Friday, 7 December 2018

4WD Episode 1

Ngarkat Conservation Park

A bit of background: We’ve both been avid campers since way back. Early in 2018, we bought our first 4WD – admittedly for the Hippie’s gardening requirements, but hey, why not make it worth it? Second-hand, already lifted, the D40 had huge tyres (which we later found out were rubbish for off-roading), black rims, a snorkel, and bull bar. It looked mean, and it drove well, so we signed the dotted line… only to discover that like many pre-loved vehicles, it was full of problems. It’s been an absolute headache to restore to good working order (neither of us knows anything about cars), but it has opened up a brand new world. And after all my car-related research, I’m convinced it’s better the devil you know: at least we know what has been done on this vehicle. It’s a good, sturdy Ute – it just needs some tweaking.

To satiate Hippie’s need for instruction, we enrolled for First Time Out (FTO) 4WD training with David at Adventure 4WD only a few weeks after purchasing the Nav. The experience was incredible. At an evening theory session, David talked us through fundamental 4WDing concepts such as part-time vs full-time 4WD, wind up, traction, ABS, ETC, ESP, crawl control, stability control disengagement, dealing with mud/water/sand/steep grades, choosing tyres and correct inflation, and the mechanics specific to our vehicle (I’m convinced he knows everything about everything). To be honest, a lot of this went over my head. I’d only had my ‘regular’ car license for about two years, so I’m still learning (and understanding), but David had a way of making even the ridiculously un-car-ish people (me!) understand what he was talking about. A few days after digesting theory night, we ventured out on a day trip to his purpose-built 4WD training track to put our driving, and our cars, to the test. The first pothole challenge looked terrifying - but with David’s jovial and encouraging voice guiding us on the UHF, it was easily conquered. We had so much fun! 

 A day trip was not nearly enough of an adventure and we instantly wanted more. Check out the photos on the Adventure 4WD Gallery page and look at all the smiles. Honestly, go see David, he is the best!

At Bendelby Ranges (photo by David Wilson)
That’s all it took; we were hooked. We immediately enrolled in Adventure 4WD’s Weekend Walkabouts – tackling beach driving and slushy sand dunes in the Limestone Coast the very next weekend, and steep rocky ridges in the Southern Flinders later on in May. These adventures were definitely a step up from the beginner's track, and full of learning opportunities. We discovered some vehicle limitations (we definitely need a diff locker), weeded out some driver problems (note to self: take foot off accelerator, learn left and right), and some mechanical faults (damn suction control valve!). Some of these we overcame on our weekends out, and some had to be investigated further.

After painful dealership warranty repairs, we wanted to return to the Limestone Coast to tackle Little Dip Conservation Park on our own. We’d acquired some basic 4WDing paraphernalia: brand new Toyo OPAT LT tyres; second-hand CSA alloy ‘Monster’ rims in a size more appropriate for off-roading; Maxtrax and a long-handled shovel for self-recovery in the sand; and a compressor and tyre gauge for the necessary pressure adjustments. We’d borrowed a makeshift sand flag from a dog with disabilities, and ventured out. The weather and conditions were near perfect for driving and camping, and Little Dip was rated highly by the Hippie. The highlight of this trip: coming across a convoy of 4WDers having trouble making it up a particularly tall and soft sand dune. We wandered over and had a quick chat. They had tried several times and decided it impassable. They weren’t going to persist; they were going back to the beach.

Hippie and I considered each other for a moment. ‘It doesn’t look so bad. I think you can do it,’ I said.
‘I think I can do it, too.’

So we did it. Up and over with barely a struggle. Tyres and momentum! 4WD training fools! We wanted our cloud of dust to advertise Adventure 4WD and a contact number for the ones left on the beach. I wish I knew what car they were driving – it’s now a battle of the brands.

Still, we wanted more. We felt we needed a club. We loved camping and 4WDing alone but were far from capable off-roaders. We didn’t have the equipment or the know-how to tackle much more on our own, especially as we wanted to (eventually) get remote. So, the search began.

We quickly found a suitable group willing to let us riff-raffs into their midst. Over pub meets and dinners we began to know our new group of like-minded adventurers. Slowly we added to our 4WD toolbox - recovery kit with snatch straps and bow shackles; off-road First Aid Kit; UHF radios; a more reliable tyre gauge and speedy deflators.

