Category Archives: writing

Join my Patreon in August 2019 and get special rewards!

From 1 to 12 August 2019, I’m running a special offer for those joining my Patreon!

What is my Patreon?

At my Patreon, my supporters get sneak peeks of works in progress, cover reveals, research tips and writing tutorials! Some posts are provided a week ahead of my regular blog while others are exclusive to my supporters.

A key reward for my followers there are the Duo Ex Machina ebooks, but there are plenty more rewards depending on the support tier.

My supporters have already helped me to produce three novellas in the Duo Ex Machina series, with the fourth and fifth due for completion in 2020.

August Special Offers

  • Every new person who joins at the Class Act Level ($5/month) or above will get a free Scar Tissue and Other Stories ebook!
  • Everyone who joins at the Name that Tune Level ($10/month) and above will receive a cross-stitched bookmark, hand-made by me! Each bookmark is unique and relates to one of my stories.
  • Everyone who joins at the Booked Out Level ($20 in Australia; $25 everywhere else) will receive all current 2019 books, sent out over 2 months (ebooks by the end of September, paperbacks by the end of October).

New patrons will be charged up-front on the day you sign up – and have immediate access to three novellas to download and all the posts relevant to your tier!

Rewards will be fulfilled by the end of September 2019 (as I’ll be off in Dublin for WorldCon and travels in the UK from mid-August to early September).

For access to ebooks right through to tutorials, sneak peeks and other rewards – Become a Patron! from 1-12 August 2019.

My Melbourne: Saluting Cyril P Callister

Headstone for Cyril P Callister, plus a jar of Vegemite as tribute

In days gone by, I created an app all about the peculiarities of this city I love so much. Among the tributes to the strange and beloved was a post about that most Australian of foodstuffs – Vegemite.

Australians grow up on the stuff and think nothing of it, but migrants and visitors to our shores have to be taught how to enjoy Vegemite. Many never really manage it.

I used to suspect that Vegemite was concocted in some terrible laboratory accident, but it was in fact invented on purpose

Marmite is a whole other controversial foodstuff, also dividing folks into the ‘love/hate’ camps. Australia’s much saltier version came about because the exports of Marmite from Britain to Australia were limited as a result of attacks on ships during World War One. 

Our nation, swearing never again to be desperate for a yeast-extract spread, turned to Cyril Percy Callister. 

Cyril was born in Victoria and schooled in Ballarat. With his Masters of Science from Melbourne University and experience developing explosives for the Brits during The Great War, he invented a process from scratch using spent yeast from the Carlton and United Breweries. I’m not sure where the explosives expertise comes into it, but he scienced like anything and produced the goods!

Vegemite: The Final Product was released in 1923, although it didn’t become popular until the late 1920s.

Cyril also worked on cheese products for his employer, Fred Walker & Co Pty Ltd, which may explain why cheese and Vegemite work so well together – though most Australians prefer it thinly spread on hot, well-buttered toast.

Callister was super-smart and very savvy in the ways of food technology and was all round a pretty decent guy.

Cyril P. Callister passed away of a heart attack in 1949. He is buried in Box Hill Cemetery near the Middleborough Road end, in plot 14 of section 158. Pass by sometime and pay your respects from a grateful nation.

(The jar of Vegemite I left as tribute all those years ago is probably gone now, though.)

And if you’re a non-native and want some tips on how to eat Vegemite like a local, ask away!

Q&As from the Scar Tissue Launch

Narrelle M Harris Q&A

I recently held an online launch for my collection Scar Tissue and Other Stories. Part of the launch involved me answering questions, so I thought I’d share that Q&A here for anyone who missed it!

George asked: Will there be a third book for Gary and Lissa?

Yes there will! Once I’ve finished editing my latest Duo Ex Machina novella (which is being serialised on my Patreon) I’ll be writing the third book in the Vampires of Melbourne series!

Question as an image

The working title is “Beyond Redemption” and when it’s done, Clan Destine Press will be re-releasing The Opposite of Life (which is out of print, but I have the rights back for it now) and Walking Shadows with a matching set of covers!

Scar Tissue contains a story set after the end of Walking Shadows: “Bad Night at Bite Club”.

Margaret asked: Will there be more adventures in Australia for Holmes and Watson?

The Holmes and Watson from The Adventure of the Colonial Boy appear in the Scar Tissue story “The Beekeeper’s Children”. I would like to write a short story collection for them, but as a project that is at the back of the queue for now.

