

I remember distinctly what it was like as a child and then a teen who knew she wanted to be a writer but wasn’t sure how to go about it. I wanted to be taken seriously, and for those around me to understand that this was a passion and a calling, and that there was money to be made despite all the ‘starving in a garret’ stereotypes. I didn’t want to be ridiculed or have my dreams diminished. Instead I wanted writing and reading to be celebrated, to be encouraged, and to be valued. At the Redlitzer Awards last Saturday night I saw that in spades. The detail and expense in preparing the venue (Victoria Point Library) was impressive, and the fact that the Mayor and two of her councilors attended, and stayed all night, spoke volumes about their commitment to the arts. You won’t believe the number of functions I go to where politicians turn up for photos and then leave. I was also impressed with the respect and encouragement the young (and not so young) writers received at the presentations and at the signing tables. I’m betting that for the first time in their lives, those thirty writers felt like authors, and that’s such a motivating factor.

LouiseC

Me getting my copy signed at the Junior signing table

Writing is a mostly solitary profession, and it’s often difficult to be objective about your writing and to value your own talent. Yet somehow we’re expected to be our own cheer squad, to pick ourselves up when we get rejected, dust ourselves off, remind ourselves that we can do this writing thing, and get back at the keyboard. A little inspiration can go a long way towards motivating us to keep at it, and I’m thrilled that at least one local council in Australia takes literary endeavor seriously and puts time and dollars into encouraging local writers.

Big thank you to Jann Webb at Redlands Libraries who I’ve worked with for the last five years helping tailor their writing program to meet the needs of local writers. Her vision of what can be is inspiring, and her ability to create miracles within a limited budget continues to astound me. In the time she’s been at the helm, three local writers who’ve attended Redlitzer writing workshops have become published novelists:

Distance AllNaked&Bare  HeartOfABeast

Jann Webb is second from the left.

Rowena, Jann Webb, Marianne, Anne Reid and myself.

We all know it’s a long haul from ideas, to drafting a whole novel, editing it and then having the wherewithal to submit, be rejected and submit again. I can’t thank Redlands, and Jann, enough for sticking with their local writers, encouraging, teaching, inspiring and then celebrating their successes. To say there should be more of it is an understatement. Other local councils please take note! If you want your unique culture and your stories to be remembered and shared, this is how you do it. And for anyone who wants to encourage Redlands to keep on with their writing program, feel free to email the Mayor here (her email details are on this page) with some well deserved praise for Jann and her team. Cheers!

Fantasy, inspired by da Vinci

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Studies of EmbryosWho doesn’t love Leonardo da Vinci? There’s so much to admire, from his curiosity about the world around him to the exquisite beauty of his paintings and the meticulous detail of his mechanical inventions. In 2009 a traveling exhibition of his machines came to Brisbane and I was so fascinated by his mind, they had to throw me out at closing time. His accurate sketches of the construction of the human body (courtesy of illegal autopsies) and his insights into how blood pumped and lungs work worked, were centuries before their time. And his observations about the movement of wind, water and animals continue to be awe-inspiring, even 500 years after his death.

Leonardo-RobotLeonardo was awake to life, looking at the mundane through eyes that were so fresh, people have since speculated that he was either an alien or a time traveler. But assuming he was a man of his time, he clearly believed that he could make advances in knowledge, despite his lack of education, and he did. In spades. One of his inventions that really inspired me was his robot knight (my brain loved the science and my romantic heart loved the chivalry). I’d grown up reading Camelot and all the sci-fi classics, including Isaac Asimov’s many robot stories (I, Robot and Bicentennial Man are two of his better known). So I loved the idea of robots that could think and feel. I was also obsessed with space travel and followed NASA avidly, becoming thrilled all over again when space engineers studied Leonardo’s sketches to help them design “anthrobots”, complex robotic space explorers they planned to use on the International Space Station and on future Mars missions. In comments to the media, the NASA engineers said Leonardo’s “…anatomical drawings are unique and they gave the information needed to emulate the complex joints and muscles of the human body.” Amazing to think that 500 years later, people are still seriously referencing his work.