Since joining the Club, our convoy (damn, I love a convoy!) has been to Loveday 4x4 Adventure Park on the River Murray (we LOVED IT and will be going back), Deep Creek Conservation Park on the Fleurieu Peninsula, and Bushy’s 4x4 property near Coonalpyn in the South East. Next year brings many more adventures, and we can’t wait.

The Club was a lifesaver when we “blew our clutch to shreds” (the mechanic's words). We knew it was on its way out, so it had only been a matter of time. We managed to pick a vehicle renowned for its terrible clutch. And although this traumatic event could have broken our 4WD spirit if we were on our own, we were rescued, towed into the nearest town, accompanied during RAA arrangements, and then ferried back to camp to share another night with our Club. Whatever we needed (or had to leave in the Ute) they provided without having to be asked. Who would have thought two weirdos could have been welcomed so wholly into a group? We’d found our community. The next morning we were driven back home, leaving our broken Ute in safe hands at Tinty Auto & Ag, awaiting a new clutch, but saving us a $1k tow fee back to Adelaide.

This misfortune brought us our opportunity to see Ngarkat Conservation Park, which had been highly recommended by 4WD instructor David and had been on Hippie’s hit list for some time. Our trip was a brief one: a weekend to take advantage of us having to travel to Tintinara and back to pick up the Ute. Instead of a boring 6-hour drive on the highway there and back, we would camp overnight and go 4WDing through Ngarkat – a place we knew we would have to come back to for a longer trip, especially when the famous Border Track reopened after fire danger season. With over 270,000 hectares of vegetated sand dunes, Mallee bushland, an array of flora and fauna and an extensive network of tracks, this is somewhere to spend an extended weekend at the very least.

We left home just after midday and arrived in Tintinara around 3pm and swapped cars. I had to sing the entire Moana soundtrack on repeat because the battery had been disconnected and we didn’t have the code to reset the stereo. The Ute, however, sang beautifully. Finding the clutch point was like relearning to drive. Much appreciation to the folks at Tinty Auto & Ag for finding time for us in their busy season.

It was a longer drive than expected from Tintinara to the Ngarkat Highway, but when we turned off the bitumen onto sandy Pertendi Track, we finally engaged 4WD. We erected our new (actual purpose-built) sand flag. We hadn’t seen any signage indicating we should reduce our tyres pressures, and the track didn’t seem conducive to stopping, so we decided to leave them until we reached camp. We’d only travelled the track for about 10 minutes before changing our minds. It would be safer, and more comfortable, to let some air out. We stopped in the middle of the one-lane track stretching to the horizon and lowered the Toyos to 20psi. Much better.

The tracks in the north-east corner of the park were simple and fun. We stayed in 2nd gear high range from the bitumen to the camp, giving it some gas for the taller dunes, letting off the gas for a few jiggly patches, but mostly staying at 40kph as is the speed limit in National Parks.

We finally arrived at camp around 6.30pm. WTF?! Should have stuck with the passenger car? The long drive, encroaching darkness, and lack of water (guess who shittily packed the back of the Ute? Both 15L water containers had rattled around, upended and broken, the water mostly gone), left me feeling exhausted. We had about 7 litres remaining - 6 litres per person per day when camping, they say! The rule ran through our heads as we eyeballed each other. Perhaps one of us could survive in this inhospitable environment? This was our first time 4WDing to our campsite. Previously, we’d always had smooth, flat roads to the camp, unpacked our gear and then gone off-road. Another lesson learned in ensuring gear is appropriately secured in the back. Neither of us had to cannibalise the other for their fluids.

We had the campsite to ourselves, and seemingly, the whole park. The adjacent campsite had water (not suitable for drinking) and an immaculately maintained long drop (seriously excellent). We set up camp. It was a very nice spot under shady trees, with a picnic table and a campfire ring, though fire danger season eliminated the possibility of a campfire. I washed all the dishes gone mouldy after 2 weeks in the back of the Ute, while Hippie attempted the new JetBoil for the first time. At dusk we set out to do the quick Nanam Well bush walk, hoping to catch a glimpse of goannas, pygmy possums or hopping mice. We saw tracks and traces of wildlife, but only saw kangaroos. We reached the creepy well right on sunset and wandered back in the torchlit dark to the eyeshine of a billion spiders. My light ran out of battery, and I was actually thankful. So many eyes!
We heard one vehicle as we were venturing off for our bush walk but we think that was the park ranger. The campsites themselves were huge; ours, as one site, had enough space easily for four or five tents. We ate late and crawled into bed.