I am considering writing a modern Australian alternative universe series for them in my Patreon when the Duo Ex Machina novellas are finished next year, riffing off my short story from The Baker Street Irregulars: The Game is Afoot where are a pair of Aussie hipsters running, solving mysteries while they run a cafe called The Sign of Four. Does that count?

Sally F asked me if I ever put people I dislike into my books and then killed them off. 🙂

I never put people I dislike into my books. If I don’t like them, I don’t want to spend more time with them in my head if I can avoid it!

Instead, I put people I like into my books – sometimes just as a set of background characters, sometimes in minor roles, sometimes in more prominent roles. I do sometimes kill them off too, but usually I give them warning and make sure they’re okay with it.

My out of print Witch Honour and Witch Faith books have lead characters inspired by two close friends. (Sylvia and Leenan become their own people, but they have real people roots!)

A friend I worked with at World Vision was a dead body in The Opposite of Life. (She gave Enthusiastic Consent for that :D) Gary the Vampire is kind of based on every nice geekboy I’ve ever known.

Other people have been in the background (walking their dog on the beach; laughing together at a far table in a cafe; that sort of thing).

Maybe I should make it a Patreon Reward – to become a character in a story I’m writing.

Sally F also asked “Do you think you are on ASIO’s watch list from researching anything odd for your stories?”

My running joke is that ASIO keeps two lists: one of dodgy individuals with criminal leanings and writers. When they get a ping about someone researching murder, how to hide the bodies, explosives, detailed building layouts and schematics for aeroplanes and trains, they first check to see if the Googler is on the Author list (and maybe bookmark to see what novel results a year down the track).

I’ll be very disappointed if I’m not on the ASIO Writers to Watch For list purely on the strength of my research for crimes for Sherlock Holmes stories.

You know who is stalking me though? Google ads. And some of the ads that come up for me on the strength of writing some of my stories is HILARIOUS.

KRin asked “Has a story idea ever stopped you in your tracks and you had to write it down then and there?

The answer is “all the bloody time”. My phone is full of ideas and bits of prose and dialogue I’ve emailed to myself, and I always carry a notebook (or three) into which I scribble down ideas.

Because of course the time when I am most likely to come up with an interesting new concept or resolve a plot problem or think of some really sparky dialogue is when I’m walking or in the shower or in bed, rather than in front of the computer. So I leap up, scribble things down and hope it’s still legible when I got to type it up.

Robin asked “How do you dream up your characters?”

My characters come from a variety of sources, but a lot just seem to manifest themselves. I’m sure they spring from somewhere that I just haven’t worked out how to articulate.

Some of course are inspired by fictional characters, and very directly too – my versions of Holmes and Watson are obviously derived from Arthur Conan Doyle and have elements of the Granada Holmes & Watson too – but I’m often writing romances with them, so I try to work from the source material that I then extrapolate from to create the Victorian-era men in love, or the modern-era versions.

A few are inspired by people I know personally, though there it’s more that I might be inspired by a facet or two, rather than inserting them wholesale (see my answer to Sally’s question about putting people I know into my books.)

Some are inspired by other fictional characters I’ve liked (me and Lois McMaster Bujold both cherry picked some personalities from Blake’s 7).

Often, however, the concept that I want to explore in a story readily suggests the personality type that will be involved to help tell it, and the other kinds of characters they need around them to create balance, conflict and drama. The characters evolve within that context, so I may begin with particular “types” but then they grow.

When I was writing Kitty and Cadaver, I initially plotted about half of it then only sketched out the rest. I had to write the first half before completing the plotting – because I had to get to know everyone better before I knew how they’d respond to all their troubles. Once I knew who they were, it was easy to plot the rest of the book with each of them behaving in character.

KRin asked “What is your favourite colour?”

…which should be an easy one but it turns out, no. I will not make this easy.

I suppose the short answer might be ‘red’ but I like it in combination with black. and jade green. But I love that brilliant peacock blue too. Also rich purples.

I’m not a huge fan of yellows and oranges in my clothing because they make me look jaundiced, but a glorious buttercup yellow or bright burnt orange? Gorgeous.

I should have gone with the answer Janet MacLeod once gave: “My favourite colour is shiny!”

Robert asked “What’s your favourite story in the collection? Why?”

This could be like the ‘what’s your favourite colour’ question, or possibly make me howl DON’T MAKE ME CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSE.

I mean, I loved getting back to Gary the vampire for “Bad Night at Bite Club”, and it’s primed me for getting to work on the 3rd of the Vampires of Melbourne series. It made me happy to write Ravenfall‘s James and Gabriel again in “Shadow at my Shoulder” – I’d really like to write another novel with them some time.

