Wednesday, 31 January 2007

words for the week - 1346

Hello, had a couple of good sessions this week, but not enough of them. I blame Red Phoenix, that book by Kylie Chan. I've been reading too late and getting too tired. The weekend was a writing disaster (as I've already lamented).

On a positive note, however, I'm averaging around 1300 a week, which is up on last year's 1000 per week average. I plan to get this up to at least 1500 if possible.

I have been writing a major scene, which is possibly another reason it's been a bit slow. You know, one of those 'set pieces' that I've been working up to from the very beginning. I think this would be what you call "plot point #2" in the seven step outline, where the story changes direction as a result of the final major complication leading up to the climax.

Woo hoo! I can actually sniff the ending! I am so glad that I changed the end-point of this novel. One major reason I'm glad is because I have already written a draft beyond that point, so legitmately feel as though I'm writing a second draft (albeit a vastly different draft from the first). However, it also feels right . . . and, even better, I'm nearly there!

I might have as little as 15,000 words to go . . . although there's still lots of work to do before it's submittable.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Distracted by a book

It isn't the first time, and it certainly won't be the last.

I picked up Red Phoenix by Kylie Chan yesterday, and have spent much of today reading it. This means no words on a Sunday!! (And not for any "legitimate" reason.) Very very bad.

But what's a writer to do if she can't find the time to read?

Friday, 26 January 2007

Beautiful comet

Last night I went out to buy ruby beads and ended up at the beach. Comet C/2006 P1 (McNaught) is in our skies at the moment. Discovered only in August last year (at Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarrabran in NSW, Australia), this comet was apparently at its best last week, but was still clearly visible last night as it heads away from us.

Here's the Siding Spring site, which details its discovery and best viewing methods, plus has some great images taken by the discoverer, Rob McNaught (for example see right. This was taken last night, 25 Jan 07). [C/2006 P1 on Jan 25, 10:45 UT. Photo: R. H. McNaught, Siding Spring Observatory. Canon 5D, 50mm, f/2.8, 600 sec exp., ISO 400. Medium combine of 5x120sec exps]

Back in 1986 I was lucky enough to be on a school hike in the Bogong High Plains when Halley's Comet was around. The staff got us out of bed at 4:00am and hiked us for half an hour to a gentle slope for superlative viewing. Even then, on a weekend that turned out to provide the best viewing of this famous comet, Comet Halley was a disappointment. Little more than a smudge. But at least I did see it.

Last night's comet was much more spectacular -- although I wish I had seen it last week, when it was very bright. It took us a while to work out what we trying to look for, but with the assistance of many others at the same beach with the same idea, we finally saw it. It turned out we were following last week's instructions, when the comet was low on the horizon near sunset and very bright.

Ten days later, the comet was higher in the sky and further south, not to mention less bright, so we had to wait for it to get darker. But once it came out it was easy to see: a small bright point and quite a long tail. Binoculars revealed the head very clearly. It was wonderful. I should add, however, that it was nowhere near as bright as the picture above!! That picture was compiled from 5 photos taken on long exposure, from the NSW countryside.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

words for the week: 2044

oops - a whole week since I've posted here. But at least I have achieved my quota of 2000 words for the week for the first time this year.

Had a great evening with writing buddies, and it looks like we've collectively decided that my novel is now going to end at the point that was originally the halfway mark, and which then became the 2/3 point. Well, now it's the end!

It feels right. Not only is there too much to tell after that point, but I need to be able to drop the tension all the way back down again. It's essentially a new beginning. So now I have a second novel when I didn't know it before. How exciting! Even more exciting is the knowledge that I might actually finish a draft of this first novel this year. It will be so good to do that (even if it means I'm still not past this particular point).

Last night, in order to meet my word quota, I sat down at midnight to write the 100 words required. I unfortunately had to stop on Monday night 100 words shy to attend a late night conference call. So the very fact that I did that last night means the target must be working!

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

words for the week - 1267

Still having trouble ramping up to 2000. We've had some very hot weather, and I've been working late at work. That's my excuse.

Must get some momentum soon, though.

Monday, 15 January 2007

Movie - Marie Antoinette

Saw this on Saturday night. A bit disappointing, really, since there's very little storyline. It was more a "slice of life" from the point of view of a young girl who's thrust into the strange world of the French court.

The problem was: no conflict. She never kicked up a stink at the things she had to endure (like being woken every morning and dressed by about 20 ladies in waiting). Many of the courtiers passed snide remarks about "the little Austrian" but that had no effect on her. Even when she was doing things that perhaps she ought not, there were no consequences.

The only thing that seemed to get her upset (for about 2/3 of the film) was the fact that Louie couldn't quite make it all work in the bedchamber and so she didn't get pregnant. How many letters from her mother (the Austrian empress), criticising her on her inability to "inspire the dauphin", did we have to hear?

The film was repetitive, but I thought this was actually effective in depicting her initially mundane existance: 20 ladies to help her get dressed, mass before breakfast, stilted breakfast c/w orchestra and 10 servants etc etc.

There was very little dialogue in the film as well. In some ways I liked this, because it made good use of actions (however mundane) to depict what was happening. Marie Antoinette didn't speak at the beginning of the film for about 10 minutes. Interesting.

Rock music was interspersed with classical - particularly opera. I don't think it worked in some cases - just too incongruous. Perhaps it was because it wasn't a comedy that the anachronisms didn't quite work. The masked ball with rock music (that they appeared to be dancing to) was truly weird.

Everyone knows Marie Antoinette's fate, but the whole French Revolution wasn't much of an issue in the film until the last 10-15 minutes. One experiences the excesses of French aristocracy in this film, without really seeing the contrast with the common folk.