Overnight, we only heard one formless monster making noise outside of our tent. Then it was morning.

We ate breakfast, packed up, and drove the Pine Hut Soak Track where we had to stop and collect the top of our flag from an overhanging tree. Hippie’s plans to do the Orchid Hike were foiled by high temperatures and strong winds. Not pleasant weather for a bush walk, nor safe with our dwindling water reserves. 

By 11am we were back off of the sandy tracks and onto the Ngarkat Highway (with tyre pressures back up) until we reached the South Boundary Track, where we had to stop and let them down again. With irrigated and weed-infested farmlands on the left and dense Mallee heathland scrub on the right, it was a stark picture of food production versus conservation. We were escorted down the length of the track by clouds and clouds of psychopomp—wrens. We encountered emus, kangaroos, dragons, and wedge-tailed eagles. The tracks in the south-west corner were mostly sand interspersed with rocky patches, just as the ranger had informed us when we’d called up for some advice the day before. It wasn’t particularly challenging, but engaging, fun, and stress-free.

With scenic Mallee vegetation, attractive campgrounds, and sandy winding tracks, Hippie told me it was “better than Little Dip”. I agreed, though it definitely needed a longer, more thorough exploration.

We drove Gosse Hill Track, Buck’s Camp Track, and a bit of Jimmy’s Well Track, but then we took Mount Rescue Track back towards Tintinara, as severe weather was heading our way and we still had 3 hours of highway driving before we got home. Our 4WDing had come to an end for this weekend. Sadface.

Also, while we’re here, check out the free LOADED 4x4 online magazine.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Oneiroi Zero-Eight

Written by Erik Garkain ©  2018 
(Approx. 32,000 words)

Chapter 1: Life is Elsewhere

Mica joined the queue for the Firefly coach from Sydney to Adelaide, all his worldly possessions in his tattered backpack. At the front of the line, the ticketing lady looked at him twice before asking if he was sure, was that really where a nice boy like him wanted to go?
‘Yes, Ma’am,’ he said with a polite smile.
She narrowed her eyes at him. ‘You one of them, then? Those infected, those—Volatiles?’ She growled the slur at him. ‘That’s all Adelaide’s good for anymore. No more City of Churches, it’s City of Freaks now!’ she spat.
Mica’s heart pounded as he snatched the ticket away rougher than he’d intended. ‘You see anything freakish about me, lady?!’ he managed. Mica knew there were limited outward physical signs of his mutation and he’d almost perfected the art of pretending there were none. He turned his back with more confidence than he felt, then boarded the bus to the sounds of her incoherent grunts. The curious gazes of his fellow passengers, who all looked as normal as him but could quite as easily be hiding their own secrets, followed his steps.
The bus was at near capacity for the overnight trip to Melbourne, but most people disembarked into the first flush of morning at Southern Cross station. The city was already bustling, and the aroma of coffee wafted through every street. This metropolis was mostly unchanged, still home to people unaffected by the Oneiroi Zero-Eight virus that had spread throughout the country. People who didn’t want to know freaks like him. People like his family, those unaffected by the retrovirus. Apparently, Adelaide was an entirely different story.
There were only a handful of people still aboard when the bus passed through Ballarat, and after the drivers changed at Horsham, Mica was the only passenger left. He was the only one to see the illuminated billboards in the night. Not the path you seek. Turn back and find the light: A message brought to you by the Anti-Oneiroi Community. And another one not even half a kilometre down the road, a desperate last plea by the same community who were petitioning for mandatory testing and isolation of the infected. There is life elsewhere. Call us today. Concerned citizens spreading the words of their God; ignorant of the increasing statistics of scared young people killing themselves because of that same hateful propaganda and fear mongering bullshit. The same support ‘community’ that his parents had contacted after he’d come out to them when he received his blood test back. The ones that had influenced his parent’s views on his affliction, made him appear like a predator to his kid sister when Mica refused to attend their internment ‘camp’… and his father’s belligerent last words to his firstborn.
Mica turned away before his rising hatred had time to get the better of him, but the next billboard pulled his attention back. Two people, seemingly in full body makeup rivalling the best prosthetic special effects in the industry, dressed to the nines, their top hats dipped low. Their arms were held back like a private welcoming ceremony to the greatest show on earth. And the words, quoted from one of his favourite superhero films, Hellboy: All us freaks have is each other. And, Welcome home.
Mica grinned and settled more comfortably in his seat.


