The Virus Diaries: The Floating City

March 29, 2020 at 6:42 pm (Fully Sick, general life, Interactive Fiction, Mum Stuff, My Novels, Slow Writing)

Today is Sunday, which means I get to (mostly) ignore the kids and (theoretically) focus on my writing. I did have a reasonably good day yesterday: I was too tired to do much of anything until the kids were asleep, but then I finished expanding Chapter 11, including adding a section on future quarantine methods (someone from another city is visiting the main city, so he has to have blood, saliva and mucus samples taken, and have a chemical bath, and have his movements tracked for six weeks via his wrist computer). It’s a minor section, but of course I think it’s super cool that my vision of the future has learned a major lesson from COVID-19.

Zipper remains unimpressed.

A long, long time ago, when TJ looked like this…

… I had an idea for a story set in a floating city after the ice caps have melted. The idea bubbled away for years as I worked on other things. I’d always think of it when I went swimming, because of course the population of a floating city would be amazing swimmers (and because swimming laps is not exactly mentally taxing, so it’s an excellent time for random pondering).

I began properly researching for “The Floating City” in very early 2017. Inspired by Trump, I wanted to write some disabled characters (since he was being horrid to disabled citizens, among others). I was generally aware that there are more disabled people in the world than in fiction, so I thought it’d be good to change that balance a little. I was also aware that I knew very little and would need to go to some extra effort to make sure my representation of disabled characters did more good than harm.

I was originally going to have the reader choose whether they were mute, a double amputee, or phobic of deep water. The main issue with that is that the nature of ChoiceScript games is that choices should for the most part be very balanced. So having such a choice implied that those three options were all equally difficult. I couldn’t say whether they are or aren’t, but that just makes it even worse.

I’m fascinated by languages (I actually studied linguistics at uni, although not as a major) so of course the many sign languages in the world are very interesting (things like facial expression or the expansiveness of a gesture showing “tone”, and variations from place to place). Like most people, I’m aware that some Deaf people will elect to NOT get their hearing “fixed” given the option, because there is a whole Deaf subculture that is more important to some people than the ability to hear (the rough unpleasant sound of electronic “hearing” is definitely a factor too). I also liked the idea of a floating city made of glass spheres that people both lived in and travelled through. I imagined there might be sealed hatches that took an annoying few seconds to open. So I figured some basic sign language would be handy for people to communicate through glass, and I invented “Tapping” which is handy for those awkward minutes talking through glass, as well as giving people the option of tapping directly onto a person for a kind of “whisper” effect. Therefore, my floating city had a normal sign language dialect plus Tapping.

And, with Tapping being universally spoken, people would be more open to learning a few regular signs as well, if only to make those through-glass (or underwater) conversations more satisfying. I didn’t think that would be enough to actually have a fully bilingual city, so I made up something else: around a third of the population is Hard of Hearing or Deaf (a rather limited population pool brings out recessive genes).

With all that background, it was natural for most denizens of Kota Perahu to speak both sign language and Tapping. Which of course means being Deaf or Hard of Hearing is no longer a disability there, much as being very shortsighted is not a disability for me, since I can wear glasses.

I really liked the idea of a story showing by its world-building that it’s society rather than physical impairment that makes life difficult for disabled people.

I also really like the fact that certain disabled athletes are literally better than their able-bodied equivalents, because prosthetic technology is really cool. Someone I used to babysit works in the field of making cheap prosthetics for third world countries. People are 3D printing bright pink glittery arms, and tentacles (why not?) and water pistol arms. Kids are designing their own prosthetic limbs for fun.

So of course a person on a floating island could, hypothetically, become a real-life mermaid.

They’d need to be a double above-knee amputee for maximum movement, which would require considerable tech to overcome. But… a real tail? I couldn’t give up the idea.

So I badly wanted at least one profoundly Deaf major character, and a double above-knee amputee for the main character (so readers could ‘experience’ swimming with a real tail).

