Our Authors

Bloody Quill from J L O’Rourke

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Bloody QuillRecently, the Christchurch Writers’ Guild held their first ever annual awards dinner. As part of the awards, our members were invited to share snippets of their writing. This is just one of the extracts that graced the imaginations of our membership.

This snippet was submitted by
J L O’Rourke for consideration for the Bloody Quill, stories about death scenes.

Ethel’s End
by J L O’Rourke

“She’s dead.”

“Yep.”

“Been heading that way for a while, I reckon.”

“Yep.”

“She should’ve lasted a few more years though.” Bill reached out his hand, shaking fingers stretching but not quite touching the cold body. “I thought she would have seen me out anyway.”

“I dunno, mate.” Andy shook his head but avoided making eye contact with his best friend. “Let’s face it, she’s been sounding dodgy for a while now. I reckon the writing’s been on the wall. Nothing lasts forever.”

“Nope it doesn’t, but it would have been nice if she’d made it through the summer. I wanted to take her on holiday one last time, a sedate little drive up around Nelson to the bays then maybe over to Punakaiki.”

“That would’ve been quite a trip for the old girl.”

“Yep, it’s a favourite. Done it a few times over the years. We went the other way, too. Down south, over the Pigroot to Arrowtown and Wanaka, and even all the way down to Invercargill once. Detoured up to Te Anau to see the glow-worms. They’re a sight for sore eyes, I can tell ya.”

“Yeah, I remember them. Back in the ‘60s, when I was workin’ on the Manapouri scheme, we used to go up to the Te Anau pub when we got a few days off. I did that glow-worm tour a few times. Bloody spectacular.”

“Yeah, seeing it again would have been nice.”

Andy looked up at his taller friend, pushing his battered fedora hat back on his head so he could scratch his receding hairline in a habitual gesture of disbelief before replacing his hat in its customary position on his brow.

“You can still go. For gawd’s sake, mate, it’s Ethel who’s dead, not you. Just cos you can’t take her, doesn’t mean you have to stick at home forever.”

Bill reached out again. This time his stretched fingers made halting contact with the body in front of him. He started to trace a quivering line along her side but pulled back as if the touch was physically painful.

“Yeah, I guess,” he agreed. “But, somehow, it just wouldn’t be the same. Sure, it might be quicker, I wouldn’t have to stop every couple of hours to give the old girl a rest, but I dunno, if I can’t travel with old Ethel, I don’t think I want to bother any more. Forty-eight years it’s been, forty-eight years.”

Andy nodded, keeping his friend talking, knowing instinctively that talking would ease the sense of loss. Andy knew a bit about grief. He was on his own now too. He might not have understood Bill’s unshakeable attachment to Ethel, but he recognised the emptiness her loss would leave.

“That’s a fair while. She must have been a beauty in her day.”

“She sure was. I was only twenty. I was working for my dad, out on the farm. It was Show Day. We had our prize heifers entered in the show and I was on duty, looking after them while Dad went off to talk business in the pub tent with his mates. She went past the shed and I was smitten. I didn’t know how I was going to get her, but I knew I had to. When Dad came back I told him all about her. He laughed until I pointed her out, sitting all pretty over by the grandstand. Then he understood. Gave me some good advice, shoved some money into my pocket and told me to go and get her. So I did. Forty-eight years ago. She’s still a beauty.”

“So what happened? Was she like this when you found her?”

“Yeah. I was getting ready to go down to the T.A.B., to put a bet on the trots. I forgot my betting slip, so I left her here while I dashed back inside to get it. Came back out and she was coughing and gurgling and this,” he swirled the tip of his worn-out sneaker in a spreading pool of reddish brown, viscous liquid that darkened the pristine concrete floor of the single garage, “this was pouring out of her.” Bill spread his hands in a shrug of futility. “I couldn’t stop it.”

“Bloody hell! And you’re sure she’s gone?”

“Yeah, I reckon it would take a bloody miracle, and even the Magic Man can’t work those. No, time to face the truth. Old Ethel’s gone.”

“What are you going to do? Are you going to ring someone to take her somewhere?”

“No,” Bill ran his hand fondly over the curve of Ethel’s back. “No, I think I’ll just cover her up and leave her here. Till I’ve figured out what to do. Can’t get my head around it at the moment.”

