Monday, 31 December 2007

The Golden Compass

Saw this last week and enjoyed it. It's a young adult fantasy, based on the novel Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman, set in an alternate world that is essentially a parallel Earth. It's a deal less technological than our Earth, but the main difference is that the human race has evolved to have our souls manifest as animal familiars (daemons). The type and personality of the animal reflects the type of person you are. I love this idea (and wish I'd thought of it) and posted on it back in June, when it was the trend to work out your own daemon via the movie web site. My daemon is a snow leopard called Leonidas.

Anyway, these deamons are integral to the plot of The Golden Compass, which is essentially a quest story that is at times a little confusing. The movie production is lavish, and I thought Nicole Kidman was good as the enigmatic and somewhat sinister Mrs Coulter. Based on my memory of the novel, which I read a few years ago, the movie stays fairly close to the original stopy -- always a good thing!

Saturday, 29 December 2007

For my viewing (and listening) pleasure


Some months ago, my CD player went kaput. Something is whirring inside and will not play CDs, nor will it stop when I select the tuner or auxiliary port in the fully integrated stereo unit.

After a while of putting up with this whirring noise while I played music from MP3, I decided that 'enough was enough'. Not only was the noise annoying, but I had no means of playing CDs, except through my existing DVD player, which was not connected to an amplifier. (OK, so I know that such a lack is somewhat archaic, but . . .)

The obvious solution was to upgrade my complete system. Replace my stereo system with a surround sound system that will play CDs and DVDs and why not throw in a new TV while I'm at it?

It's amazing how much you can learn in a couple of hours. JB Hi Fi was useful to gain an overview of all the options. Fully integrated surround sound units with DVD & speakers start at around $300. Or you can buy an amplifier with surround sound speakers - just add DVD player/recorder. Or you can by a separate amplifier and a set of surround sound speakers. Or you can buy everything separately -- including speakers -- and spend a fortune!

The problem with surround sound, I've decided, is that you either get small cheap speakers that sound crap but don't dominate your room, or you get large cheap speakers that sound marginally better but completely take over your living room, or you get high-quality speakers, large or small, that cost you a fortune!!

With this dilemma in mind, we wandered into retravision, a few stores down the road. Here, we were lucky to be approached by an 'audio specialist', who demonstrated the sound of high-quality speakers and talked me out of surround sound all together. To be honest, it wasn't very hard. I perfectly comprehend the logic that it's far better to have two high-quality speakers than five crap ones! (And the thought of not having to run all that speaker cable or find homes for the speakers . . .)

So now, courtesy of the Boxing Day sales, I have a new fancy amplifier (with the capability for surround sound), two new speakers (pending), and a new 32-inch LCD TV! The sound (even with my old speakers) is fantastic and I now have yet another reason to avoid writing at present . . . The next item on the purchase agenda is probably a DVD recorder, but that's definitely for another day.

And, of course, I can now play CDs again!! (Currently listening to Sara Storer)

Monday, 24 December 2007

Mulholland Drive revealed!

I would consider myself a David Lynch fan, although I haven't seen all his films. Twin Peaks was a revelation (and an obsession) back in the 90s. It was strange and weird, quirky and compelling. The catchcry of "She's dead, wrapped in plastic" is just one of many memorable moments from this series.

More recently came Mulholland Drive, a movie I picked up on DVD recently and watched (not for the first time) the other night. It's set in Hollywood, centred around the movie industry. At its heart is a mystery concerning identity, but it includes many seemingly unrelated subplots, twists and turns -- not to mention some things that are almost unexplainable!

Almost . . . Today I was intrigued enough to search out some explanations online. To my delight, there's this page on IMDB that answers everything brilliantly. (In fact, I can't help feeling that maybe I should have worked some of it out for myself!) Anyway, if you've seen the movie and want some answers, check it out.

If you haven't seen the movie, do not read the spoilers and instead rent out (or borrow) the DVD!

One of the fantastic things about David Lynch movies and TV series is the surreal and seemingly unexplainable nature of events, but I must admit I also relish ultimately finding out what it all means.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Midsummer or midwinter?

Today was the solstice. The longest day of the year. Midsummer, supposedly. Only, the temperature barely passed 14 degrees and I have the central heating on. And in the past two days it has done nothing but rain. And it has been so overcast that the sun might have set at 6pm for all we'd know otherwise!

Nevertheless, it was the longest day today, and yesterday evening we had our annual gathering to celebrate it. And, despite the unobliging weather, which ensured we stayed indoors for all but about half an hour, a merry time was had by all!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Page Turners: I am legend

Our final book for discussion this year was I am legend, by Richard Matheson. This is a classic horror/science fiction novel, written in the 1950s, set in the 1970s, about a man who is the last man alive-as-we-know-it.

The basic premise is that everyone else has been turned into a vampire, leaving our hero 'Robert Neville' to barricade himself inside his house at night, and fend for himself by day -- which largely involves scavenging canned food, bottled water, car parts/fuel etc from abandoned supermarkets and such.

The book was generally very well received among the readers in our group, with a number saying they'd not been so engaged by a book (to the point it was unputdownable) in a long time.

I enjoyed it as well, but found too many plot holes to be completely swept away by it. While the themes it explored were interesting (isolation, companionship, segregation, survival, humanity, evolution), the science rather ironically let me down.

Fundamentally, I didn't much like the fact that the novel attempts to explain vampires using science -- or at least it tried to explain the condition of the people in this particular novel. Maybe it's the fantasy reader/writer/lover in me, but I'm more willing to suspend disbelief for something that is purely "other", than something with a dodgy scientific explanation. And for me the explanation (which centered around the vampire condition being a bacterial disease) was very dodgy. The attempt seemed rather half-hearted.

Nevertheless, it was a good story about a man who first comes to terms with his situation, then strives to deal with it and asserts his dominance, only to find everything coming full circle again.

Neighbours

This evening I was dragged out by my next door neighbour (the other unit at the end of the driveway) to a social do -- Christmas drinks for a few friends and other residents of the driveway.

I was hesitant at first, shy, not to mention in the middle of watching something on TV. But when the show was finished, and I had washed the dishes, I ventured next door (all of ten paces) to socialise.

It turned out to be a lovely evening. I met the residents of two other units for the first time -- don't ask me how we could have lived so close without even sighting each other, but somehow we have managed it. I learned I had earned the nickname, 'lady of the night', because no-one had ever seen me! The residents of units 7 & 8 are amazingly friendly people, and I am really glad that we are strangers no more.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Stranger encounters

Many mornings when I walk to work, I pass the same woman walking in the opposite direction. Like me, she walks fast, purposefully. I wonder if she recognises me as the same person she frequently encounters. There's never any sign of recognition. Not even a faint smile. I don't smile either.

We always pass in the same stretch of footpath. It varies exactly where, depending on whether one or other of us is later or earlier than normal. I always wonder where she's going, where she works, for there's not a lot in the direction she's walking. Is she near her destination, or has she just stepped out the door and has another half-hour to go?

My most recent hypothesis is that she's a nanny. Somehow to me she looks like a nanny, although I don't know why. She's about forty, wiry and lean, reddish wavy hair that's always tied back, and always wears multi-layers of skirt or dress. Makeup too.

I sometimes contemplate stopping her in the street and asking her, so intense is my curiosity. Yet she does not seem a particularly approachable person. Maybe I don't either.

There's another man I often see on a different part of the walk, a middle-aged man out with his large fluffy white dog. I can tell he recognises me, because there's a hint of a smile, but it's not yet an exchange of greeting. More an awareness. This afternoon, the dog barked from the other side of the road, and I idly wondered whether it barked at me! This man is much easier to categorise -- retiree!

It's interesting how people in the city don't talk to -- even acknowledge -- each other. If this happened in the country, I'd be on a first-name basis with both these characters by now. You say hello to everyone you meet on a walk, and this type of recurring experience would not go unnoticed!

On the other hand, I also pass a couple of crossing supervisors in the morning. One ignores me politely, but the other insists on saying hello. I can't get past without this greeting. Sometimes I cross to the other side of the road (further up of course) to avoid him! There is nothing menacing about him, he's clearly just a friendly person. But the fact is, I don't want to be saying hello! I'm usually listening to music or an audio book, plus am invariably hot and sweaty. I'm just not in the mood to be friendly. I approach in dread!

So there you go. It's one thing to be fascinated by someone you see everyday, and wonder about their life and who they are. But once you cross the social line and find yourself exchanging greetings, it suddenly becomes a burden.

So methinks I shall continue to merely wonder about the mystery woman and retiree man.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Wuthering Heights

I don't know how I made it this far in life without reading Wuthering Heights, but I did. I haven't even seen any of the movies. Of course, I've known of "Heathcliff and Cathy" for years and years, partially assisted by the Kate Bush song. I always assumed it was a tragic love story with moors involved, and no-one ever bothered to disabuse me of this notion.