I think of the long stories, maybe “The Beekeeper’s Children” is my favourite – Holmes and Watson (from The Adventure of the Colonial Boy) in a loving relationship, in retirement in Sussex – but Sherlock is off in danger, John is caring for the bees (and reading the oblique love notes Sherlock has left for him) and also caring for two young men who are negotiating love as well as trauma.

Of the super short stories I have a soft spot for “Long Live the King” because I feel Richard III has been given a rough deal by history, but my favourite is “Plot Bunny” because of the juxtaposition between the sweet little toy bunny and its murderous intent.

But otherwise, don’t make me choose – they are all my favourite.


Scar Tissue and Other Stories is available in paperback and ebook directly from the publisher, Clan Destine Press, as well as the usual online sellers: Amazon, Kobo, Booktopia etc.

My Library: New Acquisitions

3 books acquired for my research

I really need to stop buying books faster than I can read them.

*pause for mad laughter*

Yeah, we know that’s never going to happen. So while we’re recovering from our hysterical mirth, let’s have a look at three of my most recent acquisitions!

The Outcasts of Melbourne

ed. Graeme Davison, David Dunstan and Chris McConville

The Outcasts of Melbourne

In February, I attended the “Marvellous Smellbourne: early Melbourne’s noxious trades” talk at Docklands Library, presented by John Lack of the Docklands History Group. He spoke about the tanneries, abattoirs and glue factories that gave Melbourne its unflattering epithet, and how the city cleaned up its filthy air and waterways. He also spoke about this book, for which he’d written about the noxious trades.

I’m reading as much as I can about 19th century Melbourne, particularly about the working classes and the era’s social history as well as contemporaneous attitudes towards queerness (rather than what we *think* went on from a 21st century perspective).

The Outcasts of Melbourne offers insights on Chinatown, crime, poverty, disease and “low life” so it should be a rich source of period detail and plot ideas!

Inventing the Victorians

Matthew Sweet

Inventing the Victorians

I found out about this book during the recent broo-haha when author Naomi Wolf discovered she’d misinterpreted data about the death sentences for men convicted of homosexual sex in the 19th century. The radio host and author who highlighted the error live on air was Matthew Sweet, an expert in the era.

I’d been considering getting Wolf’s book, Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love , partly because its claims of the number of men executed for sodomy seemed at odds with some of my other reading (notably Graham Robb’s Strangers: Homosexual Love in the 19th Century).

I’ll still get Outrages in due course – a later edition with the corrections Wolf is said to be making, having found out that ‘Death recorded’ in the old records actually didn’t mean an execution took place. However, the whole thing introduced me to Matthew Sweet, so I’ve picked up his Inventing the Victorians to see what he has to say about what the Victorians were actually like instead of what we only *think* they were like. I’m looking forward to reading what the Literary Review says “overturns cliche after cliche”.

(One thing I keep discovering in my reading is that what people think the Victorians were like has a lot more to do with film and television and narrow interpretations through current social lenses than actual social history.)

Pages Passed from Hand to Hand: The Hidden Tradition of Homosexual Literature in English from 1748 to 1914

ed. Mark Mitchell and David Leavitt

Pages Passed from Hand to Hand

I don’t now recall where I read of this title, but it came up in relation to all the commentary on the Matthew Sweet/Naomi Wolf commentary.

Among the things that interest me (or agitates me) is how some people like to insist that if two men or two women in the historical past had an intense relationship that ‘they were just good friends and stop trying to make everything gay you’re spoiling it la la la la I can’t hear you!’. I mean. Maybe it was intense friendship and hello, maybe they were lovers negotiating their love in a difficult time when they couldn’t openly acknowledge it, and either is a reasonable view maybe, but statistically a good number of those relationships were in fact deeper bonds and all my reading suggests quite a lot of them were, in fact, and so shush now, and stop pretending gayness never existed before people started labelling it. Shush now.

Ahem.

Pages Passed from Hand to Hand is an anthology of stories published before E.M. Forster’s seminal Maurice that contains the rich coding by which queerness was explored, hinted at, subliminally supported or otherwise threaded into writing during periods where same-sex sexual practices (and by association, same-sex affections, desires and hopes for established relationships) were under the shadow of the law.

The anthology contains stories and extracts by Herman Melville, Ambrose Bierce, Henry James, Kenneth Grahame and many others.

If nothing else, I’ll know which tomes to put subtly into the hands of my 19th century queer characters – from my interpretations of Holmes and Watson to other inhabitants of my historical fiction.