“All right. I’ll leave you to it then. She was a good old girl. There’ll be a few around town who will miss seeing her out and about.”

“Yep. She was one in a million. Before you go, can you give me a hand to push her a bit further into the garage so I can get the door shut. Then I had better try and get this mess off the floor.”

Bill patted Ethel again then placed his hands firmly on her back and began to push. With Andy’s help they eased her forwards. Andy straightened up, adjusted his hat, scratched his head and nodded.

“She was a fine lady. You won’t find another one like her. They sure don’t make cars like the ’68 Pontiac Firebird any more.”


About the author:

jennerlitchwarkJ. L. O’Rourke is the pen-name of Jenner Lichtwark. Jenner writes contemporary murder mysteries, urban fantasy, stories for children and rambling freeform poems. The Christchurch earthquakes have left a legacy of anxiety and panic attacks which saw her quit her regular job in 2012 to establish Millwheel Press Ltd, publishing her own works and offering editing advice and assistance to other writers. When not writing, Jenner enjoys being in a theatre, either onstage as a singer or backstage where she has been everything from floor crew to stage-manager. She lives in Christchurch with an assortment of hairless dogs, fluffy cats and grumpy guinea pigs.

Bloody Quill from Judy L Mohr

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Bloody QuillRecently, the Christchurch Writers’ Guild held their first ever annual awards dinner. As part of the awards, our members were invited to share snippets of their writing. This is just one of the extracts that graced the imaginations of our membership.

This snippet was submitted by
Judy L Mohr for consideration for the Bloody Quill, stories about death scenes.

The Rabbit
by Judy L Mohr

(Note from Writer: This excerpt is a removed chapter from my manuscript that will never see the light of day again. While the backstory behind the scene may find its way into my second novel, the scene itself will be scraped. But it’s a beloved scene, that I just loved (crying every time I read it). Unfortunately, it added no value to the novel as a whole.)

Marianne closed her eyes and slowed her breathing. She held out her hands over Drezel’s body. “Pesgrema, tremaye des sen dosemor esdarme.” Sign of Love, guide my magic to save this soul. Her hands radiated with the light of her magic, sending everything she could into Drezel, but it was no use. Her magic was unable to heal her sister. Marianne collapsed backward in exhaustion.

The Master knelt next to her and held her close. “You have been at this for the past hour, Marianne. She’s gone.”

Beyond the closed door, cries echoed. Marianne knew the children were scared.

The tears flowed down her cheeks. As the cries of the children grew louder in her ears, Marianne gritted her teeth and pushed the Master’s arms away. “I refuse to believe there’s nothing we can do.”

“Marianne,” the Master started to say, but her passion for others rose rapidly to the surface. Her long strawberry blond hair stood out like flames waving in the wind.

“This is all your fault,” she said with an eerie calm. “You deliberately took actions that put us all in danger. You had her poisoned. You had her mate poisoned. And if not for an accident, you would have poisoned my daughter!”

“Marianne, I…”

“No.” She put up her hand to silence him. “I don’t want to hear it. Right now, someone I love very much needs my help. Just… Stay out of my way.”

She turned her back on the old man and continued to work. She could feel his scrutinizing eyes on her as she constructed yet another potion. He couldn’t see the point, but Marianne simply refused to give in to his way of thinking. There had to be something, anything, that she could do.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” the Master asked.

“Tell you what?” She crushed the beetles she intended to add to the new potion.

“I’m referring to the Circle of Three spell the two of you conducted four years ago. Why would you keep the link a secret?”

She looked down at her hands, numbly. She always knew the past would come back to haunt them. History was repeating itself, but this time there was nothing she could do about it. “Because, without you, the Family is lost,” she said, her voice cracking. “With the Seniors gone, you were dying. We couldn’t let that happen.”

He gently placed his hands on her shoulders and encouraged her to turn around. “Death is a part of Life’s journey. Eventually, it comes for us all. All we can do is search for those little things that bring joy to our lives.

“You were six years old when I found you tied to that post, so lost and confused. I couldn’t leave you there—this beautiful, young girl, who I’ve raised as a daughter ever since. You’re my pride and joy, Marianne, even if you aren’t my flesh and blood. I love you—which is why I can’t let you continue to sacrifice yourself like this.