Maybe (and I've just had this thought) the reason the film played it like this is because that was how it actually was for the king and queen. Maybe they truly were completely oblivious to the disatisfaction that was rife in France. Maybe the revolution did take them completely by surprise. This film was perhaps supposed to take you on the journey with Marie Antoinette - experience her boredom, her extravagance, her surprise.

Hmmm. Not sure that I'd go so far as to recommend Marie Antoinette, but I don't actually regret having seen it. I think Sophie Coppola was being quite experimental, and that was interesting. Main problem though was that it struggled to hold attention. Maybe it was just too long (at about 2 hours).

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

words for the week: 1517

It’s far far FAR too hot to write tonight! My words for the week are 1517. So already I’ve fallen short of 2000! Oh well. It was all the fault of the 20-20 cricket game last night. It sucked me in!

Other excuses are that I attended my writing group meeting on Sunday afternoon instead of writing, plus last week it was very hot as well. It makes me sleepy and I can't concentrate! Tomorrow is going to be 36 degrees again, so I will probably have the same excuse.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

White Tiger

I've just finished reading White Tiger, a fantasy novel by first-time author, Kylie Chan. This one was a great read, keeping me up until all hours of the night (in fact morning).

It's set in modern day Hong Kong, where a young Australian woman, Emma, gets embroiled in a world of Chinese gods, immortals and demons, when she starts a job as a live-in nannie. Very soon it becomes apparent that 'all is not what it seems' with her employer. Soon, she's learning martial arts from the god of martial arts himself, and more besides.

The story gripped me right from the start. There were certainly many mysteries waiting to be revealed as Emma is first suspicious and gradually learns the truth about the identity of her employer . . . and then the story starts building to a celestial confrontation between gods and demons. The writing is very easy to read, the characterisation strong, and I just found myself wanting to stay with Emma and co for the next scene and the next and the next. Some of these were shopping trips, or lunch dates, or training sessions . . . it didn't matter if nothing happened, or major action fell from the sky --- I wanted to be there. (There's also a very strong romantic thread to this story, which appealed to me a lot.)

So there's probably too much padding for it to be considered a 'great novel', but I didn't care!

I've just found out from the author's web site that there are to be six books in this series (!) with the next (Red Phoenix) due out at the end of this month. I'm pretty happy about that! Both White Tiger and Red Phoenix refer to two of the 'four winds': the white tiger of the west and the red phoenix of the south.

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Carnivorous Cephalotus

For years and years I've had a thing for carnivorous plants. It started when bushwalking with my uncle, who pointed out some of the native Australian sundews (drosera), where sticky tenticular leaves catch small insects.

Then I discovered 'Collectors' Corner' at Gardenworld in Keysborough and the then Dingly Fern and Garden, where an array of different pitcher plants and fly traps (plus others) could be purchased. Over the years I've had some spectacular Venus Fly Trap specimens (Dionaea Muscipula), which thrive in a Melbourne climate. These are the famous carnivors, which clap shut when triggered by insects, and can often be found in supermarkets across the country.

Most of my current specimens, however, are the passive pitcher plant (Sarracenia), which comprises tubular 'pitchers', often tall, with downward-pointing hairs that prevent insects from escaping once they've made it to the bottom. There they die to provide nutrients for the plant. It's interesting to slit open a pitcher once it's full to see what the plant has been eating. I've seen them eat flies, wasps, ants, even roaches (yuck!).

Sarracenias, fly traps, and drosera are all really easy to grow. In fact, I have drosera growing like weeds in many of my sarracenia pots! I just use a rough 50/50 mix of sphagnum and peat moss, and try to make sure the pots are always standing in water. The Sarracenias have rhyzomes, so propagate quite quickly and are easily divided. My favourite pot at the moment is a mixed specimen that contains a whole heap of 'left-over' pieces of rhyzome. These have all grown up to present a fabulous and vibrant mix of different pitcher shapes, softened by the sticky sundews.

The reason for this post, now, today, however, is that I came across the photo above of some very rare native Albany Pitcher Plants (Cephalotus Follicularis), we saw in the wild two years ago. This plant is NOT easy to grow at home; my mother and I have a couple of specimens between us that have looked wonderful at times, but which also have a tendency to shrivel up and 'die'. They are native to Albany in Western Australia, and even there are very hard to find---we were fortunate enough to meet a local who trusted us enough to tell us where to find them. In just one tiny patch of slightly swampy bushland near Albany, these rare pitcher plants were prevalent and big and beautiful. It was wonderful.
These days the best place to get carnivorous plants is through Triffid Park, a company started up by the former owners of Dingly Fern and Garden. Triffid Park specialises in carnivorous plants for by-appt pick up and mail-order and has by the far the best range of anywhere.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

words for the week - 400

OK, so I've not blown myself away with the words this week, but as already mentioned, I did spend a lot of time thinking and planning. And last night I spent a delightful evening with two writing buddies, chatting about our work and offering comments. It's great to get some reader feedback.

Next week, 2000 will be the target!

Monday, 1 January 2007

Upping the intensity in 2007

Often, around the Christmas/New Year period, I find myself buried in a flurry of paper: past chapters, readers comments, my own brainstorming and planning notes . . . It happens when I have heaps of time and I start thinking too much. All my major plot overhauls happen in the Dec/Jan period!

This year, it's happened again. I’m not overhauling what I’ve already done (much), just looking ahead and mapping out the path forward. Sometimes it's good to stand back and regroup/reassess. I think it's been necessary these past few days, to get myself back 'into the zone' after a two-month hiatus.

The good news is that, as of this evening, I'm through with regrouping and am now back with the writing. My goal for this year is to finish the current draft. This means an increase in intensity and output.

New weekly word target is therefore 2000 words! (up from 1500 words)

Happy New Year everybody.