For, now that I have "read" Wuthering Heights (via audio), I find that I was mistaken. It is not a love story. In fact, there is very little love anywhere to be found -- although I was right about the moors.

I expected the story to be bleak -- and it was. I expected to find tragedy -- and I did. But I also expected to find the character of Heathcliff at least partially sympathetic, a misunderstood anti-hero, perhaps. And I expected to care passionately about him and Cathy and their unrequited love. On both these counts I was disappointed.

What makes this book a classic? Instinctively, I can feel that it is, but I can't pinpoint why. Instead of being misunderstood, Heathcliff is blatantly inhumane, consumed by his plans for revenge on a character who dies very early on. Cathy is selfish and frivolous and far better off with her husband who is far more sympathetic than Heathcliff. I simply didn't care. What is more, Cathy dies halfway through the book.

I cared far more for the younger Cathy, one of the victims of Heathcliff's revenge, and rejoiced at her happy ending. And I disliked Heathcliff all the more for his treatment of the younger Cathy and his own son, Linton.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the book, for I did. It was beautifully read by Michael Kitchen, and although I found it intense at times, requiring me to take a break, it kept me wanting to know the end.

Moreover, as a writer, I was fascinated by the construction of the novel. It is narrated by Mr Lockwood, who plays no part in the story, but who recounts the story told by Nelly Dean, a servant/housekeeper. Nelly is the true narrator of the book, but even she recounts stories told by others, so that at times we have a story within a story within a story -- all in the first person. I have to wonder why this construction was selected, because it made it very confusing at times.

Anyway, now it is done. After all this time, Wuthering Heights is no longer a mystery (well, the story isn't, at any rate!). I do wonder what inspired Emily Bronte to write such a bleak story, and what she was trying to say, exactly. And I wonder what made Heathcliff and Cathy into one of the emblems of star-crossed lovers, for I am not too sure they deserve it!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Cruisin' in Port Fairy

Ah, Port Fairy! Is there a more cultured teeny weeny town anywhere on this earth? Surely it has more wine bars, day spas, gourmet food outlets and coffee shops per capita than anywhere.

As a result, more wining and dining. Brunch at Rebecca's -- a cafe replete with 'big breakfasts' to rival many a Melbourne cafe (with prices to match!), not to mention an array of take-home gourmet goodies one is hard-pressed to resist. Then there's Time and Tide, a beachfront home transformed into a cafe with breathtaking views and cuisine that makes your mouth water. We went there twice in a single day -- once for coffee and a delicious cinnamon-pecan scroll, then back an hour later for a decadent lunch of turkey, wine and orange/poppyseed cake.

Throw in some turkish delight, chocolate-coated cofee beans, and salmon fillets, and surely Port Fairy is the gourmet capital! It certainly was where I stayed at Chez Cook, where skim lattes might as well have been on tap . . .

Lovely weekend!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Wined and dined (blaah)

Ever since that last 'good news' post, I feel like I have been eating non-stop! We have been wining and dining a visiting international client: cheese platter, many meetings, dinner last night at Gattica in Carlisle St East St Kilda, more meetings with breakfast, fruit (phew), multiple pastries . . . and to top it all off, dinner tonight at Riva on the beach in St Kilda.

This last was a full three course meal, and I'm not going to repeat what I ate, but I will say I shouldn't have!

I am so FULL. I need to go for a walk.

I don't think I have the capacity for food that I once did.

Blaah

Monday, 3 December 2007

At goal - woohoo!

Well, finally, after 11 months, I have hit my goal weight. That's a total of 27kg gone, kaput, disappeared. Progress has been slow the past couple of months, mostly due to decreasing incentive (I mean, when you've reached size 10, where else is there to go?). So there you are. Yay me. I am now a 'healthy weight' for the first time I can remember.

In the past year I have completely replaced my wardrobe - and I mean completely. Every single item. Well, maybe I've still got some socks. It's cost me a fortune! But I'm rather enjoying buying clothes just now. I think it's time for me to venture into shops I previously breezed past, not even looking in the window. (Or, gazing in enviously.) The time has also come for me to buy a suit or two. May as well be optimistic and assume I'll keep it all off!

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Death of a huntsman

This is the end of the huntsman saga. The huntsman is now dead -- at least, I assume it's the same one. How long do huntsman spiders live, anyway?

This one spent its final days clinging to my waste paper basket, barely moving, scrunched up in what looked like an agonised ball. I thought it was dead a few times, but it would move just enough to convince me it still lived. Not anymore. Now it is upturned on the floor in the corner of the room (behind the waste paper basket). Its final resting place will either be my vacuum cleaner or the rubbish bin.

I can hold my head high because I was not responsible for its death. It lived a 'long' (in spider terms - at least 6 weeks) and what I hope was a happy life. It explored the house from end to end and escaped the cat more than once. A truly heroic spider.

May it rest in peace.

Friday, 30 November 2007

What's wrong with Melanie?

Another of my favourite fantasy authors is Melanie Rawn. Years ago she wrote the Dragon Prince and Dragon Star series, which got me hooked. After that came The ruins of Ambrai (which is still one of my all time favourite novels) and the Mageborn traitor, which are the first two books in the exiles trilogy. At least, it's meant to be a trilogy. Mageborn traitor came out in 1997.

Melanie's latest book, Spellbinder, came out last year in the USA, and I just picked it up here in paperback. I was rather excited to read it, and shoved aside the six other books I'm in the middle of, with the intention of devouring it. It has been frustrating to have a favourite author MIA for almost a decade, so this was to be a real treat.

Problem is, this book is nothing like her previous books. Not that this is necessarily a problem in itself; but when the differences are in depth of character, plot structure, and the writing craft itself, I think I'm allowed to be disappointed. It's hard to believe the same writer wrote this book.

So where has she been? Where is the last book in the exiles trilogy (The captal's tower)? An author's note in the back of Spellbinder suggests that she has been very unwell, clinically depressed. It says that this book needed to be different from all her others as part of her healing process. All I can say is that I hope she is healed now. I would really love for her to finish exiles and return to her former writing glory.

I know it's terrible and selfish of me. But it's just such a shame. Get well, Melanie!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Need more time

This week I have reinstated the morning writing sessions, but they're not proving long enough! Maybe it's the stage of the story I'm at, but it's taking me almost the whole time to get back into it. (I'm laying out some character backstory, trying not to 'dump' it!) Then, just as I get going, I have to close down to go to work.

Aaaghh, work! Who needs it?

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Olympic Dream

More virtuous exercise this morning as four of us participated in the Olympic Dream 10km walk. We managed it in around 1h45m, which is a bit slower than usual -- shall we say a sociable pace? The walk took place around the Botanical Gardens and King's Domain, starting and ending at Birrarung Marr (near Federation Square). It wasn't as packed as the Run for the Kids earlier this year. That must surely be the benchmark for sheer volume of people! But there were enough people doing it (mostly running) to make it feel like an 'event'.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Change

We have a change of government. Let's hope that this change is for the good and that in six months time we won't be wishing back the devil we knew.

I have very mixed feelings about today's election. This country desperately needed a change, but I remain unconvinced about whether Kevin Rudd is up to it. Only time will tell.

Challenged

Despite our inspirational social meeting last Saturday, I have not had a good writing week. Work is just crazy-fullon-intense-did I say crazy? at the moment, leaving me with very little in reserve. After Sunday evening, when I got started on the fourth chapter, I tried to continue each morning before work with decreasing effectiveness, until I ceased getting up at the required time all together. Simply too tired. As for the evenings, getting home at 8pm or later after an intense day is simply not ideal for the creative juices. So, a dud week all round.

I was all set to write this evening to see if I could turn the ship around, but my shopping afternoon took me into JB HiFi, where I bought no less than 4 DVDs! So I don't know whether my self-discipline will be able to withstand the temptation of the latest Harry Potter movie, or Pirates of the Caribbean (at world's end), or . . . I am going to try to write for an hour before skiving off to indulge.

But I have to say neither my heart nor head are in it just now.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Water thwarters

Of late I am getting very frustrated at all the water thwarters. These are the people who do not obey water restrictions. They water with the hose at the wrong times, or they fill up inflatable wading pools and frolick, or they set automatic (non-drip) timers when they go on holiday, or they wash their cars.

All these water thwarters I have encountered at various times in the past week or two. We are currently on pretty severe water restrictions, which means you are only supposed to water with a hose on two specific mornings per week (6-8am), and all the other things you are not supposed to do at all! The whole point of the stupid early time window is to discourage people from watering -- you'd have to be desperate, right? It's not so you can rationalise in your mind that you don't do it then, so it's OK to water at 9am or 9pm or whatever instead!