And that is how the story ended up, disability-wise. But I didn’t expect my research to have such a profound effect on my own family.

Chris has innattentive ADD. If you’ve ever met him you’ll notice he’s not hyperactive. Like… not at ALL. If he was any more laid back he’d stop breathing. But I knew there was a genetic element (apart from anything else, his dad also has ADD) so for the first two years of Lousiette’s life, she didn’t watch TV. That’s recommended for preventing or lessening ADD. This is an epic achievement, and all the more so when you consider how much screen time my kids get nowadays (… all of it).

Louisette as a baby.


I also watched her behaviour, and I noticed that actually she had amazing focus, even as an infant. She was, I thought, basically the opposite of someone with ADD.

But then when I was chatting to people about disabilities, someone mentioned “hyperfocus” as a symptom of ADD. The word alone was enough to stop me in my tracks. As the name implies, people with ADD are super duper focused on certain things, to the exclusion of the rest of the world. Just like… Louisette.

She was about to start Kindy, so I did some more research and was able to let her teacher know that we suspected she also had innattentive ADD. Twelve months later, it had been overwhelmingly confirmed and she started taking Ritalin at the relatively early age of 6. (Let’s not get into talking about Ritalin here. ADHD is both over- and under-diagnosed and plenty of people mistakenly believe it’s not a real condition or that it’s due to bad parenting and/or have legitimate concerns about Ritalin as it’s a very powerful drug. Yes, I know.)

At this stage—in 2017 I’d been too sick to work for two years, although I didn’t have the fibromyalgia diagnosis for another three years—it also slowly dawned on me that *I* was disabled.

Now obviously chronic illness and disability are technically different things. But there is a whole disabled community, and I’m in it. From that point onwards I grew used to the idea of calling myself “disabled” (It’s been five years now since I was able to do normal work, and it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever recover). Sure I’m not paralysed (as we always think of when someone says “disabled”). That doesn’t make me able-bodied.

So here I am. Disabled. Connected to others, and experiencing a lot of what other disabled people experience. I applied for a disability parking permit back in 2018 or so, which is SO GOOD and helps me to still be able to do some basic stuff like dropping the kids at school. This year I applied for the disability support pension, and that’s basically the bright shining light at the end of the tunnel of financial failure that is my life. I hope it’s not a train.

Ah, we were all so cute back then.



As part of the writing process, I tried to imagine how the current world could plausibly end up looking like the world of The Floating City, especially since the titular floating city was mostly made up of Indonesian refugees (that’s never actually mentioned in the story, although it’s mentioned that most Kota Perahu people have brown skin and most of those living in the underground city of New Sydney are pale).

So I decided that a world that had experienced the stupidity and racism of Trump might have a massive swing in the opposite direction, and briefly face the very real problem of Climate Change—and the immense numbers of climate refugees—head on, prioritising compassion, scientific innovation, and long-term thinking. Including massive investments of capital.

So in my version of the future, there is the invention of Glass, which is stronger than regular glass and also acts as a solar panel and a computer screen. The whole city is made of it.

And Australia builds Kota Perahu, and populates it with a balance of skills, prioritising refugees (or those who are in danger of becoming refugees eg those from the Maldives) but sprinkling in others as well. It is well built, sustainable, and fundamentally independent. It has certain regions that it travels through over the course of a year, trading along the way. It is very difficult to gain citizenship, which is darkly amusing when the ice caps finish melting and several major cities (including Sydney) are largely destroyed, making ‘rich’ refugees beg for entry to Kota Perahu. (That doesn’t actually enter in to the final story, but it would definitely have happened in their past.)

Other floating cities are built around the world. Some are done properly, and some are thrown together cheaply or in a hurry. Some thrive, and some are effectively new third world countries.

Here’s an image I’ve bought off Shutterstock for the cover:

Life settles into a new normal in which a lot of animal species have died out, others have adapted, and the chips have fallen into their new pattern. Australia has a new inland sea (never mentioned in the tale, although there’s a floating city there too), there are several major underground cities, and there are a lot more deserts.