Personally, I’ve always wanted to write about robots, but because my first love is fantasy, I’ve not considered writing sci-fi myself. A few years ago, however, I was thrilled by the release of YA author Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices trilogy: Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess. Her automatons were powered by magic…

Clockwork-Princess-Infernal-Devices-TrilogyWhat a revelation! And what an awesome thrill ride that series was. Reading Young Adult novels makes me feel like I’m seventeen again, and I couldn’t help myself falling hard for the hero William Herondale. He is so very flawed! The poor heroine doesn’t know whether to kiss him or slap him. Then his secret is revealed and as a reader you ache for him. Truly beautiful writing. And inspiring. It made me wonder if the things I’d always wanted to write about — ideas inspired by Leonardo’s speculations — were possible within the realms of fantasy writing.

Tower Steps 002Much to my delight, I find that they are! My Young Adult fantasy novel Silk is based on the fact that Leonardo had such acute eyesight, he could sketch the movement of bird wings in flight centuries before slow motion film confirmed his accuracy. So if he could see birds wings in flight, could he also see other things that were only visible for a portion of a second? I don’t want to give away the plot (so I won’t) but suffice to say that my obsession with Leonardo and the research trip I took to Italy three years ago to uncover details about the society and landscape he inhabited, have now come to fruition in a Young Adult fantasy novel. I can’t wait for it to be published, but want it to be the best it can be, so I’m editing, editing, and dreaming about how exciting it will be to see it sitting on bookshelves.

I wonder what other fantasies my obsession with Leonardo da Vinci will create?

Parrot, sans eyepatch

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Eclectus Parrot and Louise CusackIn honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day I’d like to share a photo of a gorgeous Eclectus Parrot I met while shopping in tropical Bundaberg, north of Brisbane, Australia. I swear, he was just walking down the street on someone’s arm (no wonder I write fantasy), and the owner let me meet him.

He didn’t raise a feather when I said “Pieces of Eight” (although I’m sure he must have heard that a million times before), he just sat very lightly on my arm and even said “Thank you,” softly as he stepped back onto the arm of his owner. Such a lovely gentle bird. The perfect pirate accessory for a scaredy-cat like me!

The guilty pleasure of solitary writing

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I work with writers a lot, helping them hone their stories, find agents and publishers, then guiding them as they launch their books, physically and across social media. So I’m well acquainted with the tasks most authors undertake during various parts of the publication process, and I wonder if readers realize how much ‘work’ away from the actual writing itself, is necessary to produce a successful novel.

This year so far I’ve assessed manuscripts, conducted writing workshops, mentored clients, judged a major writing competition, and completed two computer game company residencies developing fantasy world-building. I’ve also restructured my two websites and spent approx 120 hours on social networking promoting my own work and that of fellow authors.

So… not as much time for writing as I’d like. However, this week things are different.

writing timeI’ve just embarked on a month dedicated to completing my Lost World fantasy Silk and I’m reveling in the deliciousness of having carved out a slab of time simply to write. No manuscripts to assess, no workshops to present, the babbling stream of Facebook and Twitter have been replaced by the silent sweep of imagination, and I’m in nirvana.

Really. I dream of this being my whole life (perhaps with some therapeutic gardening and obsessive clothes washing tossed in). And when I discuss this idea with other writers they get a glazed look, coupled with an almost-smile as they imagine what life would be like if they could simply write their stories and do nothing more. It’s like dreaming of winning the lotto. I mean it! Most writers I know spend far more time than they want to on promotion. And if they have to do something other than writing, I’m sure they’d rather be nosing around a bazaar in Istanbul, the bright lights of Vegas, or exploring the Medici Chapel in Florence for research.

Although that might be just me.

Still, no matter what we cram into our lives, the reality is that good books need time to incubate, time to be lovingly drafted, carefully edited and painstakingly proofed. Yet there are SO many books on the market, with thousands more being added each day. The sheer volume of novels in cyber bookstores like Amazon overwhelm readers who are looking for quality, and that volume also bludgeons the hopes of writers who become ever more desperate to find an audience for their work amid the bustle and confusion of the Internet. Writers are told to be a brand, and promote that brand relentlessly, often at the expense of time and energy. But little time and low energy equals crappy output, so it’s not an optimal situation for writers who want to build a readership.

I don’t have definitive answers, but when the question of what to do becomes loud in my mind I remember NY agent Donald Maass visiting Australia several years ago and telling the audience at the Romance Writers of Australia conference that “The best form of promotion an author can do is to write a good book. And the next best form of promotion is to write another good book.”

