Peter Carey Award!

WARNING: the following may contain excessive use of exclamation marks

Submitting to fiction competitions is a rollercoaster of rejection, revision, rejection and more revision. It’s hard to know if your work is enthusiastically received or read with a wince before hitting the delete button. So I was ecstatic to learn I had not one but two stories longlisted for the Peter Carey Short Story Award this year! (You were warned about the exclamation marks.)

Peter Carey’s work has had an enormous influence on my development as a writer. I read his book of collected stories twenty years ago and it transported me to worlds both eerie and familiar, each as fully realised as a novel but short enough to be experienced in a single sitting. At the time I was more interested in drawing and painting than writing, but Carey’s magic-realist and fantasy stories demonstrated the imaginative power of the written word. I decided to focus on writing and ended up landing a job as an advertising copywriter and later a journalist.

I went along to the ceremony at Bacchus Marsh library absolutely certain that I hadn’t won, because surely the winner would have been told in advance. Apparently not. The organisers knew I was coming and wanted to keep it a surprise. When my name came up, it was quite the shock! I was too busy looking after an 11-month old baby to hear the speech properly so asked the head judge, Anne Casey-Hardy, for a copy later.

Here it is:

Iso is an original story about something that affected the whole world. It is driven by a dark exhilarating energy towards a nightmare world where people turn into composites of human and non-human elements. The voice is confident, biting and funny, all the way through. The ultra-macho Virus-deniers are hilarious but they’re having a go, constantly reinventing ever more absurd ways to ‘win’. This is how they cope. Under all the humour lies a hard polished stone of desperation. The story amplifies the way we morphed into sub-humans through lack of contact and human connection. How we turned into couches and furniture, how we lost our minds.

Most of all I like the way this story just keeps rolling, unfaltering, staring down weakness and defiant to the last word. It’s visceral – the mould, bleach, deranged theories, being called a ‘skank’ by a group of beanbags. All the old rivalries, resentments, bitterness and delusions are stronger than the metamorphosis from fully human to remnant human. We are, at our core, our petty selves more than anything potentially heroic or insightful.I find this story masterful and uncompromising. It scores on brio, boldness and ambition, humour, derangement and pathos. It is never judgemental.

– Anne Casey-Hardy

(Anne’s book, Cautionary Tales for Excitable Girls, is exceptional by the way. It has exactly the kind of dark energy she describes above, with piercing insight into the world of teenage girls and just the right amount of strangeness. The world is recognisable but off-kilter, which makes it so unsettling. Worth picking up a copy if you haven’t read it.)

Anyway, no blog post about winning an award is complete without a giant novelty cheque, so here it is:

The whole experience left me buzzing for weeks. I spend my day job thinking about climate change and the extinction crisis, and sometimes it gets me down. As it should. I started writing weird/funny short stories as a kind of coping mechanism to keep me going – self-care through creativity. It’s vindicating to know someone else finds these stories entertaining too.

Now to spend the prize money on more books…


Aurealis #155

My short story ‘Shitmining’ was just published in Australian science fiction/fantasy magazine Aurealis. Buy a copy here.

In the beginning of the world, Pachacamac, the male child of the Sun and the Moon, created a man and a woman. But he did not supply them with food. As the man lay dying of starvation, the woman prayed to the Sun for help. In answer to the prayer, the Sun descended from the heavens, gave her relief, and impregnated her with his fertilising rays.
—Origin story of the Peruvian coast

I first see the island from the air, arriving the way the birds do. Ten thousand cormorants scatter to make room as our helicopter shudders in the ferocious winds and then perches on the uneven surface below. Even while I’m waiting for the blades to stop rotating and the dust to settle, my nostrils wrinkle up in disgust. So, the rumours about the awful smell are true.

The Body

Aurealis #147

My short story ‘The Body’ was just published in Australian science fiction/fantasy magazine Aurealis. Buy a copy here.

EXCERPT: Maybe he carried dodgy genes, whispered instructions to keep eating and storing energy, or maybe the boys in town were right and he was just a lazy shit. Other kids would strip to their undies and jump off the big pier in summer, or wake up early in winter and crack the frosty grass with their footy boots, but he’d stay in bed most weekends, immersed in worlds far away. Books were a refuge from the taunts. Max tried to join them one Saturday morning, rocking up in new cricket whites for the C-grade comp at the reserve oval, the one near the roundabout. He was tremendously tall and the cricket bat looked like a toy in his hands. The boys snickered but put him third in the batting order, which should have been a warning sign. Once at the crease the onslaught began, his own teammates howling with laughter from the boundary line. The opposition had a great time, bowling bouncers at such a big, soft target. He watched as the Body absorbed each red-leather punch, learning to sever himself from this ugly thing that carried around his Mind.


Overland Literary Journal

I don’t make the doors. I just fix them.

People always think there’s a special trick to it, some training I’ve done. When they ask, I smile but don’t give too much away. Part of the job is being mysterious. Clients expect it. You’ve got a door doing weird shit, you don’t call a repairman expecting him to be normal.

But truth is, there’s nothing special about me or my tools. I just wait until the clients are out of the room, pretending like I need the time alone to do something spooky. Then I get out my tiny old-fashioned oiling can with the long metal nozzle. (It has to have a long metal nozzle.) I hop up on my stepladder, lube the hinges, stop the creaking. That’s it really. Door works normal after that.

People got their theories. Wormholes, rips in the fabric of space-time. They talk about doorways as portals. I don’t go for that fancy thinking. I reckon it’s just a case of poor maintenance. You don’t maintain your doors, they’re not gonna take you where they should, are they? No wonder these blokes are stepping through to the wrong place. What did they think was going to happen? But it’s the kind of common sense that ain’t so common anymore so I keep my mouth shut.