And that’s where the story takes place, from the perspective of someone who’s grown up in a rather nice floating city and feels sorry for anyone who hasn’t. And their generation can spend a much longer time underwater than ours (based on a few people groups with amazing skills that exist today).

So. That’s pretty much the deal with The Floating City. I quite often write the first 50,000 words of a book in 4-6 weeks. This one IS technically finished (still editing) and it’s over 100,000 words… but it’s by far the book that’s taken me the longest to write. I don’t fully know why. Maybe because it’s scifi (just barely) rather than fantasy? Or because I knew I needed to research and really think about what I was writing? Maybe because this marks a shift in my writing (it does: my mojo is incredibly weak right now)?

I’m nearly there. Nearly. And I’ll be doing some more tonight. There are five versions of Chapter 12 (the climactic chapter) so it’ll be hard to stay enthusiastic all the way through, but I’m determined to do a good job.

An image for the icon when it’s on sale:

Like all my other ChoiceScript tales, it’ll be a Hosted Game released by Choice of Games.


Resource of the day: Check out all the Hosted Games by Choice of Games here. There are a lot of beauties there (including several that I’m involved in, the most recent of which is the cozy crime tale Death at the Rectory available on pretty much any device). They are a very easy entry into interactive fiction, and super fun.

Recommended donation of the day: Here’s a Tasmanian artist who can post stuff to you.

Recommended personal action of the day: Go for a walk.

Recommended hoarding item of the day: Chalk. There’s so much cool chalk art in people’s driveways right now!


Permalink Leave a Comment


August 31, 2015 at 8:18 pm (Interactive Fiction, Love and CJ, Slow Writing, Writing Ranting)

I love deadlines.

That’s not sarcasm. The writing life consists largely of sitting alone in a room (or worse, sitting in the same room as young kids who I desperately hope are sufficiently distracted by the blaring TV) scowling at a screen as I invent worlds and people that absolutely no-one cares about except myself. Deadlines give me a sense of urgency and excitement that is sometimes sorely lacking. When a deadline is approaching I feel stressed, but (unless something else comes up and sends me hurtling over the edge) it also gives the sense that someone is waiting for that piece of writing – and that it matters.

Whether writing “matters” or not is a can of snakes that I won’t get into today. But, I do like deadlines.

At the moment I have four and a half deadlines coming up in the next month. Wheeeee!

One is for a novel submission that I promised someone I’d send in September (ish); two are for interactive fiction contests that are ending soon; and the other one and a half are for collaborative interactive fiction pieces (one of which I’m running, and the other of which I’m mostly acting as cheerleader while also writing a significant section).

Before I stumbled across the glorious cornucopia of interactive fiction (think “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories but better), I was going to make 2015 the year that I wrote a novel slowly. It would be an experiment in writing against my usual nature, and perhaps discovering that my writing was much better if I was less manic about it. Then I found interactive fiction, and by the end of September my total IF word count will be around the 150,000 mark (two large pieces, two medium, and two collaborations). So I’m not exactly writing slowly, particularly since that’s roughly three times my usual annual output.

A funny side effect happened due to the fact that when Choice of Games – absolutely my favourite IF engine and company (and they pay well too) – is considering taking on a project for its premier label, they require a detailed outline first. Those outlines always run over 5000 words, including loads of choices and their consequences. To put that in perspective, the last book I wrote was based on a story told to me by my then 2-year old. I did some googling, scrawled a map and a chapter outline (maybe 200 words) and was writing the book within three days. I finished it a few weeks later.

But the interactive piece I’m working on most at the moment – a fantastical pirate adventure called SCARLET SAILS – has a proper Choice of Games outline. And because I was waiting to hear back about a different project, I had to let it sit for a long time – which also meant I could discuss the basic plot with some intelligent people and discover major plot issues BEFORE I’d written a 50,000-word novel. So interactive fiction distracted me from slow writing, then brought me back to it.