Even more annoying than all the water thwarters is the fact that I am getting so irate about them! I do so wish that I could shrug it off as none of my business, but I can't. Instead my hackles rise and I contemplate walking outside to remind them that they're being naughty and that I have noticed. Worse, sometimes I even contemplate reporting them. I do NOT want to be the nosy reporting neighbour. Worse, some of the water thwarters are people I actually know, who tell me their evil ways. Why can't people just do the right thing and save me all this angst?

As for my own watering habits, I am still diligently using grey water on the garden, and so far, so good. Still alive.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

All day in a cafe

Another month and another writers' gathering. Mostly the same gang as last month. We met on Saturday in a cafe (Hopscotch in Elsternwick) for brunch at 11:00am, and filled the ensuing hours with talk of many things, including our writing. Even when it is purely social, it is fabulous to meet with these guys, knowing that we can (and will) return to writing -- a topic never far from our minds.

The reason we opted for brunch this time was so that, suitably inspired, we would have the option of hitting the manuscript for the balance of the afternoon and/or evening. Some of us found it very amusing therefore that we hung about in that cafe until almost 5pm! The cafe people were very generous, not complaining that we took up space in their courtyard all day. And although I personally had 3 coffees and 2 pots of green tea in that time (along with a meal and cake for afternoon tea) our bill was extremely reasonable.

Anyway, it was a decadent and very pleasurable day. I am really enjoying this group. Regular interaction with other writers really helps me keep my motivation up.

We talked of writing retreats, and formed loose plans to organise one . . . leading into some. Who know? Maybe we'll pick a cafe somewhere!

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Cheese (for the second time)

I know I have posted about cheese before. Back then, I was going on about the low fat kind. Now, today, I am going to wax lyrical on the virtues of some cheeses that are most definitely HIGH in fat. In fact, they may well blow the scale.

I am referring to some cheese our new work MD and owner brought in this week. He formerly was MD of Jindi Cheese -- of award-winning Jindi Brie fame. So you could say he has access to the delectable product.

On Monday, I arrived at work to find our fridge FULL of cheese. There were about 12 gold-foil wrapped "small" chunks of a cheese called "triple cream". Small was not small, but in fact quite large for a chunk. Let's say supermarket size. However, this could be considered small in comparison with the enormous wheel of brie that was also in the fridge. We're talking at least 30cm diameter.

We were shy at first, despite being told that the cheese was for us to eat and take home. I daresay that the old me wouldn't have been shy for too long. But the new me allowed the cheese to stay in the fridge for a few days, more or less untouched.

On the third day (Wednesday) I cracked, and brought out some brie with rice crackers for morning tea. This unleashed everyone's restraint and we had a very happy office. We all seemed more than happy to collect our items from the printer (beside which was located the cheese). And today we had the triple cream -- also absolutely delicious.

It's been quite some time since I've allowed myself to eat soft cheeses, but what a way to break the drought! These are truly amazingly yummy. (I will add that although I succumbed, I have been very restrained!) I don't think I've had triple cream before. It's a deal harder in the middle, almost stodgy, but still "soft". It tastes very different. I'm not sure which I like best. Some more experimentation is required!

And that's almost the best bit. I now have some of each here in my fridge. Although some might think I only brought them home to look at them . . . Clearly I need to find some friends to help me!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

A magic tree

Just over two years ago, I came across the following article in an e-newsletter I receive for work. Recently I came across it again (having been so delighted with this story that I pinned it on my wall).

It's the kind of article you expect to appear on April the 1st. Please do read. It's a gem!

The Magic Tree of Cellphone Coverage Improvement
Mobile phone network planners usually dislike trees - they have a bad habit of changing shape and leaf density each year, often affecting cellphone coverage reliability. It may then come as an interesting surprise to read of a tree in Nigeria that could solve rural coverage problems for them.

In their periodical magazine sent out to customers, Nigeria's V-Mobile reports on a "magic tree" that can attract coverage, even in areas where there shouldn't be any.

In the town of Ezeagbogu Ezinihitte Mbaise, none of the GSM operators has built a site, but the people are enjoying their services courtesy of what they call a "magic tree" in the village square. The tree, called Oji has been in the village square as long as anyone can remember and has grown so tall it almost touches the sky. It is under this tree that natives of this village gather to make and receive calls as well as send SMS.

No one can explain how it works except the belief that the tree possesses "magical powers" capable of attracting GSM signals. As expected, smart people have set up call centres which let people use a GSM handset as a local payphone under the tree.

Doubtless, representatives from the network infrastructure manufacturers will be studying this tree as a possible way of "growing" cellphone coverage in rural Africa for little more than water and some fertilizer."

Posted to cellular-news.com on 12th July 2005

Monday, 12 November 2007

Writing talismans

After all my procrastination on Saturday, I managed to get into it and have had three good writing sessions since then. I am feeling pretty happy with the three chapters tackled to-date. They seem to be gelling.

I'm not sure yet whether I'm adding words overall. I have a feeling I may be losing words, which does seem to be my tendancy during editing. This is not actually a good thing, because the first draft came in a little shorter than intended and I planned to flesh it out in the re-write. You know, add more character detail and setting and such! Isn't that what most normal writers do? Not me. All I can see is heaps of waffle and so slash and burn! I won't really know until I reach the end of the 'first act', because that's a fixed event. Interesting, hey!

I've been thinking a lot recently about writing talismans. I have a Tibetan pendant, purchased in Nepal some years ago, which I wear most days. Very early on it served as inspiration for a type of pendant worn by certain characters in my WIP. Sometimes I hold it -- it's always warm to touch because it's against my skin -- and transport myself into my other world.

I mention this because I have recently acquired a new talisman in the form of a miniature brass telescope (on a keyring). Back in July when I spent a week down at the island, I was hit with the epiphany that my main character travelled with just such a telescope. And during the recent long weekend on my writing retreat, I wrote the first scenes in which this telescope appeared. So imagine my delight when we found a miniature version of the telescope in one of Cowes' gift shops!

I had to have it. And, since Tracey's theory is that you should buy presents for your characters every so often, she kindly gifted it to me. So now it hangs beside my computer screen, directly in my line of sight. There's no way I'll forget to write it in!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Page Turners: The five people you meet in heaven


We read this book during October and discussed on November 1, but I haven't had time to post about it! It's not a novel exactly, more a fictionalised parable. As such I found it rather preachy and contrived. Also, the self-conscious structure of this book irritated me.

However, there were plenty of positives to compensate, although I'm still not going to rave about it. One thing I liked was the way in which we were introduced to an old man, Eddie, and shown his final day on earth. We were presented with him as he was then, old and somewhat cantankerous, yet ultimately caring. He seemed to have lived a simple live as a fun park maintenance man. We countdown to his death in painstaking degrees.

So Eddie dies (as we know full-well he's going to do) and then we begin to find out about him. As we find out about his life through key flashbacks to his past, Eddie finds out the meaning of it all through encounters with 5 different people who he meets in heaven. We discover that our assumptions about Eddie at the beginning were erroneous -- he actually has a far more complex history than first realised, filled with war, family issues, and discontent. As do most people, really.

The other key theme is how you never really know whose life you impact. Sometimes it's obvious, but sometimes a stray comment or action might have ramifications in someone else's life that you never consider. It's a really sobering thought! Similarly, the people who impact us do not always have faces. And sometimes they do, but they're people who now cease to have meaning.

(I recall an incident that led to my giving up ballet lessons in grade 6. The teacher and I had an altercation, based on a misunderstanding, and ballet ceased to be enjoyable. Had I continued, would my life have gone in a different direction? Perhaps I would have been fitter, more graceful -- certainly not a ballerina though!)

Anyway, this was certainly a thought-provoking book and engendered a lively discussion. One of the most distressing aspects was the notion that you only work it all out, that life only has meaning after you are dead.

Unfocused

If I needed any more reasons to convince myself that writing retreats are invaluable, the past few days would count. Since returning from the island, life (work, house, social, and summer sport!) has completely gotten in the way.

I managed an early start yesterday, but spent my precious time reading over what I wrote on the weekend. Although I added a few sentences, it was a half-hearted attempt. So I have put this evening aside to write. I am prioritising it over everything else -- facebook, TV, work (and I do have quite a lot of that I should be doing), and blogging (this is going to be a short post!).

Why then am I having trouble getting into it? Down at the island, I could sit in front of the computer at any time of day -- even late in the evening -- and I could focus instantly. This evening, all I do is seek procrastination activities (hmm, I guess you could call this post one of them!). Was it the company? The lack of distractions such as the internet? The unspoken desire not to ruin it for my writing companion?

Perhaps it was the feverish intensity that comes when you grant yourself permission to focus on writing -- no guilt. Such a weekend is a gift, really.