In the early hours of the night, almost twenty-four hours since he’d boarded, they stopped outside of a place called ‘Sweeties Bakehouse’ in the small country town of the unambiguously named, Bordertown, though it was almost twenty kilometres from the actual border separating Victoria from South Australia. The deli was a dimly lit weatherboard shop sporting two large wagon wheels. Here the bus keys exchanged hands once again. Fuzzy with perpetual dozing, Mica peered out of the window at the two drivers who conversed and traded satchels. Lights from the neighbouring Shell service station didn’t penetrate the shadows enough to see the pair clearly beneath a gently swaying tree, but the new driver glanced up and directly at Mica. What light there was reflected from his eyes and Mica shrank back. It must have been pitch black on the bus, only the headlights and safety lights around the outside were lit up – there was no way he could have seen in, could he?
Mica sank away from the window and deeper into his seat, his eyes bleary from sporadic sleep and his mind still vague from dreams, or so he convinced himself. The new chauffeur boarded and stood glancing down the aisle at his single silent passenger. Mica feigned sleep but swore the driver’s eyes gleamed red beneath his hood for only a second or two. He clutched his backpack closer to his chest and calmed his breathing. The bus rumbled into ignition and sat idling for a moment while the driver sorted himself out. Mica breathed a sigh of relief as the bus rolled down the quiet street and back onto the highway.
Weathered signs were highlighted by the bus’s high beams. Some of these vandalised, ripped down, but their messages were all the same: Road Closed Ahead; No Access; Restricted Area; Quarantine; Do Not Venture Beyond This Point; Oneiroi Zero-Eight Infected Zone. Mica stared. 
The bus slowed to a stop. Were they going to be turned away? Mica sat taller, his head swivelling, searching for danger. 
The driver didn’t appear worried. He stood up casually and stretched rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck from side to side. ‘Pit stop,’ he called down the aisle. ‘Won’t be a moment.’ The front door yawned open, and the driver disembarked. 
He reappeared moments later strolling towards the shell of a long since abandoned single brick office building. Colourful scrawls of graffiti and the charcoal stain of fire were visible through a single busted window. A huge weathered sign labelled it ‘Checkpoint Zone 6’. The driver walked straight up to the checkpoint, shuffled around in the front of his pants and started pissing on the remains of the building.
Mica jerked his eyes away. Six-foot fences topped with razor wire surrounded them and disappeared into the darkness beyond – how long did they go on for? Once in, was he trapped? But it had been damaged, and there wasn’t a single person to enforce the quarantine. No doubt, when the virus has been new and scary, these gates would have been heavily restricted. He’d heard about the testing measures to ensure only the infected were allowed to pass. Nowadays people were free to make their own decisions whether to come or go. What uninfected person would want to cross this border? And who of the infected would think it was a good idea to leave? Or perhaps, did too many people carry latent versions of the virus making any control unenforceable? It was hard to believe anything mainstream media said of the virus.
The lights, only a few of which remained, lit up the surrounds like daylight. The gate ahead of them had been ripped from its hinges, laying bent across one side of the road. So, it had been busted open? Not freely opened? Since when? A single tank upended onto its side, the continuous tread stripped from the wheels, the turret ripped clean from the hull – what could do that? Behind it an emu lay decomposing, one toe twisted between two lengths of wire fencing, its other leg snapped under its heavy body.
Mica startled as the driver reclaimed his seat behind the wheel. ‘Tradition,’ he laughed. 
The door closed. Off they went, unhindered. 


