story, science, technology and creativity

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Ride on the yokai train? I’d be too scared!

Ride the “Transforming Train”

To Yokai Street!

The awesome artwork on the left is part of a promo for the Bake-den, a train service in Kyoto that occasionally features some spooky Japanese monsters, or yokai.

Bakeru is a verb meaning  “to transform” (pronounced BA as in BARber;  KE as in KEttle, and RU as in RUde), and while the bake-den might look like an ordinary train, it’s not!

Sometimes the train transforms into the Yokai Train,  and in this case the yokai aren’t content to stay as pictures on the outside of the train: they manifest and ride the train (and no surprises there, because while adults have to pay 200 yen for their ticket, and kids ride half price, yokai only have to pay 50 yen, so why would they walk?).

The whole train is lit in eerie blue, hands hang from the roof, actors dressed as monsters board the train and sit next to human passengers. It sounds great, except YOU CAN’T GET OFF THE TRAIN the instant you get scared. That, for me, makes it way too scary.

I’m not sure how I feel about the yokai train: it’s a cool idea, but in some of the YouTube footage the kids are REALLY REALLY scared and very unhappy (“iya” = disgusting; “kowai” = scary; “da-me” = bad)(this short video gives you an idea without being too harrowing), and I think that’s overstepping the mark. Ghost stories should be fun, not leave you with psycological damage.

The best thing about reading a scary story is that you can always close the book, and the scariness stops. I hate the idea of being scared and not being able to make the scariness go away. (I don’t watch scary movies and I *hate* Horror Houses and that kind of thing)(ergh).

Anyway, the train gives you an idea of how popular yokai are in Japan. The yokai on the train are inspired by the Ge-Ge-Ge no Kitaro manga series, created by the amazing and prolific Shigeru Mizuki.

And I guess my response gives you an insight into me: I’m a scaredy cat! I don’t like being scared and I think stories should be exciting and thrilling and leave you hanging on the edge of your seat, not leave you with nightmares.

Especially for childrens books. I prefer scary stories that EMPOWER the kids who read them, not leave them quaking.


First review is up!

The first review of Takeshita Demons is up on Amazon. It’s utterly terrifying to think that people who aren’t my mother or my editor or a select panel of competition judges are reading something I have written. For the first time my fiction is Out There and Public and Fair Game. Yikes.

I don’t know how celebrities do it. I would find it way too stressful to see myself in a zillion magazines and have to wear a disguise when leaving the house, and then have to wake up every morning and wonder: Did they spot me yesterday? What are they saying about me today?

Luckily, I’m not a celebrity and I’m not in any magazines (yet! ;-)). Even so, it’s scary. I know that not everyone will like what I’ve written and sometimes that will be because they don’t enjoy children’s books, period. Other times I guess it will be because they just don’t like what I’ve written. Yikes. I’m certainly feeling very vulnerable. Nevertheless, my plan is as follows:

I hope I survive this first book. I like calling myself a writer and I love creating characters and stories. Hopefully my skin is thick enough to breeze over any bad reviews and be boosted by good reviews (thanks bubblefish777).

Hopefully I can be bull-headed enough to Keep Calm and Carry On. And super-hopefully, kids will love reading Takeshita Demons and it will encourage even reluctant readers to get their nose into a good book!

Now, where did I leave my dark glasses and moustache?

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Editing your own work is like diagnosing your own heart disease

In this week’s post I’m probably going to include more mixed metaphors and cringing clichés than a pig has had hot dinners: I’ve spent most of the week editing Forests and Filth Lickers (we’re about 2/3 through the first draft!) and I just can’t be bothered editing anything else. Apologies in advance. At the end of the day, to be honest, you’re just going to have to grin and bear it.


If you’d like to see a truly great post on editing, check out Allison Winn Scotch’s What Exactly Does an Editor Do. She nails it. Because sometimes your own surgery just isn’t enough to save a manuscript. Sometimes you need an all-new surgeon. Practicing all-new techniques. The kind you wouldn’t practice on your own manuscript because they’re just too risky and you might throw the baby out with the bathwater. But at the end of the day, the baby learns to swim, and that’s what it’s all about, don’t you think? Ah, just read Alison’s post. You’ll get what I’m trying to say.


Luckily, in these early stages of Forests and Filth Lickers, things are mostly going well. Of course, when I’m in the early stages of writing, I almost always think things are going well…it’s only when I’m mostly finished than I can see gaping wounds or missing organs. In this sense, editing your own work is like diagnosing your own heart disease: by the time you know you’ve got a problem, it’s serious life-and-death and only by applying a thousand volts of electricity in just the right place and at just the right time will you ever find out which.


