Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Inspiration #7 - Peregrine Falcon


I can't remember when it started, but for a long time I have loved Peregrine Falcons, along with most other types of raptor (bird of prey). It might have derived from a book I read many years ago (A falcon for a queen, by Catherine Gaskin). Any chance I get, I drag friends and family to wildlife parks to see them. Healesville Sanctuary near Melbourne is particularly good at demonstrating birds of prey in flight.

Last week, as I sat atop Helens Head, I thought (hoped) I saw a pair of peregrines. My main reasoning was colouring along with a vague idea the habitat was right. However, they weren't behaving as I thought peregrines might behave -- the pair was flying in circles above the edge of the cliff, and making noises that I thought sounded a bit parrot-like. I think they might also have been a bit small.

I went to the Nobbies centre to inquire of an expert as to whether they thought they might have been peregrines. (Living in hope, as I said.) Unfortunately, there was no-one there who could answer my questions, but I do have the names of some people to e-mail, so stay tuned. According to Wikipedia, peregrines lay eggs during July-August in the Southern Hemisphere, so is it possible I witnessed some form of pre-laying ceremony? Another site I just checked, suggested that peregrines defend the skies above their nest . . . I would really like to find out!

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Farewell Phoenix


Today the Melbourne Phoenix played its last home game ever. Likewise for the Kestrels. A really sad and emotional day. Lucky for the Phoenix they won their game -- a great tussle with the Thunderbirds. The Kestrels were not so lucky, going down to the Firebirds. Netball Victoria put on a little commemorative ceremony for the two teams between games, and Paulini sang. We could have done without the latter, but the ceremony and souvenir program were both appreciated.

There are two still games left before the finals. Phoenix plays the Darters and the Firebirds -- they should win both of those and finish top of the table as minor premiers. This makes me get all worked up again about Netball Australia's insane and unfair decision to host ALL the finals in Sydney. It really makes my blood boil. I can feel more emotional e-mails coming on as we get closer to the finals!

Next year, there will be a new Melbourne netball team, probably incorporating the best of the Phoenix and Kestrels teams. It will be a formidable team, and I'm quite looking forward to it. But for now I'm sad that the purple passion will be gone for good.

Harry the last

(no spoilers)
Well, as you know I spent last weekend reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Continuing in the tradition of the last couple of HP books, I went away with some friends to focus on it completely.

The first time we did this was for Order of the Phoenix. We went down to Anglesea on the day the book came out and read like mad until we'd all finished. We spent a lengthy session on the Saturday night reading it aloud to each other, which was really companionable. (We also wrote 'Weasely is King' in the sand down at the beach . . .)

The second time was for Half-Blood Prince, and although we had a lovely weekend, the HP side of things fell a bit flat because we delayed a few weekends and people had already started or finished it!

This time we again went away on the day the book came out, and there was an air of delicious anticipation. In fact, I think we chatted and mucked about before actually sitting down to read -- all part of the build-up.

After reading the first four chapters to ourselves, we decided to try reading aloud again. And we kept going . . . and going . . . until those of us doing the reading were hoarse! By this time it was about midnight and we went to bed.

In the morning, more delicious anticipation as we wandered down the road for a disastrous breakfast, before returning to more HP7. And still we read aloud.

The fabulous thing about reading it aloud with friends is that we could stop and exclaim and postulate and discuss as we went. It got to the point where I no longer wanted to read it to myself, as I couldn't stop and discuss with people. The 6-book build up and media hype made the Deathly Hallows an experience to be shared. And even when half our party went home before the end, two of us persevered together, taking only an 80-page (or so) break to read silently and give our voices a rest. And even then, we stopped a chapter short of where we'd agreed, as things got far too exciting for the solo effort.

The experience was wonderful, and I thought the book lived up to the hype and had a thoroughly satisfying ending. And that's all I'm going to say here, because I've promised no spoilers. I am immensely glad to have taken the Harry Potter journey.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Feeling positive

I think I'm going to enjoy the rewriting process. After that post on Thursday I knuckled down and actually started reading my draft, scrawling notes to myself as I went. It took me hours to get half way through, after which I needed to harness some of the ideas richocheting around my brain. So now I have a mapped out 'Act 1', complete with scheduled new scenes, scenes in the gun for deletion, one or two that need rewriting, and ideas for fine-tuning those that made the grade.

One major idea came to me during my Thursday afternoon walk. It's nothing that will affect the plot, but it adds character depth and ties in with one of the plotlines so incredibly well that I'm excited.