The problem is that I can think of at least 10 other things I could be doing! I want to be writing, desperately. But knowing there's stuff I should be doing (like reloading my virus software, which seems to have disappeared) is making me unsettled.

Enough! I'm going now.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

The rewrite commences


I am very pleased to report that I have started my rewrite. A focused weekend away at the island was exactly what I needed to get back into it. It was slow going, but worth it. And I didn't mind that it was slow, because I enjoyed playing with the words. I'd love for this draft to be close to final, so some extra care is permitted.

The opening scene is a new one. I wonder how many opening scenes I have written in this novel's lifetime? If you count the various incarnations, most of which bear no resemblance to the current story, I would estimate ten at least. Maybe more. The latest is probably the fourth re-visioned opening scene for the current story, if you count this as the third draft. Which it is, really.

I have kept the second scene from the previous draft. Aside from some minor changes to tighten it up, it's pretty much as it was. Most of my readers have said this scene works pretty well. However, I have a feeling it'll be one of the few in the first section of the novel that makes it through unscathed. I have planned so many tweaks to the start, because the start is everything in a novel. But it means I'll be doing a lot of rewriting, at least in the near future!

The four-day weekend proved a perfect amount of time. We both got a great amount of writing done, but also kept it balanced with some long walks and plenty of 'novel talk'. We set up our laptops on the dining table and they stayed there for four days, perpetually in our faces, tantalisingly close. Chenna kept us company as well :-)

Going away with another writer -- with the express purpose of writing -- must be one of the best ways to write. Normally such a solitary experience (which is good for concentration), writing becomes companionable in this environment. I know that it helped me to be more disciplined. Even better, we were able to discuss aspects of what we were writing as we went along. This ranged from word choice, all the way to character and plot development. We were in the fortunate position of being familiar with each other's characters and basic storyline, meaning we could brainstorm aspects of these if we felt like it. Most of our walks featured such discussions!

This was my second writing retreat with company and both have been a huge success. This makes me more determined to make them a regular occurrence! I have been down to the island a few times on my own to write, but it's just not the same. It's now a matter of finding those of my writing friends with the time and inclination to come with me!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Bottlebrushes

Back from the island and my writing retreat this evening. What a fabulous weekend! But it's been a long day, so more details tomorrow.

One thing I will comment on -- it's been on my mind for over a week now. For some very strange reason, I have noticed the bottlebrushes this Spring more than ever before. Everywhere I look, there's a magnificent bottlebrush bush, usually red, in full glorious bloom. Why have I never noticed them before?

Friday, 2 November 2007

Writing retreat

So much to say and so little time! Will have to try to remember it all for when I return from my four-day writing retreat down at the island.

Have been looking forward to this weekend for ages. It'll be great to go down with another writer for a change, rather than on my own, Hopefully we'll keep each other motivated! Am planning to start my rewrite finally, so cross fingers I'll be back in the saddle come next week. (Although not sure I'll manage the 6:30am starts yet -- Daylight savings has knocked me for a six!)

More in a few days.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Bloggy balance and curious comments

The perpetual dilemma I find as a blogger is establishing the right balance between posting regularly and ensuring one always has something to say. Which is more frustrating: the blog you keep clicking on that hasn't been updated in two weeks, or the blog that has something new but potentially meaningless every day or two?

As a reader of a few select blogs, I find the former more frustrating, because I've gone to all the effort of clicking and waiting for the site to load. I want something new to read as a reward. Increasingly, lately, I've been resorting to reading comments. One of the blogs I read recently had a spate of comments posted from a bunch of UK inhabitants who seemed to be the fan club of a bloke my friend posted about. How did they find her blog? Did they google this guy's name and her blog came up? Almost 10 comments came up on this one post!

On the subject of curious comments, a few weeks ago I was stunned to receive a comment from someone I didn't know. How on earth did this person find my blog, and why would they read it and post a comment? Not that I minded. But it was so perplexing. The only way I could figure it was that this person, having just visited Cape Woolamai at Phillip Island, decided to google it, and found (on about the 4th page) my modest blog. Weird. (And strangely gratifying.)

(I rather suspect this has been one of those aforementioned posts about nothing. Apologies!)

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Ysabel - Guy Gavriel Kay


Guy Gavriel Kay is one of my favourite authors, and his latest novel is Ysabel. This is set in modern day Provence (France) and is almost a 'coming of age' story, with the protagonist a 15-yr old boy who discovers within him a 'connection' with the mysterious supernatural world of Celtic/Roman mythology. At the heart of the story is an ancient love triangle that has replayed itself out for two and half millennia

GGK's trademark is blending history with fantasy, but normally his novels are set in a completely mythological world that presents a different take on a period of history. My favourite of his novels is The Lions of Al-Rassan, which explores the role of religion in driving war, and is set in an alternate Spain at the time of the Moorish occupation.

Come to think of it, he focuses on Europe a lot, having previously dealt with renaissance Provence (A song for Arbonne), renaissance Italy (Tigana), the Byzantine empire (The Sarantine Mosaic), and Viking raids on Britain (The last light of the sun).

However, Ysabel is set in the present, as mentioned. This shift, along with the shift to a younger protagonist, made for quite a different feel. (Although, having said that, each of his novels has quite a different feel from the last.) I enjoyed the book a lot -- it was probably an easier read than his previous books, making me wonder whether it was targeted at the young adult market.

I should also add that I got a shock ~2/3 through when I suddenly realised there was a link with the first GGK books I ever read over 20 years ago, The Fionavar Tapestry! This had me rumaging around in my bookshelves in the middle of night, dragging out these books to check the connection. It also has me considering reading The Fionavar Tapestry again!

Interestingly, I found myself reading Ysabel rather analytically. In other words, examining the opening (hook), how the story was paced from there, how the tension built up again, the spacing of the dramatic scenes and relative intensity of them, where the turning points were and how they were used, how new information was introduced to catch the reader again, chapter endings (some were cliffhangers, some not), sentence structure and language. In many ways, this was a good book to study like this, because all these things were remarkably clear and the plot not too complicated (nor too long).

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Huntsman update

This is the sequel to a post from about a week ago. See here.

My huntsman moved off the fan and lived in the bathroom for about another week. In that time it variously disappeared and reappeared . . . A turning point was when Chenna spotted it.

Little miss devilcat must've noticed it sitting on the mirror in the bathroom and, naturally, sought it as a plaything. It got away easily, scrambling high towards the ceiling. However, she wouldn't let up . . . crouched there all evening staring at it, 'talking' to it . . . until it ventured into my bedroom in search of escape.

This was not a popular move with me, I might add, but since it stayed over by the door, I dealt. Moreover, Chenna could terrorise it just as easily, so it went back to the bathroom. Not sure why it was so attached to the bathroom, but, other than that small excursion, it didn't move far from the window and mirror for the best part of a week.

Chenna spent a couple more evenings in the bathroom.

Eventually it vanished again, and I thought it must have finally vacated the premises (or fallen prey to the devilcat). But then it reappeared yet again, this time in the kitchen. It was in the corner above the pantry and I leapt back (my standard reaction to spotting spiders, although I can control myself most of the time).

But then, the unthinkable happened. The thing that you tell yourself can't really happen, but which you secretly fear and is the reason you simply will NOT sleep with a huntsman anywhere near the ceiling above your bed . . .

It fell off the wall. Or jumped. Fell, or jumped, I neither know nor care. Fortunately it was not over my bed when it did this, but over the pantry and landed on top among my collection of liqueurs, spirits & port.

It didn't reappear and I haven't seen it since.

Theories:
- It leapt into hiding, and has since vacated the premises
- It is still hiding.
- It faked death so as to divert attention from its presence
- It died.

I haven't investigated.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Crops in pots

I have finally planted my first vegie crops for the summer. This year, I am growing in pots for a couple of related reasons. Basically, the whole concept of 'crop rotation' is something my garden doesn't really allow for. I have limited sections of garden that get enough sun for vegies, so rotating isn't really an option. At least with pots, I can put in new potting mix that has all the nutrients, and I can move them around into sunny spots as the mood takes me. It also saves me from the hassle of 'cultivating' the soil, which is a pain. So now I am planting perennial herbs etc where the vegies were.

I am also limiting my crops this year to tomatoes and leafy greens. Last year the cucumber experiment was great for about 3 weeks when I had too many cucumbers to deal with, and the snowpeas were steady but not really voluminous. Plus I've decided I'm not really very enamoured of capsicums. However, I have added a couple of strawberry plants at my niece's insistence. Let's see how they go!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Great Strides

Today was the Great Strides for Cystic Fibrosis charity walk, a 6km 'stroll' around Princes Park . . . twice. Three of us took part (along with a few hundred others) and, despite the fact it was a very warm day, we had a great time.