“Do you not remember the rabbit? Brandon and his wife had been attacked. You were there when they arrived back in camp. True to the Healer you are, you spared no thought to what his pain would do to you; you just used your magic to heal him, closing the stab wounds in his chest. He should have died of those wounds, but you put everything into that spell. When it was over, you laid on the ground gasping for air, dying. Your pet rabbit curled up next to you and pushed himself into your hand. The next thing we all knew, the rabbit was dead and you were on the road to recovery. It was so hard for you to understand that it was because of you, the rabbit was dead, but that rabbit gave his life to save yours willingly. He knew, just as I did, sometimes to save one life, you have to sacrifice another.

“I know the sacrifice you and Drezel made for me. You gave up on happiness to save me. There is nothing I can do that could ever repay that debt. However, if you continue to attempt to heal Drezel, you will die. There are no rabbits this time to give their life for you.”

Tears flooded down her face, her body shook with the sobbing. He was right. Nothing was working. The Master often told her that she was the most powerful magician of Health he had ever met. If she couldn’t save Drezel with her magic, then Health was not the answer.

“It’s time, Marianne,” the Master said. “She stopped breathing an hour ago. Her body is already cold and stiff. Feel her. Her life force is gone. She’s crossed the void between Life and Death. She’s gone.”

Marianne’s knees gave way. “But her hands still glow. She hasn’t severed the ties.”

“I know. She should be with the land right now. However, for some reason, she’s chosen to stay with her body. Regardless, we can’t let the Bleeder demons gain access to her magic. We have to help what’s left of her soul make its final journey.”

Marianne sagged to the ground crying. Drezel was dead.


About the author:

judymohrKiwi Judy L Mohr writes fantasy filled with adventure, dark monsters, humor and romance. She is also a freelance editor with Black Wolf Editorial (http://blackwolfeditorial.com), working on projects from writers around the world. Judy is currently the president of the Christchurch Writers’ Guild, but is also a member of SpecFic New Zealand and the Scribophile on-line writing community. She is also one of the NaNoWriMo Municipal Leaders for her region. When Judy is not writing or editing, she can be found in her backyard looking through her telescope, or in the New Zealand bush enjoying the world around her. You can visit her at personal blog (http://judylmohr.com), or follow her on twitter (@JudyLMohr).

NanoWriMo 2015: Interview with Jessica Colvin

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Jessica Colvin is a writer, artist, and mother of two from Christchurch, New Zealand. She writes under the pen name Ami Hart and lives in two worlds: one being post-quake Christchurch and the other is a fantastical place where dragons and space ships soar, sometimes side by side.
Ami is a member of SpecficNZ and the Christchurch Writers Guild. She has had several short stories published in various anthologies and is currently writing a fantasy novel. She blogs about her writing adventures here: http://www.amilibertyhartwriter.com/

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 Can you please tell us a bit about your NaNoWriMo history? How many have you participated in, and how many times have you succeeded?
I started the NaNoWriMo journey in 2012 and haven’t missed a year since. I have also done Camp NaNoWriMo 6 times and met the word goal I set each time.

As a veteran NaNo Writer, what are some of your previous stories?
Liberty: The Fragile Empire, (Science Fantasy). Utopia Lost (Science Fiction), The Final Battle (Fantasy). All these novels are still in revision.

Why do you regularly participate in NaNo?
I liked the idea of the challenge and wanted an excuse to start the sequel to my first fantasy novel (still in edits). The forced deadline helps train me to be more productive as a writer.

How much preparation do you do in advance?
Not a huge amount. The characters and the world details form in my head, whizzing around helter-skelter, fluid and changeable right up to the point I start typing the first draft. Those few ideas I’m able to nail down firm I jot down in notebooks beforehand.

Would you like to tell us a bit about your 2015 NaNo project?
The working title is “Severed Wings/ Neon Dreams”. It’s an urban paranormal fantasy and is a collaborative project with my sister (she’s an illustrator). We were going to insert graphic novel elements/panels at the beginning of each section/ or chapter.
The story is centred around an elderly woman named Sam. Sam is dying of cancer, unmercifully slow. She accepts her fate, believing it’s what she deserves after the type of life she’s led. In this final twilight stage of her life she receives an 11th hour visitor. She never gets visitors, people with redacted pasts rarely do. This visitor in question sets about changing her life, or rather, her death forever. The problem is Sam hasn’t known any other life and certain lethal habits are hard to break.