Four hours later they reached Adelaide.
Mica hadn’t slept since the drivers swapped. He watched the darkness lift and the city lights approach, his mind filled with anticipation and a dreaded fear. Would he be any more welcome here than he had been at home?
The driver was standing at the doors when Mica disembarked. His hood pulled back revealing his face to be unshaven, but otherwise unremarkable. No visible sign of mutation, but Mica knew that meant little.
He held out a perfectly regular hand to Mica. ‘Welcome to the city of Adelaide,’ he greeted with a warm smile. ‘May you find what you’re looking for.’
Mica hesitantly clutched the man’s hand, thrown by his sincere welcome and the intrusion into his soul. Was he that obvious? ‘Thank you,’ Mica mumbled unable to find any other words. He moved off, his legs humming with the relief of activity. He could feel the bus driver’s eyes on him until he found the foyer of the bus station and finally disappeared out of sight into the restrooms. He splashed the sheen of sweat off his face with cold water and stared at his haggard reflection. No regrets.
The young lady behind the counter this time was friendly and helpful. She called him ‘bloke’ and told him not to take attitude from anyone; that the people around here could be aloof at times, but generally, they had good intentions. She directed him to cheap accommodation just around the corner.
‘Good luck finding what you’re after,’ she called after him.
He stopped. ‘Why do you think I’m looking for something?’
She smiled. The tattoos down her neck swirled and morphed like Rorschach blots when she moved. ‘We’re all freaks here. All outcasts. No one comes to Adelaide these days unless they are looking for something; somewhere to call home, somewhere to fit in, someone to love; hey bloke?’ She suggested. ‘I hope you find your happiness.’
‘Thanks,’ he mumbled. So his journey here hadn’t been original? The double doors slid open and warm air burst in drying out Mica’s already tired eyes. The sun was only just on the rise and already the day promised to be a warm one.
On the corner, only a hundred metres from the bus station he found ‘Sunnies’, what he’d been told was the friendliest place to stay for those with little to spare. Tourists were up and sharing a pancake breakfast, so he joined them with minimal persuasion. Although they included him, Mica was too tired to hold any conversation for long. He retired to a newly purchased bunk in a shared room and collapsed. His bones creaked and popped in relief as he stretched out for the first time in what felt like aeons. Suddenly the weight of the past week, his recent journey, and his full belly overwhelmed him. He couldn’t even find the energy to make it to the shower before the need for sleep defeated him. He closed his eyes to the tune of his father’s angry mantra: Get away from my daughter. Get out of my house. Go away!

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

I made a short list!

Check out @OverlandJournal’s Tweet:

Update (late September):
Check out the link:

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One is like being immersed in an awesome massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) and reading a wonderful book simultaneously.

On a dystopian Earth, destroyed by a global energy crisis, the only thing left for people is the online utopia of the OASIS, where you can do anything, be anyone, where the lines of distinction between a person’s real identity and that of their avatar begin to blur. When the creator, James Halliday dies, he leaves behind the biggest Easter egg hunt the world has seen. The prize: ownership of his vast fortune and total control of the OASIS.

Wade Watts is just one of the many ‘gunters’ (those who have devoted their lives to Halliday’s hunt) and since it was announced five years ago, he’s learnt all he can about the god among geeks, the nerd uber-deity on the level of Gygax, Gattiott, and Gates: James Halliday.

When Wade deciphers the location of the first clue and is awarded the Copper Key, the first of three, his avatar ‘Parzival’ shows up as the first name on the scoreboard. Passion for the hunt reignites. Hot on his heel are thousands of competitors including the Innovative Online Industries (IOI) who, in Wade’s words, want to turn the game into a fascist corporate theme park where the few people who can still afford the price of admission no longer have an ounce of freedom. Wade soon realises that the IOI will stop at nothing to control the OASIS, and when he can’t be bought to their side, everything he has is threatened.

I was late coming to this book, originally published in 2011. It was the name that drew me in, and the frequency in which it was appearing in recommended read lists. I was not disappointed.

It’s not science-fiction, it’s not fantasy, but it is. Think ‘Enders Game’, think ‘Surrogates’, ‘Gamer’ and ‘Westworld’. The front cover quote says; ‘Enchanting. Willy Wonka meets The Matrix.’ It’s all comparable, but nothing I know is like this book.  It’s a smorgasbord of ‘80s pop culture. There were so many references it didn't matter that I didn't get half of them. Joss Whedon eat your heart out.

It’s not a hard read, it’s a simple plot – good versus evil. Moving from the real world into the action-packed OASIS is seamless. The descriptions of the world outside leave me wanting more, in a good way. I was genuinely anxious when I had to close the book because I was invested in the lives of these characters.

I haven't been this excited over a book since I read Transformation by Carol Berg. For me, like that book, this one is a game changer.

This book was amazing. I read it in a few days. I didn't want to let it go. I can't wait to hand it around to my friends and family so they too can share my excitement.

Read this one.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

FTM Magazine Article

I am officially a published author...

Originally published on (HERE) on 10 April 2017, the link is no longer active, so I am posting my article here:

Self-Harm, Transition...