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m writing a good book. Luckily for me, every second with the characters is thrilling me. It’s like a clandestine affair where the real world is on hold while I pander to my desire for excitement, emotion and drama. I adore that, and it’s my intention that readers will too. So if you don’t see a lot of me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads or Google+, it will simply be because I’m not in this world. I’m on a Lost World based on Renaissance Italy helping a young ambassador choose between the prince she despises who can save her world, and the engineer she loves who can destroy it. Nirvana, pure and simple.

Why do we read Romance?

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I’m happy to admit I’m a sucker for romance, and in the same way that chocolate should be a part of every meal (it is one of the important food groups after all) I’d love to see romance having a place in every story.

Because whether I’m deep into reading sci fi, fantasy or a zombie apocalypse, I still want a hint of a sniff of a love story. Star Wars – where would it be without Han and Leia, not to mention Buttercup and Westley, John Carter and Dejah Thoris, Katniss and Peeta, hell, even Ron and Hermione. I love the fantastical elements of speculative fiction worlds, but unless there’s a romance in there, the story isn’t enough for me. I adore the attraction, the pursuit (no matter how clumsy or unlikely to succeed) the tender awkward moments, then there’s the surety and confidence that characters experience when they know their love is returned.

PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIMEhan&LeiaJohn-Carter_01Avatar-Blue-Kisses-0012791-the-hunger-games-katniss-and-peeta1Stardust

But why is romance such an important element for so many women? Not to mention the men who have a soft spot for love stories and who don’t mind a bit of schmaltz mixed in with their blood and guts. Terminator is full of hide-behind-the-hands violence, but when Kyle Reese says to Sarah Connor “I came across time for you, Sarah. I love you. I always have,” I just melt.

BTW, if you’re a sucker for the Kyle/Sarah love story, here’s a tissue-worthy recap:

So why do we love a good love story?

The easy answer would be that we’re love starved, but statistically that doesn’t hold up. In fact, romance writers as a group have one of the highest levels of happy relationships, which may have something to do with writing love scenes on a regular basis. Many’s the time I’ve heard of a romance writer phoning their partner for a little “romance” after having written a scene that’s gotten them all hot and bothered. And surely that makes for happier marriages. But does the same thing happen for readers? Do women call their husbands after devouring a bit of Fifty Shades and tell them to come home for lunch?

Sex aside (I know, you got a visual there, but I was saying aside not astride) what is it about romance that makes a story feel complete? Do we have any philosophers out there? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

Launching the ‘Hapless Heroes’ quirky romance series

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Welcome to the Hapless Heroes collection of stand-alone romantic comedies, available exclusively on Amazon Kindle and free on Kindle Unlimited.  These hunky heroes might be hopeless when it comes to romance, but they’ll do any crazy thing to make their sassy heroine swoon and win her heart.

Marriage and the MermaidMarriage and the Mermaid: 

Adorable Winifred Malone may or may not be obsessed with Baz Wilson, but one thing she knows for sure is that they belong together. So she’s not about to let a mermaid come between them, or a demented father and the internet scammer who’s trying to steal his fortune. Not a kleptomaniac cleaning lady and the messy mermaid she’s cleaning up after. Not an OCD marine biologist and certainly not the harried constable trying to make sense of it all. Wynne only cares about marrying Baz, and she’s not prepared to let anything get in her way!

Praise for Marriage and the Mermaid (a full length novel): “Louise Cusack has boldly gone where no romance writer has gone before. The book starts with one hero and ends with another. Highly recommended. 5/5” — Romance Book Haven

PURCHASE Marriage and the Mermaid at:   navAmazonLogo


Goddess and the GeekGoddess and the Geek

Cranky oyster farmer Natasha Barri has enough trouble with a fallen-down house and poachers stealing from her lease. The last thing she needs is a big, helpless landlubber like Julian Wilde turning up on her island with his dewy, green eyes permanently stuck on her swimsuit. Romance is so far down her priority list, it needs its own basement room, but Julian insists on meddling and ‘trying to help’. One more catastrophe, however, and she’ll be acquainting him with the pointy end of her gutting blade. Voodoo won’t save him from that!

Praise for Goddess and the Geek (a novella): “GODDESS AND THE GEEK is fresh and fun. It is filled with amusing dialogue and witty comebacks. Author Louise Cusack has brought a refreshing story filled with hilarious and unusual characters.” — Romance Book Haven

PURCHASE Goddess and the Geek at:  navAmazonLogo


Sex and the Stand InSex and the Stand In:

Marianne’s divorce has just come through, and instead of celebrating the opportunities in front of her, she can’t stop thinking of the past and the drop-dead-sexy man she should have married. Complicating matters is Justin who works in her office. He may or may not be gay, but he looks so much like her long-lost love she can’t help wondering… will he help her recreate that moment where she should have lost her virginity? And if he says yes, what’s his motive?