There's nothing quite like a charity walk for virtuous exercise. It was a great way to catch up with friends, burn some calories, and do our bit for a worthwhile cause. Even better, it prevented me from sitting in front of my computer all day.

Superb salad

One great thing about the warmer weather is eating salads. And I don't mean a lettuce dominated variety, but a hearty salad full of stuff. I create these out of whatever I happen to have in the fridge. Here's what I put in my salad tonight:

cooked potato
tomato
cucumber
avocado
bocconcini
alfalfa
baby spinach
marinated roasted capsicum (in brine, not oil)
. . . and to top it off, slices of grilled King Island eye fillet, left over from my meal last night. The restaurant served me two!! so I carted one home for dinner tonight.

Simply superb.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

SuperNOVA - the next generation

This afternoon/evening, six members of my writing group got together for a new kind of meeting. Instead of having a workshopping focus (where we critique the good & not-so-good points of members' short stories, having read them prior to the meeting), the focus was to discuss writing -- the ups & downs, tricks & techniques, craft, habit, inspiration etc.

I instigated this new kind of meeting because there are number of us in the group who are writing novels, rather than short stories, and so the workshopping angle is less relevant. Since I have not been attending regular meetings, I have been feeling more and more isolated as I pound away at the keyboard alone with only a few kindred souls to discuss things with. After discussions with others, it appeared that I wasn't the only one who wanted to meet with everyone on a regular basis, despite the fact that we wouldn't be workshopping.

So 'SuperNOVA - the next generation' was born.

Today's inaugural meeting was great. Get six writers together and they can't help but talk about writing (or reading). It was just what I needed: good conversations about what and how and why and why not. Ultimately, the challenges we face as writers are remarkably similar, and to be able to share and empathise and propose is brilliant. As time goes on, I anticipate we will start to bring real dilemmas to the table, so we can brainstorm solutions, whether related to plot, character or even time-management.

Today's meeting was drinks followed by dinner, but we're thinking the next one might be a brunch, so that we can all go home and harness our inspiration to write all afternoon. I am seriously looking forward to that already.

Friday, 19 October 2007

The huntsman

Yes, this is a spider story.

About a week ago I was happily sitting here at the computer (as I do often) when I glanced up to see a huntsman spider sprawled out on a piece of paper attached to my noticeboard. This was less than one screen-width across from my display. So, of course, with a small yelp, I jumped back out of my seat and peered at it accusingly.

At this point, my mother rang. "I have a huntsman!" I said, before she could get a word out. I can't remember why she was ringing, but we talked a bit, amusement dripping from her voice as she offered the odd suggestion, while I regarded the spider warily, plotting how I was going to transfer it outside as soon as I got off the phone.

We disconnected, I replaced the phone on the cradle and came back to deal with the spider -- only to find that in that split second it had moved. I found it about 20cm higher on the board. For the next 10 minutes I watched it explore my noticeboard out of the corner of my eye, as I tried to do some work. It was hopeless. Eventually, however, it clambered across the wall and disappeared behind the bookshelf. Well, I thought, I can't get at it there, and so long as I can't see it, I can ignore it.

For a few days, I entered my study expecting to see it above the door, or on the computer keyboard . . . Nothing. It disappeared. Good.

But, a few more days later, it re-appeared in the bathroom, this time just above eye-level. Again, so long as it didn't look like it could 'get me', I was happy enough to leave it on the window sill. And when it disappeared again, I waited cautiously for it to re-establish its presence, hardly daring to believe that it might actually have gone for good this time.

And it hadn't. Next it re-appeared on the mirror. Disappeared. Now, it has re-appeared on the fan above the shower.

Clearly, this is an impossible situation! There is no way I'm going near that shower with a spider hovering directly overhead! I can only hope that overnight it will decide to reconsider this vantage and hide away again.

For how much longer will this spider taunt me? I do not want to kill it -- I can never squash things, nor can I bring myself to spray -- which means I may have to brace myself for the big transfer with glass and cardboard. I hate doing this. It completely freaks me out. But better than having a spider threatening to get me!

Monday, 15 October 2007

The 30 minute rule

Last week I imposed a 30 minute time limit on my Facebook activities. The reason for this was the excessive time I was spending staring at the computer screen, playing scrabulous, clicking through people's profiles etc. It got to the point where I repeatedly clicked back and forth from my home page to my profile to see if anything had changed in the last 5 minutes.

Recognising the extreme sadness of this, I imposed the 30 minute rule. It worked a treat. I could get two moves into my current scrabble game (providing my opponent was also online) and it was long enough to gain a snapshot of what all my friends had been doing in the past 24 hours. And -- more to the point -- I got other stuff done! This included some much-needed progress on the rewrite plan.

Over the weekend I dropped the rule and stayed logged in all weekend. I sat at my computer almost the whole time (mainly working on novel and then a story for work) with Facebook keeping me company. It was nice actually, to have somewhere to turn when I needed a break.

This evening, it's a different matter. Having spent 12 hours yesterday doing work, I gave myself a free evening. On a standard evening at home this gives me three options: 1) TV, 2) read, 3) computer activities. Option #3 is my default.

So, evening on the computer. No 30 minute rule. As a result, I have spent most of that time focused on Facebook again. I have a couple of scrabble games to check up on every so often. I also went on a recruiting drive and found some more friends. How is it possible that these activities could take over 3.5 hours? This must be how impulsive gamblers react when they discover the length of time they've been staring at a slot machine.

The 30 minute rule is being invoked again for the balance of evenings this week. I simply have too many other things I need to achieve with my time. Why is it that we can spend all evening playing scrabble online, yet we have never once had a scrabble night? Is Facebook truly the future of social interactivity? I simply don't get it.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Blue Dragon


I finished Blue Dragon, book 3 of Kylie Chan's Dark Heavens trilogy, this week. Although I wouldn't rate this series up there in my top 10, I have certainly enjoyed it a lot, probably mostly because of its unique setting in modern day Hong Kong and the oriental world of martial arts, celestial beings and demons. The final installment takes things a few steps further than book 2 (Red Phoenix), just enough to keep it interesting, although I think the first (White Tiger) remains my favourite. I understand there is another series to follow, since the story is far from finished, and I will certainly be reading those as well. Having said all that, these are not perfect novels in terms of craft etc, but they are enjoyable -- and I guess that's the main thing!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

The psychology of weight

[IMPORTANT NOTE: This post should not be taken as something to get worried about. I'm exploring the topic. Don't take it literally.]

For the first time in my life, people I know are joking about me becoming anorexic. They ARE joking, of course. Anyone who knows me will find the very idea ridiculous. However, for the first time in my life I can sort of understand how it happens.

This year, I've experienced a mindset at times when it feels like there's a wall in my mind stopping me from crossing. Whether it's the block of chocolate-covered turkish delight in the pantry, or the chicken parmigiana on the restaurant menu, I have found the will to refuse. But in many ways it's more than that. To even consider eating these things can feel like an absolute taboo, like something that will ruin your life forever.

Psychology is an interesting thing. I don't know where I suddenly found the strength to change my eating habits. The decision came out of the blue: suddenly it was made and I was counting everything that I ate. For me, the formulaic and ultra-rigid approach worked well. The fact that everything had to add up to a specific number gave me the reason I needed and the framework to pick and choose. I have likened it to playing tetras.

But now, for all intents and purposes, it is time to stop. Or is it? This is where the mind is strange. All along I have said I would be happy to lose 20kg. I have now lost 25kg, which is just 2kg shy of the ultimate goal. On the one hand I have friends and family telling me it's time to stop. On the other, I have myself thinking that it would be good to see whether I could knock off those last 2kg. I now no longer doubt that I can do it. But should I?

In many ways my will is waning. More and more frequently, I'll stop counting half-way through the week, giving it up as a lost cause (although not falling off the wagon completely). Cake is now experienced more frequently (although in limited portions). But ultimately I can still see plenty of room for improvement . . . and so the temptation to keep going sticks around. As the weight keeps coming off each week, it gets rather addictive!

So I see the next challenge as being maintaining a consistent weight. Logic says it can't keep falling, so at some point I have to decide to stop. But to return to former eating habits would be a disaster. What then can I tolerate? How often can I eat cake? Can I ever have chicken parma again? Will I be able to phase in some things and know how much is enough? . . . And this is where I can see how people get anorexic. When you're on a moving train, how do you jump off?

Fortunately, I like food far too much for this to be an issue. Throughout this entire process I have not stopped eating dessert. Crappy low-fat chocolate mousses they may have been, but they have been dessert!

And here's some more psychology for you. Someone commented today that they thought I seemed much happier and content with my life these days, and attributed it to the 'new me'. I was a bit taken aback by this, because I don't really feel much has changed emotionally. (I now realise this is a common assumption from many people.) Anyway, I have been pondering the comment and have come to the conclusion that it is far more likely that my present state of good cheer is due to finishing the first draft of my novel!