It was never a choice. I did not one day decide to be a boy. One day I simply allowed my true self to come into being. | Erik Garkain

My body is scarred.

From my shoulders to fingertips, under my clothes, over my chest, my stomach and my legs – all support a tracery of scars inflicted through deliberate self-harm. Self-harm had been a way for me to release emotional pain and stress: the only way I could feel in control of my life.  It made me feel alive. It made me feel something, not just so disturbingly numb.

If you could see under my shirt, you’d see other scars too: surgical scars that helped salvage this life. I have two identical scars curving from my armpits to my sternum – double bilateral mastectomy with chest reconstruction; and, a horizontal 20cm scar underneath my belly, just above my pubic line – total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.

Ten years ago I was living a completely different life. I was bordering on my 21st birthday, working with the elderly in an aged care hostel, and, at the beginning of what would become a five-year relationship of relative heteronormativity.

I was also a girl. I often wonder if my self-harm was a consequence of my latent gender dysphoria?

I was male on the inside. It was a feeling I hadn’t come to accept, or believe could be fact. I was carrying a weight that I’m sure rings familiar with anyone who has borne the confines of a closet. My ‘closet’ was an identity I had been taught, not one that was true. The hormones were wrong, my body was wrong; it had bits I couldn’t associate with, it did things that terrified and disgusted me.

Coming out was a challenge. I have always been shy. I don’t often speak up, even if I have something worthwhile to contribute, so, to come forward to the people in my life with something so personal, was a terrifying prospect. When you come out as trans, it immediately cultivates all sorts of unwanted and personal intrusions: Is it a sexual thing? Does that mean you’re gay, or straight? Do you like boys or girls now? Are you pre-op or post-op? What have you got ‘downstairs’? And my favourite: If you don’t have a penis, you’ll never be a ‘real’ guy. But I shouldn’t have worried. My family have always been supportive, my sisters – amazing. I don’t often give people a chance to be anything else. If they want me in their life, they will respect my choices.

Strangers are harder. Historically gays have been persecuted by just as much misunderstanding and judgment as the transgender community, but a lot of trans people feel ostracised in queer safe spaces, as if we don’t belong. A lot of the discrimination I have had has come directly from the gay community: My choosing to be male didn’t make it so because I would never have a penis.

It was never a choice. I did not one day decide to be a boy. One day I simply allowed my true self to come into being. I would never choose to become a second class citizen; to open myself to discrimination and hate with possible abandonment and rejection from family and friends; to jeopardise my job security; to lose the right to marry; or, risk ever finding a partner who could accept me… None of this is anything I would willingly choose. It was simply the next step of my existence, and it was always going to happen.

Looking back this past decade, to the start of my transition, the doubts were strong. But now I can see what I have achieved. Physically and mentally I am in the happiest place I have been. As each day passes, my confidence grows, and with it, strength to be who I really am, and that is a wonderful feeling. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change my journey, because changing that would change the essence of who I am. But perhaps some words of solace for the darkest of nights: You’re not weird, you’re not crazy, and these feelings, they won’t go away. Don’t listen to the people in your life that want to make you feel worthless. Don’t listen to the people who want to tell you who you should be. Listen to yourself. Only you know how you truly feel. And yes, at times it will be tough – out on that ledge, exposed to the world – but you need to be yourself. That is where your happiness is. You are better than you think you are. You are great, and people love you, for you.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Patrick White Playwrights’ Award 2016

...Thank you for applying for the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award 2016. We have now received your online application and script.

The judging panel will have selected the winner of the Award by May 2017, at which point we will advise you of the outcome of your entry.

Please note that the judges’ decision is final and no correspondence or discussion will be entered into. We also regret that we are unable to provide individual feedback to your submission...

Saturday, 1 October 2016

A fantasy novel I am working on...