I don't have ideas that often when I'm walking. I've tried it in the past as a vehicle of creativity, but my mind tends to go blank instead, which is why I've taken to listening to books or music. But on Thursday the creative juices were really flowing. Must have had something to do with the gorgeous coastal scenery. I think the whole revamped Act 1 came to me in some form or other. I think it's going to be so much stronger and tighter and better.

I can't wait now to get back into it!

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Head case

Spending some time in relative isolation this week has allowed me to focus on the next phase of my novel: the rewrite. It’s been much more difficult to get my head around than I anticipated. There are so many things to take into account! So far I’ve mainly been thinking about plot things: are all the motivations strong (worthy) enough, is the dominant plot strong enough, are the stakes high enough, is there enough conflict, how do the subplots relate and complement . . . I’ve been reading articles on all these subjects, jotting down lists of motivations, obsessing over making sure I can categorize the elements of my story into the structural frameworks put forward by various ‘experts’.

Enough already!

I could obsesses and stress about all these things forever. My current dilemma is whether or not my main character is heroic or not. She’s not. Not in this book at least. Others are, but not her. I ask myself over and over whether this matters.

But, I said, enough!

I am now telling myself I just have to go with my instinct. OK, so in the past, my instinct hasn’t been that great when it comes to plotting, but I have been working hard on this, and there comes a point when you just have to trust yourself. The story is written, for good or ill. I can strengthen motivation and conflict, build on character, backstory and setting, ensure certain events are foreshadowed and setup, weed out useless scenes, add new scenes, raise the stakes . . . but even after all that, the bones of story will remain what they are.

I just need to get on with it. I think, if not for this week away, I might have avoided the whole process for another few weeks, so it’s been providential to be here alone, with little else to do, with my computer staring at me, with the knowledge that next week it’s back to work and I need to identify NOW what I’m doing next Monday at 6:30am.

So, the next step is to read it through with a pen and highlighter, and to stop being such a head case!

In love with the island



I have fallen in love with Phillip Island this week. It’s one of the most beautiful places on this earth. (Or maybe I just needed a holiday!) In the middle of July, the middle of our winter, it’s peaceful, wild, breathtakingly beautiful.

Kitty Miller Bay is a small bay on the south coast of the island. On Tuesday it was deserted, save for a small family of three muddling about in the sand. I took a small track along the ‘cliff’ top to the next bay across, where stands the rusted wreck of the SS Speke, a barque that ran around here in 1906. The track ends here, but I battled bravely on along through the tufted grasses and pricklebushes and made my way down onto the sand. Before backtracking to examine the Speke, I kept going, not another soul in sight, and trekked across the base of the dunes into the next bay, across the silver stretch of sand to the base of Helens Head. The top revealed a wonderful view of the rugged island coast and Bass Strait.

Down on the beach below, a single set of footprints marked my progress along the beach.

There is something special about a deserted beach. Remarkably, it’s just a ‘hop-skip-jump’ away from the tourist-packed Summerland Bay, where the Little Penguins waddle in every dusk to much touristy fanfare. Obviously the locals know about this secluded stretch of coast, because their farms roll down right to the edge of the dunes. Lucky cattle! Lucky sheep!

I am still exploring the other parts of the island, but already I know that the south coast and the SS Speke will be a place I return to. The beach below the head will afford an amazing 360-degree view of the night sky, and next time there’s a comet or planet or meteor shower to see, I know where I’m going!

As an added bonus, the coastal landscape is remarkably similar to one of the settings in my novel, so as I contemplate my rewrite it’s handy to feel so inspired by said location!

Friday, 20 July 2007

Off to the island

It's finally here, my week of pure indulgence. I'm off to the island for a Harry reading frenzy, followed by the beginning of the next phase of my novel: the big review and rewrite. I'm so excited! Back in a week, guys!

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Magic Eye

I was sitting at the computer going cross-eyed, when I was reminded of the fabulous Magic Eye images. The trick is to let your eyes defocus and a 3D image will emerge. Good luck!

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Brrrr

Cold. We had rain, thunder, lightning and hail today, the coldest day in 9 years.

I am really feeling it this winter. So very cold. A few people have postulated the theory that it's because I've lost my padding! Could this be true?

OK, so our coldest day in 9 years reached 9 degrees, then plunged to 5 degrees for most of the day -- and now there are many people in the far north of the world laughing, because they have to deal with -30 degrees C. But for Melbourne, it's freezing!

My heating has been going non-stop this evening. It came on at 6pm and it has still not reached the steady-state temp of 20 degrees. I wonder if it will?

Monday, 16 July 2007

Harry Potter month


July is all about Harry Potter. JKR must pinch herself every five minutes. How is it possible that Harry has become such a global phenomenon?