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Circular argument (with myself)

I am working on my rewrite plan this evening. Is it wrong to be completely fixated on the beginning? I figure that the beginning is where the goal & motive are established and everything more or less flows on from there. Consequently, they need to be right.

You writers out there might raise your eyebrows to think that I'm still messing around with these story fundamentals. I wouldn't blame you. But the fact is that I have a series of events that could be tweaked to suit a number of different interrelated goals and motives. So I'm trying to settle upon the strongest before embarking on the next draft.

Of course, this is completely the wrong order of doing things, but this will teach me to conceptualise a story properly in the first place!

This leads into the other challenge I'm facing, which is my incurable need to conform to rules. In the past I've written from instinct and completely failed when it comes to structure (hence the current debacle). But now I have the reverse problem: I've so many different (but similar) rules about concept and structure, that it's doing my head in to make sure all the i's are dotted and the t's crossed.

I wish the instinctive method had worked better. But now that I know I have no instinct for structure, I'm second-guessing myself all the time. This is particularly the case with the opening, for which there are many different theories as to how it should work.

And so I return to my opening point. As the foundation of the story, the beginning is so important that it's worth taking the time to get it right. And so I remain fixated upon it -- for the moment at least.

OMG I can't wait to start writing again!

Early morning

Well, it's a start. I've been up since 6:30am this morning, on my way back into the zone. It's no matter that it was a work reason that had me up this early. The fact is I'm here. OK, so I'm not exactly working on the novel yet, but I'm getting there. Onwards and upwards!

Monday, 8 October 2007

Page Turners: When god looked the other way


Last week, our Page Turners reading group discussed the memoir, When god looked the other way, by Wesley Adamczyk. This described 10 years in the life of a Polish child, deported with his family (minus his father) from Poland at the beginning of WW2 to the backblocks of Kazakhstan. After spending a few years there, he and his family escaped during the evacuation to Iran, then moved through Lebanon and England before he migrated to family in America at the age of 17, 10 years after it all started.

I knew a lot less than I realised about these events, and this compelling account illuminated much about Soviet communism and propaganda. It is so very difficult to comprehend the life these people led -- not only the poor upper class Poles, dragged away from their comfortable lives, but also the average Soviet peasant. They lived in such squalor, and they starved during the winter, and they had so little freedom.

As bad as this was (and the book gave rather graphic accounts, as from a child's perspective), I found the ensuing years, once they left Kazakhstan, even more distressing. To think that so many people could not return home, despite having been freed. They still had to live in camps and barracks out of necessity, or join the Polish army to fight with the Allies. And then to survive the war to have Poland given over to the Soviets must have been heartbreaking.

The book is written in a very easy style, and is not heavy to read -- probably a good thing. Much of it is centred around the 'mystery' of what happened to their father, who as a POW was murdered by the Soviets in the Katyn massacre. The author states that he could not have written his account were it not for a Katyn memorial service that he attended in the Ukraine, once the Russian government finally admitted guilt for the massacre. Evidently this brought all his memories tumbling forth as he received the closure he craved.

It's definitely worth a read, all the details about bodily functions notwithstanding!

Catbook

OMG, what am I doing? Chenna now has a 'catbook' page. This is getting ridiculous!

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Edging towards madness

Having begun edging towards the zone earlier this week, my inability to reach it is turning me mad. Everything serves to thwart me, it seems.

For me, writing is very much about momentum, and this has never been better than back in June/July when I very briefly acquired the habit of belting out words at 6:30am. But, alas, when I arrived at ENDS my momentum carried me over the edge of a cliff and I plunged into a chasm of possibilities. I have lurked there ever since, occasionally finding a few hand and footholds to drag myself off the chasm floor, but I tire easily these days and have to rest at the bottom again.

All it needs is a big effort to scale the entire wall and clamber over the brink into the sunshine. But this seems to be beyond me at present. Such a climb requires undivided attention and enormous energy, neither of which appear to be available.

But such thinking is not helpful. Now is the time to find strength, determination and self-discipline. Reject distraction.

My current predicament is not helped this weekend by my work situation (as in 'paid employment'). Unfortunately, I could easily spend the entire weekend in the office. This leaves me feeling a) resentful, b) frustrated, c) guilty, d) indecisive. All negative emotions. All bad. Probably much to do with my current descent into madness.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Technology

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. -Roy Amara, engineer, futurist (b. 1925)

I think there's a good story in there somewhere . . .

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Scrabble babble

I told you I have been playing scrabulous a lot. Well, this article is a warning to us all (and disturbingly close to my own experience!) . . .

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,2142451,00.html

Monday, 1 October 2007

Edging towards the zone

You will be interested to know that I switched on the computer for a whole half-hour -- the time it took to write the previous post -- during the entire weekend down at the island. I am pleased with this, because it is surely not a good thing to spend one's every waking moment staring at a screen, as I seem to do most days.

Even better news is that I got my head back into "novel zone" yesterday. I spent quite a few hours just reading over notes, thinking, jotting down ideas etc. I am in the lull before the rewrite begins . . . I don't want to start until I am quite sure that I am heading in the right direction, but time is ticking and I can't stay in this lull for ever. I am almost ready to explode! Soon . . . Soon it will begin again. I had a good idea yesterday, and I just need to make sure that it's the right idea . . .

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Adventure at Cape Woolamai

Saturday 29 September, 4pm

I have not long returned home from an adventurous afternoon. Full of confidence in my new fitness and walking ability, I set off for a long walk at Cape Woolamai at the south-east of Phillip Island. This was more or less the only unexplored territory on the southern coast of the island, and I’ve been looking forward to getting down there for a while. There are three walk options, with distances of approximately 4, 6.6 and 8.5km respectively. The suggested walk times are very generous, and after some consideration, I decided to do the mid-length walk, confident I would take less than the 3.5 suggested hours. (After all, I walk to work at over 6kph, so surely I wouldn’t need much more than an hour!)

First up it took me about 15 minutes to find the walking track – mainly because I didn’t read the instructions for the GREEN walk, having decided to do the BLACK walk. When I finally realized I had to walk along the famous Woolamai surf beach for a few hundred metres first, I slugged off through the sand. It turned out to be very windy and rather cold, and I was thankful for my Gore-Tex jacket, icebreaker double-layer, scarf and beanie. Not exactly spring gear! On finding the walking tracks at last, I rejoiced and powered off along the cliff tops.

Cape Woolamai is very lovely, albeit windswept. It is also home to an extensive muttonbird rookery, and these birds were evidently due to arrive a few days ago. A lady I met seemed disappointed they hadn’t arrived yet, although I thought I smelt the telling stench as I walked through the area. For the first half hour or so I followed the green arrows to a view of ‘the pinnacles’ which are a spectacular granite outcrop. After this, the black path takes you on a circuit of the cape via the highest point on the entire island (116m). From here, the views would be wonderful on a clear day. On a somewhat storm-threatening, windy, hazy day, it was enough to appreciate that I had made it to the top!

By this time I had nibbled my way through all my snacks – small pack of sultanas & dried apricots, cheese & biscuit snack pack and an apple crumble bar. The bitter wind tore across the cape, so I didn’t linger, despite being fascinated by the arrival of small zippy birds that initially had me wondering whether I was witnessing the muttonbird arrival. I was also keeping a lookout for peregrines and nankeen kestrels – didn’t see these, but saw many crows and gulls.

I was ready to end the walk at this point, having had enough of the wind and the cold, but still had to complete the circuit and get back to the car.

If the first part of the walk had been a slog, then the last part was rather a struggle. I was tired of battling the wind and threatening rain, my ears were cold and I was hankering for a cup of coffee. At times like this I project myself into the persona of my characters, and try to cling onto the emotions, the physical discomfort, the thoughts, so I can inject them into these creations. I found myself examining the vegetation, and thinking up useful descriptions of them, and then wondering whether that was how my characters would describe them.

After a while I remembered that I had my headphones and thought maybe some music would help!

Finally I reached the end of the track and the beginning of the beach, but the worst was yet to come. For around 15 minutes, I laboured along the beach, the tide foaming around my ankles, against a headwind that made me feel like I was getting nowhere. To the tunes of Garbage and Hothouse Flowers, I put one foot in front of the other, tried to ignore the rain that had started in earnest, and thought bravely of that mega-latte I was going to have as soon as I could get to a café. Gradually – ever so gradually – the rickety ramp grew larger until I finally arrived back at the car park. Total time (since setting off along the beach): 1h 55m.

Since then I have devoured my mega-latte, hugging the mug in a daggy little café opposite Coles, and re-fuelled on a hot toasted fruit & spice muffin. On another day it would be a lovely walk – one on which to take a picnic lunch, even. Today, it was an adventure!