Where dense forest joined water on the outskirts of Forest Blakt, I crouched. I stared unblinking out into the Waterfalls of Lake Neb, focused on any movement among the cascades. Lined with jagged rocks and algae that waggled beneath surging water, the Skyggen prince Azrayh stood motionless under the deluge, his lean and pale body almost luminescent under the glow of the moon. Frightened that any movement could scare away my prince, I watched him carefully, as I had since he’d surfaced when the sun disappeared beneath the horizon some hours ago. I’d been waiting for the young Skyggen to lift his head and take a breath, but Azrayh remained as he had, a drowned water statue.
‘Azrayh,’ I whispered finally, desperate for my lover’s return. Impossibly, he snapped to attention, his amber eyes finding mine in an instant. He dove into the water and surfaced just metres away. I could almost touch him. I edged closer but he stayed just out of reach, his wings slowly undulating the water, gazing vacantly at me. His eyes, once bright and filled with curiosity, were empty and hollow, devoid of the passion he’d once had. I could have sworn there was a faint blue tinge to his skin, he’d never been quite so pale, his scars transformed into translucent purple veins about his flesh.
Stepping into the muddied edges of the lake, viscous darkness engulfed my legs to the ridge of my black boots as I waded further into the water – closer to Azrayh. I reached out to collect him into my arms but he frowned and backed out of reach with a flick of his wings. In the water he was faster. He smiled at me, as if this was a game, lifting a svelte arm and holding it out for me.  I grasped it before he could change his mind. With a strength I had never imagined he dragged me down into the water, laughing as I was doused up to his chest, soaking my clothes through.

I threw my arms around his naked waist for an instant before recoiling so violently I smashed backwards into the surrounding banks of rock. His skin was ice cold, even in the tepid water. The void that embraced me when I held him was endless. Desperate I pressed my hand against his chest. ‘What’s happened to you?’ I withdrew. ‘How long have you been out here?’

‘Swim with me pretty,’ he cooed, ignoring my questions. ‘I will show you sights of this world unknown to the—’

‘Azrayh, do you know who I am?’ He wasn’t there.

He laughed delightedly and for a moment I allowed myself to indulge. That laugh. But it wasn’t him. He wasn’t there. ‘Of course I do… You are beautiful…’ He ran a finger down my cheek. I could see the green tinge of algae collected in his long nails, and he reeked of the depths, of coral and darkest caverns. All familiarity I once knew – gone. ‘I would show you a world that mirrors—’

‘Come with me!’ Angered at the unfairness of life, I hauled my lover from the water. 

Azrayh shrieked as he hit the rocky banks, water running in rivulets down his torn and scarred leathers – last remnants of the proud armour he’d once donned.

I collapsed next to him, my hand on the Skyggen’s chest holding him against his will, with strength and incantation. ‘Your heart is not yet cold,’ I warned. ‘You are not yet of the deep. Please fight it Azrayh. Please.’ The fear of losing my lover was too real.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

She'll kill me when she reads this...

My best friend is an avid gardener. In a few short years she’s turned a once barren backyard into a wonderland for native birds and insects. She is macabre with a penchant for gore and surgery and a love of nature and native propagation. She is androgynous with a shaved head and large green eyes. She has body piercings, scarification, and a pair of gargoyle wings tattooed on her back which she wants extended into a xenomorph tail down her legs. She has the chemical elements for psilocybin mushrooms and DMT tattooed on her neck but tells people who ask that they’re dopamine and serotonin. Other than this half-truth she is incapable of telling lies, shy, somewhat anxious (especially with phone calls), hates conflict, super intelligent, gentle, meticulous. She can’t make decisions and is often sad. She doesn’t like social gatherings, prefers to be alone or with close friends, loves to cook with fresh ingredients from her garden, and abhors clutter. Her home is minimalist – everything in it has purpose. If there is artwork it’s dissected bodies or true-to-life medical illustrations. She’s building an anatomically correct piƱata from skeleton up, to bash away personal demons, for an upcoming birthday. She works in an indigenous plant nursery and has plans to one day own her own business selling native plants, homemade food and handmade wares. She just needs to banish self-doubt to enable her plans to come to fruition. She has lots of acquaintances and few true friends, but those she has know her worth and adore her completely, even though sometimes she doesn’t have the confidence to see it herself. She’s spiritual and believes that this is only one of many lives lived.

Clues to her personality (some truth, some fiction):

1. Can’t lie but hates conflict – so when she tells people her half-truths about her neck tattoos, saying they’re ‘feel good’ elements, she can’t keep eye contact and fiddles with her lip piercings. She doesn’t trust that people will be reasonable with the truth.

2. Shy – She doesn’t like to meet new people. If there’s a stranger in the house she will linger in her bedroom until they go away.

3. Anxious – She will sit at her desk for half an hour staring at her phone in preparation to make a phone call.

4. Intelligent – Her words aren’t casual and every one is thought out and planned ahead. She lives in her head most of the time. She won’t casually respond to a question – her answers take time.