Can you please describe your writing process; how do you fit NaNo into your daily routine?
I write whenever I get the chance. Generally when the kids are at school, sometimes in the evening (although my brain usually closes up shop by 8:30). Occasionally I brave an early morning writing session in the hope that I might get some done before the kids wake up.
I like to write uninterrupted for at least an hour. I only resort to outlining when I am stuck, even then they are brief, loose notes. I enjoy discovering the story as I write it—it’s much more exciting that way. Word sprints are my life savers, the 20-30 minute bursts can really get those words flowing.

Do you have a preferred “writing space”? If so, what about it makes it ideal for your project?
I have the office space in my room, but I like going out to libraries or cafes. There are often too many distractions at home, like animals, housework and baking.

Do you have any tips or tricks for coping with writer’s block?
Create a loose outline for the next chapter.
Showering (maybe the mystical shower portal will speak its warm glowy wisdom)
Music (and sometimes dancing)
If all that fails then I’ll skip the scene completely and go to a scene that I am excited about.

Thank you Jessica/Ami! Best of luck with your NaNo 2015 success.

Meet the Committee: Chris Visagie (Quill)

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Chris Visagie is our “Quill”, basically, he’s the committee member that helps us to get things done. Both a writer and a reader, Chris has yet to share his writing with us (or with me, anyway), but I am eagerly anticipating his contribution to our next anthology.

authorphoto-ChrisV

Chris, can you please tell us a little more about yourself (and your creative endeavours)?
I was born in South Africa but moved to New Zealand with my family when I was seven. I grew up in South Otago then moved to Christchurch three years ago. I currently work in retail.
While I did a lot of creative writing growing up, I took up writing fan fiction shortly after finishing high school which got me started on writing with the intent of having other people read it. That then inspired to me to start writing original stories.


What are your preferred genre/s to write in? What is it that draws you to it/them?

My preferred genre is urban fantasy. What draws me to them is the possibility and the characters that it inspires. The possibility lies in the fact that you combine the fantastic and the mundane. A wizard could have a nine to five help pay alimony to his faerie ex-wife, a vampire could have an image consultant, said image consultant could be a vegan werewolf. There is just so much story telling potential.
As for the characters they inspire. Like I said, urban fantasy lets you create a whole range of interesting characters but at the same time it lets you create very human characters as well. Despite their fantastic nature, the characters still live in our world and as such must deal with the same things we do. When done well the supernatural aspects actually help to accentuate the human aspects and hit closer to home

Where do you get your inspiration?
While my stories are set in modern times, I draw a lot of inspiration from Classic lore and mythology. Growing up I was a huge fan of Greek mythology and loved the Odyssey.

What do you enjoy the most about the writing process?
The ability to explore ideas and concepts and see where they lead.

What do you enjoy the least?
Proof reading, even though I know how vital it is.

Any particularly pitfalls you have learned/would like to learn to avoid?
Spending too much time on the planning stage. For all the virtues of planning it is very easy to end up spending too much time in your head and never getting anything done.

How has being a writer influenced your everyday life?
Being a writer means that I tend to look at the world from a more contemplative stand point. I examine situations I observe more closely and at the same time think of how a slight variation would have changed the situation. It also makes waiting in queues and bus stops less tedious because I usually have a story idea I’m working on to amuse myself with.

How has being a member of the Guild influenced you as writer?
It has put me in touch with a lot of creative people to share ideas with as well as find a social aspect to what can be a very isolating passion.

Can you please tell us a little about a project you are working on at the moment?
A current project I’m working on is about Daniel Loxley, a professional “Problem Solver” situated in the City of St Giles. People come to him with problems that he tries to solve. He does this using his connections, wits and the occasional use of his powers as a partially turned vampire. But when the daughter of the District Attorney is found drained of her blood and her body placed on display in some sort of ritual, tensions start to rise between the magic users and the vampires. Now Daniel has been hired to make sure the ones responsible are stopped before anyone else is hurt. Add to this the return of Daniel’s sire and you’ve got a problem that perhaps even he can’t solve.