The other interesting side effect of IF is that suddenly I’m collaborating. I’ve done that exactly once before, when I wrote a one-page play in high school. It barely counts as collaborating, since my (undying, I’m sure) prose wasn’t edited in any way except by the nature of performance. (I do remember one friend saying, “So I’m playing God? Mm’kay.” which was most definitely a positive comment on my casting choices.) I write because I LIKE sitting alone in a room inventing worlds and people out of nothing… and I like being the international expert and ultimate authority on every single aspect of my work. Like my actor friend, what I really want is God-like powers and unquestioning obedience.

But I also love a deadline. (I may have mentioned that.) So when someone on the IF forums at Choice of Games suggested some kind of game-writing jam, I leapt at the chance. I specifically said that I thought collaborations were a bad idea, and so naturally a few days after that I volunteered to lead what ended up being a cheesy 50s-style space adventure collaboration (and then someone asked me to whip their multi-genre bookshop collaboration into shape, and I gleefully did so).

And it is so. much. fun. It helps that everyone involved seems to have figured out that I will work very very hard to earn ultimate power, and so they say things like, “Go ahead and edit my bit however you like” which I’m pretty sure means I just became a benevolent dictator (and I LOVE it).

I will of course post an easy-to-play link here when the game is ready. It’s turning out surprisingly well (and the editor is fantastic). But here’s the front cover just to tease you.


Credit for the space background:

Permalink Leave a Comment

Interactive Fiction: My Shiny New Obsession

June 26, 2015 at 2:16 pm (Advanced/Publication, Interactive Fiction, My Novels, Rahana Stories, Slow Writing, Well written)

If you’ve set eyes on me for more than thirty seconds at any point this year, you know all about my shiny new obsession: interactive fiction. It’s the digital form of “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels.

As of seven minutes ago, my first publicly-available interactive fiction story is live (and also free… for now) right here – scroll down to the bottom of the linked page and click on this:



You don’t need anything more specialised than a computer, and you’ll read the book within a Firefox browser.

This particular story (which takes about twenty minutes to read) is about what happens when a two perpetual students fall through a portal into the magical, tropical world of Rahana. It’s a place where a pregnant queen’s island is under siege, and where a handshake can kill.

You, dear reader, are one of those perpetual students. You choose whether you’re male or female, happily single or crushing on your best friend (who just happens to fall through the portal with you – you also choose their gender). You decide whether you’re a natural fighter or a master manipulator; a doctor or a jack of all trades. When the battle begins, you can choose to kill or heal, to strategise or inspire. Even if you’re completely useless as a character, you get a good story out of it – and you can be someone completely different the next time you read it, too.

How does it work?

Funny you should ask.

As a player, it’s a simple matter of clicking your mouse (or in some cases your finger, since most interactive fiction can be read on smart phones) on the choice that looks best to you, then on the “Next” button to go to the next page. Your choices make a difference in various ways. Usually, choices change your statistics (for better or worse) – recording your personal traits, your relationships with others, and the skill/s you practise along the way. Later on in the game, those choices change your ability to succeed or fail in certain endeavours. You can check up on your stats along the way (there’s a button at the top of the screen), or ignore them and choose with your heart every time (that’s what I do, especially on the first read-through). I also like having “Achievements” listed as a tantalising hint of some of the story’s possibilities. There’s a button for achievements, too, but it’s not possible to gain all of them in a single play-through.

I really like the American company Choice of Games (yes, that’s why my spelling is suddenly non-patriotic) because they’re fun, non-graphic, and determined not to discriminate. In their games, it’s always possible (when relevant) to pick both your gender and orientation.

The lack of strong female characters in fiction magically disappears when a player chooses his/her own gender – and I love that!