Praise for Sex and the Stand In (a novella): “A quirky romance, a hapless hero, an irresistible premise (he loves her but she thinks he’s gay!). Not to mention snappy dialogue and memorable characters.” — Romance Book Haven

PURCHASE Goddess and the Geek at:   navAmazonLogo


 

 

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The Rise of Erotica

I’ve been reading for forty years, writing for twenty, published for ten.  I’ve seen erotica come and go, and am a fan of it myself, but it’s never been mainstream before.  It’s always been at the back of the bookstore, or purchased online and delivered in brown paper.  50 Shades of Grey has changed all that.

Ereaders like Kindle and iPad gave women (the main readership of erotica) their first opportunity to read it on the lounge or in the train without anyone being the wiser.  But who could have predicted that everyone from schoolgirls to housewives and their husbands would be happily buying paperback copies of 50 Shades at their local BigW and chatting to the checkout operator about who might play Christian in the movie.

BDSM?  Mainstream?  And the sales figures!  Dear Lord.  31 million copies worldwide in six months.  That’s the fastest selling series of all time.

To say it’s a shakeup of ‘normal’ reading habits is an understatement.  And not that I’m against it.  I’m one hundred percent behind readers partaking of whatever takes their fancy.  But the speed is astonishing and that speaks about an audience ready for a product.

There’s been a bit of hype about Twilight readers growing up and wanting more – to move from Edward’s patriarchal behaviour to Christian’s overt physical domination.  Perhaps that’s true.  But the phenomenon speaks to me more of women’s desire to fantasise about relinquishing control.  Most readers of 50 Shades would run a mile from a real Dom, but clearly they like to fantasise about that type of relationship, and I wonder if there’s some pendulum effect happening.

Back in the seventies romance novels were full of guardians falling in love with their much younger charges, governesses falling for the master of the house, or secretaries falling for the much older boss.  Then Women’s Liberation caught up with the genres and the pendulum started swinging the other way.  Heroines needed to have something other than a husband on their minds or we couldn’t relate to them, and by the turn of the millennium we were seeing kick-ass heroines across all genres – women who were not only equal with men, but often stronger: Ripley in Alien, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and one of my favourites, Sarah Connor from Terminator.  Her transition from helpless waitress to gun-toting revolutionary epitomised the change that was sweeping across fiction.  Women wanted to fantasise about being the hero – about being the one in control.

Put that alongside the rise of the geek/loser hero who more often than not is bossed around by the women in his world: Simpsons, Friends, How I Met your Mother, Big Bang Theory and it was looking as if strong men had disappeared.  Or at least that women weren’t as interested in seeing them anymore.

Pendulums, however, have a way of peaking and swinging back, sometimes quite viciously.  Shows like Mad Men started to get a following, and while we might wince at lines like “I only got a job here to find myself a husband,” to a modern working mother there was something alluring about the idea having nothing to do but run a beautiful home and have polite children, leaving all the worries of the world to a clever (handsome) dominating husband.  The resulting lack of choices would have been claustrophobic to a modern woman, but fiction is all about fantasy so we lapped it up.  Alpha heroes were cropping up again, not as Greek tycoons, but as vampires and werewolves – big, strong, sexy and more often than not, domineering.  Easy to fantasise about a lover like that because you know it’s not real.  But it’s only a hop skip and jump from vampire Edward to human Christian.

Again, not that I’m against it.  I’m always happy for adults to read whatever they choose to without having their preferences ridiculed by others.  It’s a free world, and women should be free to read whatever they want to.  I’m just trying to make sense of why BDSM is suddenly interesting enough for women to read not just one novel to “see what all the fuss is about” but to continue on and read the whole series.  That speaks of more than curiousity.

So why do you think women (and some men) are fascinated with the idea of a dominating lover?  Is it a desire to give over control to someone you trust?  To experience the bliss of a complete lack of responsibility? Are women over being the head of the household?  Are we seeing the start of a return to more patriarchal relationships?  Or is this just a phase of temporary titillation that will soon blow over?

Would love to hear your thoughts…