What advice do you have for other writers?
The best advice I can give other writers simply put is to sit down and start writing. As simple as that seems, it so easy to spend so much time in your head planning the “perfect story” and never getting round to writing it. Also, it often won’t be until you’re actually writing the story that you notice faults you hadn’t previously considered.
Also when trying to flesh out a character, an exercise that I think helps is to create a scenario and that you place the character in and then figure out how the character would respond. For instance, in keeping with urban fantasy, your character in a dinner having breakfast when suddenly a zombie bursts in. What would you character do. Would hide under table and try to crawl to the exit? Would they pull out a gun and try to shot it? Would they pull out equipment to examine it? Would they just say “Hi John” and then get back to eating breakfast?

Now these scenarios don’t have to be this outlandish. The point is just that figuring out how your character would respond to various situations will help you figure out who your character is.

Lastly I would say to write what you enjoy writing. For all the pleasure there is to be had, writing a story is long, tiring and there will be times when it feels more effort than it’s worth. If on top of that it’s a story that you don’t find some joy or passion in telling then it’s going to be infinity harder to get it finished. As nice as the idea of writing a story that a million people would want to read is, start with a story that you would want to read.

Remembering Sept 4th: Judy Mohr

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September the 4th, 2010: 4:35 am
Christchurch, New Zealand

Prose by Judy Mohr

The low rumble barely registered in her subconscious. The small shakes of the bed were enough to pull her from her sleep.
“Great,” she mumbled. “Gijs is having another asthma attack.”
With a sudden jolt, the bed jumped across the floor and banged into the wall. The teddy bears and dolls tumbled through the air.
Her eyes flew open, able to see clearly in the darkened room. The roar filled the ears and the walls moved sideways. Beside her, her husband snorted.
“My god, he’s still asleep!” She swung her arm out as hard as she could on the bucking bed and hit him in his stomach.
“What… What is—”
“It’s an earthquake!” she screamed. “Get Christabel. I’ll get Anthony.”
With the heart racing in her chest, she sprang out from under the covers, only to be tossed into the walls. Her husband disappeared into her daughter’s room; the door slammed behind him. Meanwhile, she braced herself in the doorway of her son’s room.
“Grab my hand!” She reached in as far as she could toward her screaming son. The floor continued to buck and roll. “Reach for my hand!”
His small fingers brushed against hers and she yanked him toward her. She crouched down with her feet pressed against one side of the door frame, her hand outstretched for support. Her back pressed against the other side, her nine-year-old son cradled against her chest.
A lull in the waves came and her daughter’s door flew open. Her husband braced himself just in time, her daughter in his arms.
Adrenaline pumped as the children continued to scream. From one roll and into the next, for fifteen minutes the world shook and it felt like it would never end.

Kiwi Judy L Mohr writes fantasy and science fiction filled with adventure, dark monsters, humour and romance. She is also a freelance editor, working on projects from writers around the world. Judy is currently the president of the Christchurch Writers’ Guild, but is also a member of SpecFic New Zealand and the Scribophile on-line writing community. Recently, she was appointed one of the NaNoWriMo Municipal Leaders for our region. You can visit her at http://judylmohr.com, or follow her on twitter (@JudyLMohr).

Meet the Committee: Angela Oliver (Media)

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Angela Oliver maintains and updates the blog, which includes asking the other committee members their interview questions, and she thought she might be interviewing herself. Luckily, Judy Mohr (our new President) has put forth the following questions:
avatar-ang

Every time I see you, you’re drawing another creature of nature. This is obviously a part of your creative process. Tell me, where did this love of animals begin and how has it influenced your writing?

I can’t really say precisely where my love of animals began, because I’ve been fond of them as far back as I can remember. I imagine my parents (who gave us bunnies and a kitten) and my nana (who would take me to feed the ducks), had a strong influence. Birds were a particular passion, and I persuaded my parents to let us keep parakeets, including the construction of three aviaries. To date, most of my stories have contained at least one animal. Some are written from the animal’s point of view, in others they are a major component of the plot. I have strong conservation views, and wish to educate the audience (I tend to write for the 10-14 age range), increasing awareness, without (I hope) coming across as too preachy.

With all these wonderful characters that you draw, how many of them actually make it into your stories? Which was your favourite to bring to the page? Which was your least favourite?