Don't get me wrong: I am a fan. Although plenty of literary purists have criticised the writing, the archetypes, the borrowed mythologies, I see much to get excited over. When I first read the first book back in 2000, I was thrilled to be entering her imaginative world. And that world has continued to grow and mature with every book. I like the public boarding school with the magical twist. I like just everything about it.

The latest movie, HP and the Order of the Phoenix, has just been released. I loved it. JKR really makes me care about her characters, and as I watched all my old favourites -- as well as some new ones -- materialise on screen, a lump of emotion formed in my throat. The first time I watch the film version of a loved book, I am not a fair viewer. I watch with a critical eye, scrutinising to see what has been left out or changed. But my complaints about Order of the Phoenix are few, and mainly related to the lack of character development received by some of the supporting cast. I thought it was a great adaptation on the whole.

Even more exciting, the seventh and final book is released globally on Saturday. In reverent preparation for HP and the Deathly Hallows, I am re-reading number 6, HP and the Half-Blood Prince. In my view, this is the weakest of all of them so far. The plot is seriously lacking, and on the whole it's rather slow. All the excitement is saved for the final 100p or so. Nevertheless, I persevere so that, come Saturday, I can retire with select companions to the island to indulge in an orgy of reading!

But back to the global phenomenon. What is it about Harry that makes every book store send you e-mail after e-mail promoting free Hedwigs with every copy purchased, or special discount prices? Why is there a synchronised global launch: 12:01am in the UK, 9:01am in Aust and so on? Why am I going away with friends with the express purpose of being anti-social and reading it end-to-end in the shortest possible timeframe?

Has there ever been anything like it?

It must be the adults driving it. I can't imagine publishing companies and bookstores getting this excited over a mere kids' book. (Here's a Daily Telegraph article that supports my view!)

Really, we should be delighted that it's a NOVEL that is inspiring this maniacal behaviour. (We writers, that is.) Still, I have to wonder whether the world has gone mad. Maybe the witches & wizards are all sitting back laughing at us silly muggles.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Kipple

The thing about massive projects -- such as novels, or theses -- is that while one is focusing on them, everything else goes by the wayside. Things build up. I believe Philip K Dick called it 'kipple' in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

Well, I have a house full of it.

Nevertheless, I have purged this weekend and made some progress. I have fitted out my pantry with a mountain of Tupperware that has been stacked on my kitchen table for over a month. This necessitated some rearranging and liberation of other cupboards to make space for everything. So, after about six hours of solid rearranging, emptying, tossing, I can actually see the surface of my table . . . for now. And my pantry is looking somewhat spectacular.

I have also filed about six months worth of bills, bank statements, and general miscellany; tossed more clothes out of my wardrobe after trying on about 10 pairs of pants, most of which are now too big (propelling me into a suit crisis); plus pruned pruned pruned various bushes in the garden and weeeeeded until my back broke.

I feel better, but still kipple remains in the form of boxes of stuff to go to an op shop, plus things in my study I haven't gotten around to finding homes for yet. And thus it will most likely stay for another few weeks!

Inspiration #6 - beach in winter


To me the beach is far more atmospheric in winter, with the wind howling and the waves sloshing in, dark and ominous. I love to walk along the coast, all rugged up in Icebreaker, polar fleece, scarf and beanie, watching the play of light on water and sand. Seabirds diving in. Very few people and no sunbathers.

This photo was taken at Phillip Island in March, so not really winter, but it was a cool and thundery day, so almost as good!

Saturday, 14 July 2007

FINE-ally a win!

The good news is that my parking infringement notice has been WITHDRAWN!

A week or so ago I sent another polite letter requesting clarification on the following point: that since they had acknowledged the existance of the sign I sent them a photo of, how was it possible that there should also be a sign stating restrictions on Sunday. Could they tell me exactly where it is please?

So now they have sent me a very polite letter withdrawing the notice. Yippee! I win!

Friday, 13 July 2007

As if I needed another reason . . .

"Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts which other men have prepared to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life."

Jesse Lee Bennett

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Anniversary

Today, it's one year since I started this blog!

I might come back and add to this later . . . too tired tonight.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Finished!

This evening I have completed the first/second draft of my novel.

WOW

Not sure what to do now. Do I leave it to gestate for a few weeks? Do I maintain the good rhythm I've had for the past three weeks and immediately start the rewrite?

There are many many things I need to address. It's still very rough, particularly in the second half, where I was really trying hard not to get bogged down by 'perfection'. There are many ideas I need to seed, settings and characters to flesh out, narrative and dialogue to clean up etc etc.

Do I get up at 6:30 tomorrow morning?

Help!

