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Or, how a friendly enquiry elicited a long rant about how “Painted Ocean” came to be and how it found a happy home with Aurealis, Australia’s premier fantasy and science fiction magazine.

“Painted Ocean” will be published in April 2018, issue #109

Waaay back when in the early years of the 21st century – 2002 to be exact – I was lucky enough to join a brilliant group of writers at Clarion West in Seattle. It was six weeks of SF&F writing bootcamp and without a doubt some of the best weeks my life.

For one of those weeks, we were privileged to have Joe and Gay Haldeman as our mentors. Gay is kind, practical and supportive with loads of solid advice; Joe, on the other hand, pinned us with a soldier’s eye that suggested not many of us would survive the coming wars.  When it came to his turn to speak, he  said something along the lines of “…you have to write something hard.”

I knew that he wasn’t referring to “hard” Science Fiction — I understood his meaning:  write outside your comfort zone, kids, challenge yourself. Make the hard choice.

With “Painted Ocean” in that, at least, I failed.  Completely. I’m an environmentalist, a humanist, a techie, a nerd — I wrote about AI, VR, weather control and people surviving because when challenged by impossible odds, it is the nature of humans to find strength and spirit that they never knew they had.

Those are my stories and I wrote another one.

What was hard is that in this story, I wrote my father’s death.


Dad had already been dead seven years by 2002.  I was in my late thirties by that point and I still didn’t understand that I needed to accept that he was gone. Perhaps I still believed that if anyone was going to live forever, it would be my father and so, I created a whole world for him…and accepted that he was not always right, that he made mistakes and that he was a bit badass too.

As it happens, the hero of my story is a woman but dad was a lover of women and a hero too, so in death they got to be one and the same. He would have liked that. Also, in VR they get to live forever.

Now, if my beloved and very forgiving mother – who is going strong and still mighty at ninety – is reading this, I’m sorry. I know you’d be appalled at the idea of being uploaded to your nemesis; the ubiquitous computer! Despite this, there’s no doubt that Annie Janssen gets her courage from you.

And “Painted Ocean is also about redemption and self-discovery. It is powerfully underpinned by my crazy love for Coleridge and, in particular, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  I am a sailor – we spent over fifteen years living onboard a sailing yacht and though I’m no longer onboard my boat, if I close my eyes, I can feel the deck shifting beneath my feet.  So, in so many ways, Theodore Janssen is me too but then, I’m a lot like my father.

This story is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, coffee, etc. I am unapologetic in my self-indulgence. Which is why I love this story and I’m so very, very thrilled that Aurealis’ fabulous and notoriously hard-to-please editors liked it too.  As it happens, Aurealis also published my first ever submitted story, “Exhalation” back in 2000 – the story that I used with my submission and which helped me gain a place in Clarion West. There’s some nice synchronicity in there, if you look hard enough.

Finally, of course, I’m thrilled to be published and I was bubbling over to someone recently who asked, quite reasonably, “so, what’s this story actually about?”  I started to enthusiastically and breathlessly with one long brain dump and no punctuation to explain (and my dear, forgiving friends will know exactly what I mean), that there are two elderly protagonists and an evolving AI that’s gone feral and the only way the heroes can save the world is through a virtual reality interface that interacts with this world to control the weather that is now controlled by a corporate body because the creator went public against his wife’s wishes and then dies but now the AI has realised that the biggest problem with the planet is people and it has the means by which to get rid of them so Gaia executes a corporate takeover but our elderly heroes reconcile and migrate their consciousness to the platform and so save the day.

Then I thought, fuck it, I’ll do a video.