I have a main core cast of characters that I have illustrated for years. Many of them I have created detailed background stories for, but for the most part these stories remain in my head (slowly slipping away). Of my recent illustrations, I have mostly been concetrating on wild animal illustrations. It is hard to say who my favourites and least favourites are – but I find humans a LOT harder to draw, and thus mostly encourage other people to draw them for me.
One of my favourite character creations is Rhapsody Kelpdance:
bestiary-rhapsody2009
I’ve never written Rhapsody’s story – or even developed it particularly far – but I do love the gentle flowing lines of her, and creating a dragon based on the leafy sea dragon was fun.
My least favourite to draw are the frightening ones. Not because I dislike frightening stuff, but because I cannot do it well. Everything I draw comes out looking somewhat whimsical and cute.

You were one of the original founders of The Christchurch Writers’ Guild. Tell me, how did that come to be?

It all began in Paper Plus, Hornby, when I came upon Beaulah’s book, picked it up and thought “oh look, another local author who has published through CreateSpace”. I took note of her name and looked her up when I got home, acquired the ebook (apologies to Paper Plus and Beaulah) and emailed her. She replied, we met for coffee and got discussing writing in Christchurch. At that point, there didn’t seem to be a particularly involved social network for writing, I’ve later learned that I just wasn’t looking hard enough, but we decided that we would begin one, starting with the community on facebook. Writing is a lonely business, and can be quite discouraging when you struggle to finish, become overwhelmed by the editing process, then finally you finish it and don’t know what to do with it after that…  Well, our idea was to bring writers together to read and review each others’ work, to encourage and enable those that wanted to write, and connect like-minded people. I really love the sense of community we’ve got going within the Guild – the fact that many of us meet outside of the regular gatherings, and that I have formed genuine, long-lasting friendships. When you cannot talk to your spouse, siblings, parents, or friends, about writing, then you can turn to the Guild.

The Guild has morphed into something much greater than those original days. How do you feel about that and where would you like to see the Guild head in the future?

It’s a bit scary being an official incorporated entity! But, honestly, I don’t want to see it change too much. I would like to see more anthologies – especially encouraging participation from those members that may be a bit reserved about sharing their works – and perhaps a “shared world” series. We did some workshops early on, and I hope that we can re-commence them again soon, given members pratical exercises and inspiration to continue with their craft.

Many new writers among the Guild seek you out to read and/or edit their material. What advice do you often give to new writers? What advice would you give to those of us not so new?

For new authors, my main piece of advice is to write, just write! Even if it’s rubbish, just do it. “Don’t get it right, get it written,” as Barbara Arnold, my writing for children tutor, says.

And for those of you with completed manuscripts:
I enjoy reading “new” manuscripts, the freshness of something that has not been edited into sterility. However, there are a few things that I would change if given the opportunity. It’s very easy to spell-check a novel, however, spell-checker does not find homophones. And auto-complete can substitute the intended word with something that not only makes no sense, but is frankly hilarious. I have yet to read a novel written on a cell phone using autocorrect, but imagine that would be a nightmare. My advice to writers is: before anyone else reads your novel, read it yourself first – from cover to cover – and keep an eye out for misused words. Every time I come across one of those words, it is like I have been slapped out of the plot. It ruins my concentration and switches me from reader mode into editor mode.
Otherwise, try and get the grammar as correct as possible. It doesn’t need to be perfect – a beta reader will always expect a few typos – but you want your readers to pick up on plot holes and discrepancies, not become distracted by mentally stabbing in commas and full stops, tracking down errant apostrophes or taming wayward semi-colons.

Back to your writing: what do you see of the next step for you? Will we ever get to know what happened to your lemurs?

I’ve been thinking about writing again a lot. Many of you may be aware that I’ve been in a writing rut for most of 2015, having barely written anything fiction. Part of this is my animal-a-day project, which includes drawing specific creatures for NZ Art Cards (coming soon to an independent bookstore or DOC i-site near you, I hope!) and general slump. The second novel in the series, “A Tail of Two Scions” is a dual-char book, following Rakoto and Aurelia. Rakoto’s side of the story is pretty much done, but Aurelia’s is proving to be a struggle, mainly defining the conflict and keeping it structured. And then I have to interweave the two. I did re-read the third draft of Aurelia’s beginning and feel it’s pretty good, really, and I should just soldier on with the darned thing. So, the answer is YES. And my animal-a-day project will be finishing early next year, so I can concetrate fully on writing once more.

And just for the fun of it: if you could be an animal (other than human), what would you be?