BTW, this draft is just under 98,000 words long. Not sure if it will grow or stay the same during the rewrite. I expect it will grow, but that's OK. I was originally targeting 120,000 words. What I can say is that it won't be a rewrite from a blank sheet. That's what this was, more or less, which is why I'm calling it the 1st/2nd draft.

I think I'm going to leave it until my week off in a couple of weeks. Am going down to the island, and that will be a good opportunity to start reviewing the draft. All 228 A4 typed pages of it (mostly 11pt Times Roman, 1.5 space).

So now I guess I'm on holiday!!

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Inspiration #5 - Delphi




Delphi is one of my favourite places on earth. I love ancient sites, where history seeps out of every stone, and this is the most beautiful and dramatic of them all. Delphi sings to my soul.

Transformers - a spectacle


I saw the movie Transformers this evening. It has the full entertainment factor: action, special effects, humour, romance . . . In short, I enjoyed it.

There's not a lot of character development though, and I think the only characters I really cared about were the main character, Sam (a teenage boy, who holds the key to preventing the bad 'decepticons' in the form of his grandfather's spectacles), his would-be girlfriend (who has an interesting background and a mechanical bent), and the transformer, Bumblebee, who is Sam's protector in the form of a car.

Nevertheless, it's fun to watch, and the special effects are truly something.


Thursday, 5 July 2007

A definition of inspiration?

"The best work is done with the heart breaking, or overflowing. "

Mignon McLaughlin, journalist and author (1913-1983)

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

In search of [ENDS]

This week I have arrived at a place I've never been before. I am at the end of the novel. And I mean THE END. Only, I'm not quite sure how to end it.

I know that whatever I write now can and will be revised, but somehow I would like to finish with some oomph, something other than . . . "[work out how to end this later]". It will not seem real until I close off with something that at least feels right for now.

But how to finish? In desperation I have feverishly searched the pages of Ship of Magic, Book 1 of Robin Hobbs' Liveship Traders. She ends different story threads in different ways. Some characters are filled with new resolution, others end on a conflict, yet others confront new and promising possibilities. This has been helpful.

Yet still I sit and stare at the screen, wondering if the last few hundred words should be deleted, or at least repurposed (probably). Wondering whether it matters which POV character I finish with. Wondering just what will hit the spot with the reader.

We have all read wonderful books with crappy endings. The endings may be crappy because the wrong thing happens (in which case you just get cranky with the author), other times the end is crappy because there's not enough of it, or alternatively too much. I despise novels that end before I've done with the characters, before I'm satisfied that they've come out the other end of all the drama with a sense of resolution.

Whatever happens, I have made up my mind that it will be finished this week. Then the task will be to commence revisions, because it's not fit for anyone to read just yet. I am really looking forward to the revisions, because I have so many issues I want to address, characters to flesh out, settings to embellish, seeds to sow. Really exciting. Seriously thrilling.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Inspiration #4 - theatre

I was going to say opera, but I realised that ballet is a great inspiration for me as well. Both can make me well up with emotion. I love the music, the harmonies, the costumes, the grace.

Here are two of my favourite stars: Anthony Warlow and David Hobson (in the Pirates of Penzance).

Monday, 2 July 2007

Inspiration #3 - Reading



I have always loved reading, and I seem to think the first chapter book I read was Charlotte's Web. Now -- although I am a member of the Page Turners reading group, which opens me to a vast array of different genres of novels and non-fiction books -- I have a great predilection for reading fantasy (speculative fiction).
For me, fantasy is food for the soul. It's about magic and possibility. It explores every human emotion. I have written elsewhere: "For me the delight is in being transported into another world, where the impossible becomes possible and unlikely characters undergo tough journeys of self-discovery and love. Fantasy fiction is the ultimate celebration of the ‘human’ spirit."
My all-time favourite fantasy novels (or series) are:

  • The Mordant’s Need duology by Stephen Donaldson
  • The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • The Ruins of Ambrai by Melanie Rawn
  • The Kushiel’s Chosen trilogy by Jacqueline Carey
  • The Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb

Reading these novels fills me with inspiration to create my own worlds, my own beloved characters, my own human journeys. I truly owe my love of writing fantasy to these amazing novels by amazing writers. If only I could write like any of these novelists . . .

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Inspiration #2 - celestial phenomena


I love stargazing and picking out constellations. This (as you probably know) is Orion, just about the most famous constellation there is. In the southern hemisphere, he appears upside down and dominates the summer night sky.
In this picture, the red star at the top is Betelgeuse (Orion's shoulder), the blue star bottom-right is Rigel (Orion's foot), and the three stars in a line are Orion's Belt.

So my second inspiration is just about anything to do with celestial phenomena -- stars, moon, solstices, eclipses, comets, meteorites . . . anything. They play a big part in my writing as well.