5. Gentle – She holds her budgerigars in her hand while they happily nibble on seed.

6. Meticulous – Everything in her house, bag, and mind, has a perfect place and a perfect order.

7. Sad – Her smiles are rare and take some effort to form.

8. Self-doubting – Compliments from others are often shrugged off, or excuses found to discount them.

9. Doesn’t like making decisions – She often becomes frustrated if she has to make a decision, something like what to order for dinner can have her in tears and without food.

10. Macabre – She rejoices while watching real-life TV shows about surgery.

My friend is meticulous (Latin meticulosus from metus ‘fear’. Is she afraid of what might go wrong if things aren’t so perfect?) In everything she does, she has an extreme attention to detail. She cares about the small things and getting things exactly right every single time and won’t stop until they are perfect. She thinks before she talks and creates structure, order and compliance. She is organised, graceful, hates making mistakes and writes lots and lots of lists. She needs space, quiet and sensitivity. I don’t know why she is like this but it’s helpful to me because she edits my work, organises our trips away, and cooks awesome meals. I think she likes to be in control. She doesn’t thrive on chaos, can barely function in it. When she is in my kitchen she gets frustrated because I don’t have the perfect tool for a certain requirement. I’m a ‘many uses for one thing’ person. Any cup will do for a measurement, if indeed I even measure. She needs precision. She likes to produce things of a high standard and as such she needs to be meticulous.


The child looked upon the needle in wide-eyed horror. Azha trapped his attention in her placid green eyes and only then was she was able to pick up the needle without him flinching away. It was a large needle – far better at closing wounds on a warrior, not a small child who’d fallen from a tree – but it would have to do, it was all she had.

‘Do you have any sister’s Tobin?’ She asked as her fingers deftly threaded the bone needle with a braided silk suture. Quietly she blessed the needle and pointed it east before shifting her attention to the boy. As she worked she hummed a barely audible enchantment that soothed Tobin’s mind and dulled his senses. His anxiety flittered away and Azha was able to stitch the wound closed. Drunkenly the boy blathered of his family and life in general until she had finished.

‘Done,’ she said simply. The boy’s mouth dropped open a little before he dared look at his arm. Where moments ago it had been a red raw gash now nine neat little stitches disguised the wound. His face changed in an instant. Forgotten were the moments of intense distress that had penetrated Azha’s afternoon nap. Forgotten were the streams of blood he’d thought he’d lost and never recover from. Now it was a warrior’s wound, one he’d survived, one none of his friends had… He beamed.

‘Thanks Healer Azha!’ He jumped up, restless to be back with his friends.

She flinched at the title he’d named her, but he was already off with barely a nod. The villagers had dubbed her their healer, and though she didn’t refute it, she disliked the dependence it gave them. They respected her for her knowledge of medicine but were wary of her solitary life and use of magic. Despite the fear, Tobin’s mother was sure to come by later to offer thanks. They were diligent with their thanks and continued to remind her of her worth to them. Azha would conveniently be out picking herbs or collecting water when they came by. A gift basket of dried meats and fresh fruit would be left on her porch as always. Many times the villagers had offered her services or insisted she allow an assistant into her home, but every time, she refused. She enjoyed things as they were, however hard chores were becoming.

Azha rose with a sigh and rinsed her hands and instruments in the stream. Cold water jarred her joints. The cramps were getting worse. How long until she could no longer wield a needle, plant a tree, hold a cup of tea? Banishing the thoughts she unfolded her instrument wrap and replaced the tools carefully into their assigned places to be sterilised later that evening.

She wandered home stopping to admire the seedlings that had sprouted in the recent rains. She discovered a cluster of rare purple herbs and breathed in deep the sedate mint aroma.

Her home was small and offered little in the way of creature comforts, but it offered all she needed. To a casual gaze it was invisible in a copse of fallen trunks and dense bush; spider webs lined the porch protecting her from negative energies.

A large black bird cawed at her from a tree top, its beady yellow eyes judging her for being away so long. ‘Oh shush Worm, it was hardly an hour!’ It cawed again and landed gracefully on her right shoulder, instantly fussing with her scarf to make more room for its oversized body. ‘You need to cut down on grubs.’ She said as it unhooked her scarf and pitched it to the ground. Worm croaked and looked away. Azha smiled and poked the bird playfully.