So, that’s a lightning-fast preview of the big news I’ve been hinting at all year. “Down the Wombat Hole” isn’t even my first interactive novel…. but the details of the others will have to wait for another post! Let’s just say my days of steampunk and piracy are just beginning.

Oh, and by the way? It just so happens that “Down the Wombat Hole” is set in the same world as my print novel (coming out in 2016) “Stormhunter”. So if you’ve ever read a fantasy book and wished with all your heart you could visit it yourself, now is your chance.

Edited to add: “Down the Wombat Hole” is now part of a full-length collaborative game called LOST IN THE PAGES (with the new chapter title THE QUEEN’S CHILD, and no wombat).

And the small press Satalyte that was going to publish STORMHUNTER has stopped running, but Odyssey Books has just (as of October 2017) taken on the middle-grade pirate trilogy set in the same world, which suggests STORMHUNTER will sail again (it’s young adult, and set hundreds of years after the middle-grade trilogy, so it makes sense to publish the middle-grade trilogy first).

Permalink Leave a Comment

Where do your ideas come from?

December 31, 2014 at 2:17 pm (Daily Awesomeness, Slow Writing, Writing Advice)

Any writer will tell you – everywhere.

In 2015 I plan to write slowly – that is, to drastically alter my usual style (I generally finish a book within a month – whether writing for NaNoWriMo or not).

Now that I’ve finished another draft of “Flight of Fancy” (inspired by my daughter’s first fictional story – I literally took her few sentences and made them into a novel) I’m raring to go.

I’m going to STOP and prepare for at least two months, including research and a detailed outline. But I’ve been waiting for inspiration to strike and haven’t had anything to research yet.

The first “hit” was when I was re-watching this video:

I had the idea of having a blind girl nick-named “Cat” because she loves to bask in sunshine. A while ago I read a sad true story of a mum who badly burned her child with spilled coffee because she’d been awake over 24 hours (hence the coffee) and when you’re that tired accidents happen. Although it was clearly not her fault, she had never forgiven herself. I’m fascinated by stories of redemption, so I thought I’d write about Cat’s mother after she’d accidentally blinded her child. I’m also fascinated by blindness, but I try not to write too many blind characters (I have several) because I write in first person and it’s beyond my skill to describe things really well for sighted readers without using visual detail. (Reflecting on my actual capabilities is a definite plus of slow writing – I can spot fatal flaws before the first word is written, and then change them before it’s too late.) So I looked into recovery from blindness. It’s amazing scientifically ( and socially (

I wondered at this point if I was writing a book for adults, since I could definitely write as a guilt-ridden Mum (writing for adults is unusual for me. . . apart from anything else, the length is quite different and I’m not sure I have a good sense of either the rhythm or the market) and/or something set entirely in the real world (without any fantasy elements).

Neither seemed like a good idea for me (plus it seemed too dark and sad for my liking), so I decided the blindness and recovery had a magical basis. I knew Cat was grateful for her blindness – partly because it changed who she hung out with, but also because it enriched her life in some other way too. I decided that her recovery would be something she kept a secret, in order to appear more mystically impressive than she was (“Wow! It’s like she’s not even blind at all!”) So Cat became a sorceress – a cheerful, smart, sorceress with a flair for drama that could easily make her very powerful.

I still didn’t feel confident about writing as a blind person, even a fake blind person, so I figured (and still figure) Cat would be friends with my hero. . . whoever she is. (Yes, “she”. I’m a girl, which is one good reason, and the world needs more female heroes, which is another.)

I left my complete lack of a main character on the back burner while I thought about the setting. Having a sorceress immediately feels like a quasi-medieval story. There are WAY too many of those – plus, to do a decent job I’d need to do a scary amount of research (and it would still feel incredibly derivative, because there’s just too much quasi-medieval stuff out there – including “Flight of Fancy” although that world is more “fairyland” than regular medieval). It would confuse me utterly to do another steampunk world. So as I was thinking about where to start I decided it should be something future-y. NOT something all computer-y, because I find that very dull. Some other kind of future – something new and interesting and different.