I know you expect me to say a lemur, but I think, instead, I would like to be a parrot. Long-lived, intelligent, with a handy appendage for manipulating objects (their beak) and, of course, they can fly. But what sort of parrot? That’s an almost-impossible question, but I would rather fancy being able to turn into a kea.

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Angela has written and published three books via Amazon’s CreateSpace program and is currently involved in drawing an animal-a-day on her blog: ZooTrophy. She has also created a collectible trading card game about ecosystems and food chains.

Meet the Committee: Chris Yee (Treasurer)

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Chris Yee is our Treasurer. He has studied animation and worked as a game developer. Currently he tutors at the Yoobee School of Design, and for the Imagination Station (Lego!). He also, of course, writes!

chris

Chris, can you please tell us a little more about yourself (and your creative endeavours)?
As mentioned, I teach Film, Video and Animation at ACG Yoobee School of Design, though to say my creative endeavours are restricted to motion graphics is a bit of a misnomer. Storytelling for me has always been an ongoing endeavour. I would probably go so far to say that it is something humans have had since the dawn of time, but I digress. While perhaps being something I’ve been doing for a long time, it was by no means a successful one as yet. I am quite bad at coming to conclusions, finishing off the story in a satisfactory way. I’ve read various literature in my youth, ranging from Sci-Fi notables such as Carl Sagan and Michael Crichton, to really cheesy titled books such as ‘Only You Can Save Mankind’, which ironically may have been my first introduction to Terry Pratchett. When the only storytelling ended up being in the form of mostly schoolwork, which at the time to me felt greatly restrictive, it took a back seat from the remainder of my studies. Then, sometime in 1999, I was approached by someone on ICQ (yes, this was THE chat messenger in those days), offering what was best described as text based role playing in the vein of a Star Trek theme. Intrigued at this I signed up, going through the processes and protocols of IRC (Internet Relay Chat, effectively real time forum chat rooms) and just fell in love with it. It was essentially being an actor, a screenplay-writer and a director all at the same time. Improvisation was key in being able to work with the stories created by the person in charge of running the Sim (short for Simulation). For a number of years I forged lifelong friendships and somewhat improved my ability to tell stories in a dynamic atmosphere. This real time, present tense scriptwriting eventually moved on to a past tense prose as it moved to a non real time format which has pushed my motivation to write in this way. A few years on I had become intrigued at the growing market of digital film-making, applying and studying at Natcoll Design Technology (now Yoobee School of Design) in 2006. Studies into the practical application of storytelling in a audiovisual medium helped me gain an understanding of how these aspects enhance written media in general, pushing me further to create fun and engaging stories. My road to writing has been a rocky and tumultuous one, but I still keep going with the help of friends and family who support my endeavour, and while I still regard this as a casual activity, I know it will lead to something greater.

Game development was an amazing experience. While I was brought on solely as an Artist, I moved up to the role of Technical Artist, in that I had to deal with technical and programming issues to ensure that the art side of things were consistent in the vision of the game producer. If not, then I’d find ways to get it working. Problem solving and analytical processes were something I was known for, and typically aren’t traits a creative artist possesses initially. It was sad to move on from this, but it has lead to other opportunities and can be something I can always return to.

Recently, at least this year of 2015 I had been approached to teach Stop Motion movies using Lego for the Imagination Station based in Christchurch. This was quite an engaging endeavour as it put two of my favourite things together (Film and Lego) to help kids of all ages explore storytelling aspects in a visual format as well as teaching them to understand some technical aspects of film-making. While teaching at Yoobee has now taken up the time I typically had for teaching at the Imagination Station, this has expanded significantly in teaching material with others taking up the mantle and I fully expect it to continue amazingly in the future.

How does telling a story via visual media (such as animation) differ from telling a story via written media?
In what ways are they similar?
The way that visual media communicates ideas and concepts lies in its delivery. While written media communicates various ideas over time, movies for instance provide additional depth to it in the form of an audiovisual sensory experience. In a lot of ways this can condense a lot of the material given; a lengthy descriptive exploration in a book can be represented by a brief scene of imagery in a movie. A conversation between characters is now enhanced by their body language, their tone of voice, and the cinematography. In short, this application of storytelling opens up a whole new realm of artistic expression. Structurally, they are no different; they more often than not have a three act structure, with inciting incidents, rising tension, a climax, falling tension, and denouement. These are the core aspects that make up a good story in any form and will most likely never change.