Friday, 28 September 2007

Have computer, will travel

This weekend -- in about an hour -- I am whizzing away to the island for the weekend. Unfortunately, I am going alone (although Chenna will come), but I suspect I will still have a marvellous time. (Although I could wish the weather had not turned quite so cold!) It is fabulous to be able to zip off to the island with relative spontaneity. Getting out of the city always feels wonderful.

Part of me has contemplated not taking my computer this weekend. Don't get me wrong -- I still intend to wrap myself in words, but those of the more tactile variety -- on paper! Not only do I have some books to read, but I also need to get back into my novel after around a month's hiatus. Maybe the best method would be to read, think, jot down ideas and free write.

That said, I will of course take my computer. It's a reflex reaction. A safety harness. My own personal teddy bear. Even if I don't switch it on, it will be there for me to use if I want to. These days I sometimes think better with my fingers clacking over the keys than I do with a pen in my hand.

What I will have a holiday from is e-mail, the internet and . . . Facebook. This will be a good thing.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Vowel rut

Another post about scrabble. I am currently playing five games of online scrabble with different friends via facebook. It's been an interesting experience. One learns various strategies from one's opponents, and I think I have improved considerably over the past couple of weeks.

One does remain, for all that, somewhat at the mercy of chance. For example, in one of my games I seem to receive vowels all the time. At the moment, my hand consists of 4 Is, 2 Us and an N. Just what am I supposed to do with those? At one point I had all vowels. And the problem gets worse, because you can invariably only make short words, which limits the number of tiles you can put down, and then more vowels come in, when all I desperately wish for is a consonant, particularly one that scores higher than 1!

I am being blitzed in the above mentioned game, because no matter what I do I can't get out of the vowel rut. However, fortunately it is the only one. The other games are more even, although there is one in which I am doing the blitzing.

Even more fortunate is the new web site I have discovered which helps find words with particular letter configurations. For example, if I wanted to put my Z on a high-scoring tile, I could ask the web site to find me options for ??Z?B (for example). Then it spits out a heap of words (if you're lucky) to choose from. This is proving to be incredibly useful -- only sometimes it spits out words that Scrabulous will not allow me to use, which is always disappointing.

So off I go now to find a word that consists primarily of Is, to score around 10 points with my one-point letters if I'm very lucky. Oh well. I think I'll be put out of my misery rather shortly!

Sunday, 23 September 2007

The spring equinox . . .

. . . was today. Oh goody, from now on the days are longer than the nights. Bring on the summer solstice!

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Mrs Dalloway

Ever since seeing and loving the movie, The Hours, I have been wanting to read Mrs Dalloway (which was the inspiration for the novel). So when it came my way as an audio book, I jumped at the chance. I figured that having the book read to me -- interpreted essentially -- would make it less challenging than confronting Virginia Woolf's 'stream of conciousness' style adopted for this book. I rather suspect I was right. The novel was beautifully read by Phyllida Law.

The writing throughout the book is wonderful. It features breathtaking imagery, poignant reflections, sharp observations. The cast of characters are all deliciously flawed, yet endearing, and although one might be intrigued as to how such a odd bunch thrust together in haphazard fashion makes a coherent novel, the strange fact is that they do.

There is very little plot in Mrs Dalloway. It merely rambles along in pursuit of the innermost thoughts of its characters, who obsess about mundane things, reminisce about key events in the past, and contemplate each other with affection and irritation in equal combinations. Past and present intermingle without warning, dealing with themes of feminism, depression and madness. And while at times it might have gone on perhaps a little too long about something seemingly irrelevant, it always returned to the central focus: that of Clarissa Dalloway, giving a party.

I enjoyed it a lot.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Grog


Today I learnt the origin of the word grog (once again through a.word.a.day), and it surprised me.

It is from Old Grog, nickname of Admiral Edward Vernon (1684-1757), who ordered diluted rum to be served to his sailors. The admiral earned the nickname from his habit of wearing a grogram cloak. Grogram is a coarse fabric of silk, wool, mohair, or a blend of them. The word grogram is from French gros grain (large grain or texture).

Never would I have imagined this, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Monday, 17 September 2007

A long-awaited adventure

This past weekend I had an adventure. I had weeks and weeks to look forward to it, and planned much of it beforehand. Training was undertaken, lists were written, shopping was done, schedules were developed. All my usual weekend activities were either slotted into the preceding week or abandoned entirely. I was fully focused, prepared, excited.

The adventure came and consumed the weekend. It both drained and exhilarated me. It kept me hopping (skipping), guessing, thinking fast, negotiating, wheedling. The challenge was phenomenal, but I prevailed (survived). It took me places I hadn't been before, and made me see places I had been in a completely different light.

As wonderful as the adventure was, I admit I was relieved when it ended . . . Although I would definitely be up for a similar adventure again, for the rewards outweigh everything in the end.

Overall I really love being an auntie. I hope Miss 4.5 feels inclined to come visit again one day (maybe when she's 5!).

Saturday, 15 September 2007

a confession

I feel I should 'fess up and admit that I'm not writing much at the moment. In fact, I don't think I've done anything for a fortnight. I've barely even thought about the re-write. I'm just hiding behind my "period of reflection and contemplation" as an excuse for being slack. And here it is September already, and I haven't even started the next draft. I was going to have it finished by the end of the year.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

A week of Facebook

Hmmm, I'm still undecided about Facebook. I admit that it's become something of an obsession, however. Every evening I switch on the computer and login to see who might have written on my wall or thrown a sheep at me or how many vampires might have bitten me. (Well, actually, the first thing I look for is whether it's my turn at scrabulous.)

Then I browse a bit, check out the pages of "friends" and see what they're doing. Tonight I searched for my sister's profile (having discovered she's recently joined) and sent her an invitation to be my friend.

But what am I actually achieving by all this? Two hours can pass in a flash, and I've done nothing but mouse-click around from site to site, played a few scrabble words, and perhaps left a few messages. Surely I could put my precious evening time to better use than this? I could be reading . . . I should be writing . . . Even an evening of Babylon 5 on TV would be more productive.

I am going to have to set strict time limits on Facebook sessions, or every evening will pass in the same way. I hope that I can snap out of the current fixation, which is such a passive and unproductive form of entertainment that I rather despise myself for succumbing to it.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Page Turners - Freakonomics


In all my experimentation with Facebook, I forgot to post about the book we discussed at our meeting last week. This was Freakonomics, by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner.

I've been describing it to people as a book about real life, and the underlying economics that drive it. It has chapters entitled "What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?" and then proceeds to explain that the fundamental similarity is that both groups can be persuaded to cheat, given the right incentive.

Or "Why do drug dealers still live with their moms?", which turns out to be because there's only big bucks to be made in drugs if you're at the top of the pyramid.

This book was definitely interesting, but I felt it over-laboured each point -- as might be inferred by the fact I can summarise each chapter in one sentence. Our discussion ranged all over, dancing from topic to topic, resting for a while on the "nature vs nurture" debate that took up the 5th and 6th chapters. (The outcome being that "nature", ie genetics, seems to be the winner if it's school grades in question.)

Nevertheless, a worthwhile addition to the bookshelf.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Fals esplitting

Here's another post about words. Every day for the past ten years or so, I've received 'a word a day' by e-mail. Each week has a theme and a short explanation. This week's theme is words formed by false splitting (I originally typed fals esplitting - freudian slip!) which, despite the fact I've heard of this before, has a cool explanation:

What's common among an orange and an omelet... and an uncle and an umpire? Earlier all these words used to take the indefinite article "a", not "an". They were coined by a process called false splitting.

Let's take orange. The original word was Sanskrit naranga. By the time it reached English, the initial letter n had joined the article a, resulting in"an orange". The word for orange is still narangi in Hindi, naranja in Spanish, and naranj in Arabic.

This false splitting caused what should have been "a napron" to become "an apron". The same process transformed "a nadder" into "an adder", and reshaped many other words. The n went the other way too. "Mine uncle" was interpreted as "my nuncle" resulting in a synonym nuncle for uncle. The word newt was formed the same way: "an ewte" misdivided into "a newte".

Could false splitting turn "an apple" into "a napple" or "a nail" into "an ail" some day? Before the advent of printing, the language was primarily oral/aural, resulting in mishearing and misinterpreting. Today, spelling is mostly standardized, so chances of false splitting are slim, though not impossible.

How cool is that?

For those who are interested, today's word is "eyas", which is a nestling, especially a young falcon or hawk. This results from the erroneous splitting of the original "a nyas" into "an eyas". [From Latinnidus (nest), ultimately from the Indo-European root sed- (to sit) thati s also the source of sit, chair, saddle, soot, sediment, cathedral, andtetrahedron.]