Ask Bernard

Aurealis #144

My short story ‘Ask Bernard’ was published in issue #144 of Aurealis, Australia’s longest-running speculative fiction magazine. Get a copy here >>

EXCERPT: Alternative: I should have used my special power to become a Great Man, a world leader, rather than just the undisputed quiz champion of the Anglosphere. Emotion associated with wishing one had made different choices? Six letters, begins with R.

My fellow patients will never understand this, of course. Frank there does little more than drool: long pendulums of it swing from his lips to the carpet. And he’s the second youngest, after me. The rest are simply too bewildered with old age to listen.

Only on the page can I maintain my credibility. The nurses say my speech is now punctuated with long lapses. But in my memoirs the pauses are edited out and I am once again myself. Correction: once again the man I was.

At first they gave me the Pitying Scowl, mouth only slightly turned down. The 43- year-old, so young, stuck among the fogies. But as I have refused their version of events, the nurses and doctors have rearranged their faces into the Irritated Scowl. Alternative: the Exasperated Scowl. Yes, that’s it: pursed lips and a sigh through the nose.

I’ve explained, again and again, how as a boy I discovered the ability to freeze time—an unconvincing term, but there is none better—and rummage through my mind for answers. Actually, in the beginning it was insults, as we boys competed to offend each other with the sharpest (and most juvenile) one-liners…

Cloud Brawls

Big Issue Fiction Edition 2019

This short story was first published in The Big Issue Annual Fiction Edition 2019, one of nine stories picked from 424 submissions.


KEN SPITS OVER the barbed wire to the other side – one more drop for the thieving bastards next door. He feels the strong south-easterly as a push in the back. It pushes him towards the fence and it pushes the rainclouds further north, drumming life into someone else’s soil.

They’d known. He spits again. They’d known exactly when this was coming.

Driving out, he’d seen their planes buzzing overhead. The gall of it. His airspace, but the clouds seeded downwind and the rain missed his own parched paddocks by a few hundred metres.

He turns and crunches across the cracked clay to his ute. He slams the door and drives fast, curses souring in his cheeks. It was no use complaining. He and Linda had passed up their chance for a permit when the price was low, gambling on nature to fill their dams. Through the window he can see the bluff, jutting into the sky like the end of a ramp. The cool change whooshes up the other side and lobs right over the top of his land. The summer storm season was nearly finished, and all they’d gotten were buckets of humidity.

Back at home he stomps his boots on the doormat but there’s no mud to dislodge, only little eddies of dust.

“Well?” says Linda, as the screen door clatters behind him. “Anything?”

“Nup. Fell on the MacArthur’s place again.” He sighs. “Might be time to give in, buy some clouds ourselves.”

He hears the rattle of a cake tin. Her head appears round the kitchen doorway, flour on one cheek.

“You sure?”

“No harm asking the price.”

“No harm,” she agrees.

A pleasant day at the zoo

Veranda 25 Deakin University
Veranda 25 Deakin University

STEVE looked up from the dinner table to see a panda standing in front of him. It was his wife, Margaret. She had synthetic fur – black for her paws and hind legs and white for her belly – up to her neck. Above that was her face, red and sweaty from wearing the costume all day. Under her arm was the panda’s head, its eyes rimmed by inky bruises, the pupils plastic but somehow alive.

Steve stared at his wife, speechless. He was surprised because she usually came home dressed as the arse-end of a hippo.

‘Cutbacks,’ she explained. ‘A hippo requires two actors to look convincing. A panda, just one. Guess the zoo went with the cheaper option.’

The woman I remember

Visible Ink

AFTER passing through throngs of poor Chinese outside the station and negotiating queues of rich Chinese in the ticket hall, you and I finally make it onto the train platform, which is crowded with both groups. Men, women and children are packed so tightly together they have become one seething mass of human flesh.

I imagine this entity as a person who is both male and female, old and young. The person is wearing a rich man’s jacket and a schoolgirl’s dress. Begrimed beggar’s fingers protrude from sleeves adorned with gold cufflinks. One of the person’s thighs is brown and cracked, desiccated like a dried-up riverbed, and the other is milky-white and youthful. The person’s skin is wrinkled under the chin and taut on the cheeks.

A train screeches into the station. We become swept up in the tide of bodies clambering for the carriage door. Somehow, we keep our heads above the surface of jostling shoulders, paddle past the flailing limbs and make it onto the train without being crushed alive.

I look at your shocked expression and know what you’re thinking. I had the same thought the first time I found myself part of a desperate mob in China. How can there be this many arms and legs in the one place? This many kicking feet, jabbing elbows and clawing hands?

As we fight our way to the dining carriage I note that you have not yet complained about the constant shoving. I broach the subject, almost apologising on China’s behalf. Rudeness is a necessity here, I explain. With so many people competing for so few resources, one needs to be pushy to survive. Politeness is a luxury enjoyed in rich and roomy nations.

A boy scampers past carrying a bowl of steaming noodles. Suddenly he slips, sending pasta tendrils snaking across the linoleum floor. From the volume of his crying, I assume he won’t be getting another bowl tonight. I know that you have a spare noodle packet and, given the circumstances, I expect you to hand it to him. Instead, your head morphs into a carnival clown’s and the carriage booms with cackling.

That was an extract from the full story, available here.

The language epidemic

Page Seventeen

‘THIS burger is scrumptious Dad.’

At the time I didn’t really know what the words meant or what the repercussions were. But Dad did. He bolted upright, dragged me to the sink, scrubbed my mouth with soap and water and then picked up the phone.

‘Boy’s sick.’


‘Take look.’


Dad slammed the receiver and turned to face me.

‘Shut it,’ he said.