When writing for the visual, how do you portray a character’s personality?
Personality aspects in a visual medium can, at base level show up in their expressions, their body language and typically how they compose themselves in any given situation, as from a film-makers perspective, actors have to be able to portray any personality the writing and direction call for. Their appearance, clothing etc can be great visual indicators of their base personality, but that’s all surface and in most cases can only communicate where they’ve been. Who they really are, their past, their experience goes so much deeper.

Good thing though, when indicating in a script you can actually say ‘Bob is sad’. It’s up to the actor or animator to interpret this based on the context and scene and express these emotions accordingly via body language and facial expression. Scriptwriters have to be as concise as possible as they cannot fill the script up with endless description. The only section you can go to town on is Dialogue.

What genres do you prefer to work in? Who/what are your inspirations?
Science fiction has always been my staple, but I have been toying with other genres to see if I could do them. Two Science Fiction authors that I’ve been a fan of for a long time are Peter David and Dan Abnett. They write in a way that feels real, as in they’re not all super human types, just normal people thrust into a particular situation and deal with it accordingly, be it war, politics or the pawns of gods. For Fantasy, I still have my sizeable collection of Terry Pratchett. The dry humour is what caught me, and following along with the vein of ‘ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations’, I’ve been more interested in the Nightwatch story arcs, as well as other stories based in the City of Ankh Morpork.

Can you tell us a little about your writing processes/habits?
If you ask any writer, they will typically say they work in complete isolation, absolute quiet and zero distractions. I can work just fine with two of those, and ignore the distractions, unless something really interesting is being discussed. By that point however, the writing time has been sunk but it is often not without knowledge gained. I much prefer writing in the company of others, preferably other writers so as not to leave others in a non communicative state. Noise of all sorts, whether random music, cafe banter, or even a bustling airport terminal, I can easily zone all these sounds out to a indecipherable hum. However, I require these random noises, possibly to occupy my auditory senses so that the rest of my brain can focus, akin to distracting the attention starved child so that some amount of work can be done within an allotted time.

I will say that Scrivener has helped with my organising of my story materials immensely. For those that don’t know, Scrivener is a piece of writing software that aids in providing structure to various projects. I don’t spend too long on this process at the start, but it does help keep story, research and other bits & pieces separate, whilst at the same time having them easily accessible for reference.

And of course, nothing starts the process better than a steaming cup of fresh coffee.

How do you go about creating the worlds that your stories are set in?
Worlds, strangely enough, are one of the first things I start creating as it helps me understand what sort of events and characters will exist. In most cases, at least to date anyway, I create worlds that work for humans as well as any other races and/or alien life forms. With this in mind, a traditional Earth type, terrestrial world works. If this is early on in the story arc, then visualising set pieces to fit the story works for me as a lot of the world isn’t fully formed at this point, so I can be as flexible as I need to be if they help move the story forward. But as I expand the story, I develop town names, cities, nations, politics and so on. These things which I set in place, I make note of in my research files so that my world can remain consistent the more I reveal about it. Whether I describe an entire mountain range for the sake of blowing it up (and seeding plot points for later stories), developing an industrial society, or simply describing the onset of a magical infection that can transform life into something more terrifying, I take great care in cataloguing and integrating these moments and changes as the stories progress.

What advice do you have for anyone who might wish to create their own short animation, game or book trailer?
Have a plan. A good story, while having at minimum an outline, can be as flexible and random as anything. However the technical aspects that go behind the construction process of telling said story has to follow a good, solid plan if there is a deadline to meet. From concept to storyboarding, visual cues and even interactive prompts help guide and give direction to the material, so that all aspects are cohesive. With games, you take on board the story elements and integrate them smoothly with the gameplay elements. While some of the most popular games out there alternate between these two, it is in my mind not the best way to tell stories within a game environment. To use it effectively, the player not only has to be a part of the story, but also help drive the narrative and be invested in the actions they choose to take. This is a long and arduous task for a developer, which leads me back to how you must have an effective plan and solid research into the application of sensory experiences for animations and trailers, and interactivity for games. All this aids in seamless integration into the art of storytelling. Oh and one other thing; have fun while doing it. If you’re not having fun creating it, then you probably won’t enjoy reading, watching or playing it either.