Last night I read Psalm 95, including this bit:

For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him. (NIV)

I finished reading and lay down to go to sleep, but I felt something in the back of my mind telling me I’d missed some vital hook. I got up and re-read it, and the line about “depths of the earth” inspired the idea of enormous epic underground tunnel systems (with windows in the top so Cat had her sunshine). I liked that, and thought about it some more – what would make humanity move underground? Since dirt is a brilliant insulator, I figured it was heat. Australia is the driest continent – more desert than not – so that made sense.

In my thoughts of the future, I’d forgotten about the obvious – global warming. In itself, global warming is a cliché – but it all depends how its handled (for one thing, it’d be nice if it WASN’T post-apocalyptic. . . just different). I figured tunnelling underground was one way to cope with major temperature change. Another was reclaiming land like in Holland or Hong Kong. Another was to adjust existing dwellings – sealing gaps, designing ventilation shafts – which would be delightfully ad hoc – or build new dwellings designed to stay on the sea floor. Still another was to have floating cities – which could be so beautiful, especially if glass and/or spheres were liberally used (to utilise solar power? To float more easily? As a suspension system to deal with wild waves and weather?) And some people would try hard to stay on land – just moving higher and higher up the nearest mountain (which would get easier to live on as it grew warmer).

I’d read something somewhere about buildings deliberately designed to float, and I know there are islands already getting taken over by the sea – plus I’ve seen Hong Kong’s man-made land extension for myself. I had a huge and fascinating place to start my research – laying in magic where I found it best.

I came up with the idea that medieval-style magic really existed in the Middle Ages, and something triggered its return. Don’t know what yet, especially since when we talk “medieval” we’re really talking about Great Britain – and I want to think on a more global scale.

There will of course be major issues with food and water (water might be easy – our ocean is salty because of minerals getting left in there during normal rain cycles. If we melted Antarctica, it would be diluted and might even become drinkable, or close to it), so I’d need to think hard about that too.

I believe human nature is fundamentally stupid in a lot of ways. Here in Australia one government put into place an unpopular “carbon tax”. It was a brave and necessary thing to do. Then the government switched sides, and the new lot threw it out. Arg!

So it will take a LOT before we change the habits that are causing us to head towards potential global crisis environment-wise (I’m writing on my laptop with the AC on, for example). But I think humans also have amazing ingenuity, and when bad stuff DOES happen, we will most likely come up with new ways to deal with it. A lot of those new ways have already been thought of, on the fringes of engineering and science. I’ll look into it and see what makes the best story. I really liked the film “Waterworld” so I’ll have to keep an eye on myself to make sure I’m not stealing from that.

And then there’s the social side of this new world, which will be huge.

Regular readers will know how appalled I am at Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Unfortunately human history shows that people are generally awful towards refugees (with many beautiful exceptions – including modern-day Germany). . . and if the world changes drastically, refugees will definitely suffer for it.

The likely place for them is on floating cities – literally drifting without a place to call home, and from which they can be rejected from every corner of the globe (while possibly also being the cutting-edge of scientific stuff, due to travel and personal experience). But it occurred to me that if certain weather events trigger major change (I’ve heard of global warming “tipping points” where gradual change becomes sudden change in a heartbeat), a floating city might suddenly be the only form of sustainable life – in which case the refugees would suddenly be the ones with beggars at their door (and they might or might not let them in).

So that’s likely to be some kind of climax, in a world where there is already major tension from both the environment and between the different groups. And something going on for my myserious heroine, too.

I think Cat’s real name will be “Cassandra” and she’ll be the one who first “sees” the next tipping point coming. But she’ll still be a cheerful, relaxed sort of person.

Feel free to help with my research by directing me to theories about what will happen to the Earth physically (and when), and what kind of food/water/housing solutions people are talking about/inventing so far.

Permalink Leave a Comment