I would also point out that typing has much to answer for in this area (or may do in the future). My erroneous fals esplitting was the result of a too-eager spacebar thumb. Same result!

Scrabulous

So far, my favourite thing about Facebook is Scrabulous. For the uninitiated, this is online Scrabble, where you can take as long as you like to put a word down (no screams of 'hurry up') and you can play with the tiles on the screen to help you choose the best word. Once you've put the word down, a notification is sent to your opponent, who then plays a word when he/she has time. Games last days (I haven't finished one yet) but who cares? You can play three games at once!
More ways to play with words - heaven!

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Grooming the carnivors

A significant sign of Spring for me is the bursting forth of new blooms in my carnivorous plant collection. However, in order to see the shooting flower buds and new pitchers, I first have the somewhat tedious task of trimming off all the dead pitchers and flower heads of last season. In the more vigorous plants, this can take around half an hour, and when you have 10 pots . . . well, it's a time consuming process.

Every second year or so, I have the even more tedious task of repotting. There are two reasons for this: one, the spaghnum/peat mix goes stale after about that long; two, the rhizomes of the pitcher plants spread and outgrow the container. Logic dictates that I need to either get bigger pots, or break up the plants into more pots. I generally choose the latter, but whichever way you look at it, I end up with bits of plants, rhizomes and discarded moss all over the place. It's a messy job.

The task for this weekend has been repotting, and unfortunately I didn't quite get it all done, despite tackling it on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons (too many social engagements!). It always takes longer than I expect -- teasing the roots out when I unpack the pots, deciding which bits of plant go back in, and then packing the new mix around the selected rhizomes, while being desperately careful not to break any of the new shoots.

It is rewarding, though, when I reach the end and see all my pots, ready and waiting to burst with life. They don't look like much now, but in a few months' time, they'll be truly spectacular!

Thursday, 6 September 2007

The facebook phenomenon

For over a year I have been keeping this blog. I know some of my friends are reading it fairly regularly, because they either leave comments or else seem very knowing about what is going on in my life when I see them.

Despite this, not all that many of them keep blogs of their own. I have been lamenting this fact, because I rather enjoy reading the blogs of those who DO keep them. I have also been secretly wishing that more of my friends read this blog -- it's nice to have an audience, after all.

And THEN I meet with a whole bunch of my friends this evening to discover they have all joined 'facebook', and are all 'friends' of each other, and know everything there is to know about what's going on with everyone . . . only somehow I knew nothing about it.

What IS facebook, anyway?

It appears that it's an online social interaction thingy, a bit like MySpace. The latest thing in social networking.

Boy did I feel out of the loop this evening. It was like they'd all joined some club that excluded me. But WHEN did this happen?, I asked. They'd all joined, it appeared, sometime in the past month. Well then, HOW did it happen?, I asked, increasingly perturbed. (I do not like being out of the loop!)

And the remarkable thing was that they had not in fact all colluded to join together without letting me in on the secret. Each had been introduced to facebook completely independently -- by family, spouses, work colleagues, other friends. All in the past month.

The world is a funny place these days. Sometimes I think I spend my entire life in front of a computer screen and keyboard -- work, fiction writing, blogging . . . and now it looks like I'll have to join facebook and my social life will unfold in front of the computer as well.

But will online social networking ever take the place of real human-human interaction? The test of that will be if I start making friends over the net. To-date, I seem to be mainly interested in the blogs of people I already know. But it's only the next best thing to actually seeing them. And I suspect this will also be the case with facebook. If I need to join up so that I can stay in the loop of conversations like that which happened tonight (my jaw dragged along the floorboards for at least half an hour) then so be it. But somehow I have trouble imagining making friends via this forum.

But why has facebook suddenly and overpoweringly barged into the midst of my social group? Why now? Why have so few of them suuccumbed to blogging, only to show little reluctance when confronted with facebook? I have absolutely no idea at all. I have zero understanding of the facebook phenomenon at the moment. Maybe in a week or so I'll know more.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

New toys

Over the past week or two I have been playing with a trio of new electronic gadgets. These came to me in various ways, but have combined to keep life interesting!

The least exciting (although it depends upon perspective) is my new computer mouse. My old one was playing up, stuttering and jerking, losing connectivity etc. I can't think why I put up with it for so long, but suddenly it occurred to me that perhaps the device itself was stuffed. (I believe I was blaming the computer's USB connection.) After this epiphany I rushed into Officeworks to be confronted by at least 30 mouses ranging in price from $25 to $200. I resisted a cordless model (not trusting batteries or wireless connections to be interference-free) and instead went for the latest laser technology, which is supposed to be useful for using on non-ideal surfaces. So far, it hasn't skipped a beat and my computer life is revolutionised. No longer do I feel the need to swear at the screen, or feel compelled to throw said pointing device across the room. A good mouse is a writer's best friend (despite the fact her cat may also wish to play with it) . . .

Item number two is a new mini (1GB) MP3 player. About the size of a cigarette lighter, it came with my car stereo a couple of months ago, but I've only just gotten around to loading music onto it. Not only is it much lighter to carry around, but it plugs into the front of my car stereo (via USB) and plays directly into the sound system! Way cool. This way I can pick a selection of albums (at the moment I'm listening to 8, but it will fit more) and play them at random. Oh yeah, and it's PURPLE!




Finally I have a new mobile phone -- a MOTORAZR flip phone with 3G connectivity from Telstra's Next G network. This is very exciting. Not only have I been angling for an upgrade to my 4-year old, mono-screen, non-polyphonic Nokia (because phones, you know, are somewhat of a social symbol), but this is my first taste of a 3G network -- something that I have been writing about on behalf of clients for years now. So this phone does internet, e-mail, blogging, directory assistance, navigation . . . not that I'm supposed to use them, for the fees are exorbitant. But the phone itself is pretty (lilac) and it has a nice colour screen with icons and can take photos! When I figure out how to get photos off it, I will post one.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Pledge for the week

I was complaining not so long ago that I have so little time to read these days . . . and then last night I was put to shame. Exactly one week after lending two books to a friend, she returned them both already read! OMG, I said, when did you find time to do that? She shrugged and said she read them in the evenings.

Hmmm. When I am in full writing mode, I try to write in the evenings and would therefore feel guilty 'slacking off' to read. However, there invariably come evenings when work has just been too intense to even contemplate using more of my brain. Moreover, I am not in full writing mode at the moment, being instead in a period of contemplation and reflection.

So how have I been spending my evenings? It shames me to say I have been watching TV, and specifically Babylon 5 (I have just completed the second season). While it has to be said that B5 is very worthy TV, and somewhat educational with its novel-like structure, I now see that I have been squandering the perfect reading opportunity!

So, I have declared this week a Babylon 5-free week. I am not saying that I won't watch any TV, but I will not put on any DVDs, and instead I will read. (Which is a good thing too, because we have a Page Turners meeting on Thursday, and I need to complete the book!)

Friday, 31 August 2007

Size 10!

This evening I had the most ridiculous experience. I went shopping for clothes and came away with pants that are size 10! One pair, I might have considered a fluke, an aberration, but I now have three pairs of size 10s. I don't think I have ever worn size 10 in my entire life. I'm sure size 10s are not what they used to be, and I should also add that these are shops that sell clothes for 'real women'. Nevertheless, I can't help feeling rather triumphant about the whole exercise.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Blood moon

For a while there it looked like it would be cloudy all evening, but fortunately it cleared and allowed us to see the eclipse of the moon tonight. Since it took place over a couple of hours, I spent most of the evening inside, but ducked out the front door every so often to check on progress. It looked pretty much as expected -- blood red. I tried to take a photo but failed, so I have posted a picture taken by the ABC.




The nasa web site has extensive information on eclipses and transits etc. And this is a special web page for this particular eclipse.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Obsession with cake


At the moment, all I can think about is cake. I love cake. Especially dense, moist chocolate cakes. (Well, dense, moist cakes of any kind, really.)

The problem is that this year I have eaten very little cake. I have been on a 'healthy eating plan' that permits cake only rarely and even then in small quantities. Instead of having a fat wedge times two, I have a thin sliver. I lie in bed longing for a doorstop-sized chunk of 'death-by-cake'.

Last weekend I went to dinner with friends and there was a whole cabinet full of death-by-cakes. I stood in front of it drooling, completely befuddled by the sight of so much cake. I couldn't have picked one if I tried.

In an attempt to dull my craving I am gorging on low-fat supermarket 'snack cakes', which fit (if barely) into my healthy eating plan. Tonight I ate a salad so I could justify two small pieces of lemon cake afterwards.

I wonder if I will ever be able to eat cake again, or whether I will become haunted by the craving alone. Once I start again, will I be able to stop?

Life is all about cake. Cake is life. Don't eat cake to live. Live to eat cake.