The draft has moved ahead leaps and bounds thanks to some tricksy editing moves. If we speak (metaphorically, of course) in terms of kitchens, this week I’ve constructed some new cupboard doors and polished up a shiny new fridge. I’ve not had to do any kitchen sink transplants or wall-rippings-out. Hopefully, I can build a kitchen that’s so good all it needs is a bit of paint and the gas switched on. (When I’m not writing or juggling Fergus, I’m house hunting, can you tell?) Sometimes I’m able to do this, and other times I’m so in love with what I’ve written that I can’t see the blockages need more than just plumbing: they need demolition and/or renovating.

So yeah.

A great editor doesn’t faff around with the nuts and bolts of commas and colons; you should have faffed those into shape long before your manuscript goes near an editor. A great editor steers the entire ship into bluer waters. Only sometimes you’re so intent on your original route you can’t see the wood for the trees and you resist. And, at the end of the day, the manuscript suffers.

So hats off to Allison for making me realize: I can fiddle with the metaphors and fix the clichés in my work. But I’m going to need someone with fresh eyes and a good dollop of genius to read through and offer suggestions. And, of course, I reserve the right to wave off those suggestions as trollop for at least the first week. And, doubly of course, I reserve the right to embrace them thoroughly once I have mourned the death of the original idea.

And PS:

If anyone’s selling a solid house with a nice yard close to the city, wave your flag in our direction!

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The struggle to juggle; the joy of letting go

I was never turned on by recipes and shining bathrooms.

Dishes were washed once a day, clothes about once a week. I unearthed the vacuum cleaner at most twice a year. When bored of cooking the stand-by spaghetti bolognaise, I’d toast a cheese sandwich or eat out. I was too busy to feign interest, too interested in other things. I was focused on drafting queries, selling articles, going diving or mountain biking or planning trips… I wondered how other people could be so interested in cook books and tupperware.

But oh, how the un-housewife-ly have mutated.

Farewell to the otherly me

I am now a stay-at-home mum. I am stripped of many of the things I used to care about (work deadlines, work politics, work earnings, work) and must fill my days with something else.

Of course Fergus is a big (and delightful)(and gifted and talented)(and did I mention lovely?) part of that something else. But in the hours when he’s playing, it’s easier to be hovering and hoovering than furthering the strategic planning of my business empire.

I’m not moaning about staying at home. It’s an enormous privilege to be here to see Fergus smile and struggle and spew and grin. But I do lament the loss of the otherly me, the me who worked hard at school and university to create a career I loved, the me who was good at her job.

My (short-lived) valiant attempt: Super-Mum

For the last couple of weeks, since arriving back in Australia, I’ve felt the loss of this otherly me quiet keenly. I guess I half-expected life would return to ‘normal’ now we’re not jet-setting around the world on a never-ending honeymoon.

But there is no normal now. Fergus is rubbish at mountain biking and scuba diving and he’s certainly not conducive to the completion of any task requiring more than 45 minutes of my undivided attention.

For a while I tried to deny the change. I tortured myself trying to juggle my old life and my new life and I got more and more tense and felt more and more boxed in. It really wasn’t working. (I scored “8” on the post-natal depression questionnaire and was too scared to ask “out of what?”)

So this week I’ve given up.

Choosing to drop the ball

This week, I’ve ditched all thought of returning to work or spruiking for freelance contracts and instead I’ve embraced Being A Mum. I decided not to feel guilty that I was staying home and not contributing to the household income and not growing my career. Instead I took Fergus to Rhyme Time at the local library and we sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with all the actions. And I vacuumed the house. And today I actually opened a recipe book AND cooked something from a recipe!!!

And you know what?

It tasted good! All of it. Fergus loves Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The house looks great without dog hair everywhere. And although I won’t cook chicken broccoli casserole again (perhaps a little bland), it was kind of fun to prepare and I felt kind of proud to serve it up to my in-laws (who thought it was very good :-)).

So now I’m beginning to understand why people take so much care in their cooking and pride in their homes. It’s not scuba diving or mountain biking, but it is fun and delicious and satisfying. And, lucky for me, most of it takes less than 45 minutes of undivided attention 🙂

And the funny thing is, now that I’m not stressing about how to fit so much in, I seem to have more time. Hopefully, all going to strategic-business-plan, I should begin a weekly Fergus-free writing slot, starting next week (no really! starting Tuesday, I promise!). I’ll miss Fergus for the few hours that I’m neck-deep in words and plots and imaginary adventures, but all that stuff is a part of the otherly me that is too precious to give up completely (and plus I really need to get a move on with the next Takeshita Demons book!).

I bite my thumb at physics

And as a final thought: it’s a real bummer that women have to choose between family and career, it’s really rotten and a mean trick. I know there are other ways and exceptions and all that, but for the most part “1” (family) + “1” (career) just cannot equal “2”.  Bollocks to you, physics!