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.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

With a spring in my step


Somehow no other season presents itself so majestically than does Spring. It's impossible not to notice its arrival.

Spring: warm air, buds of blossom, extended daylight, new shoots, a yearning to be outdoors, an unaccountable need to smile, a heart that sings.

I don't care what the date is. Spring has arrived.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Total eclipse of the moon


Something I'm rather looking forward to is the total eclipse of the moon that will happen next Tuesday 28 August. This is when the moon moves into the earth's shadow, so it will probably still be visible, but appear a dark red colour.

The full moon will rise around 7pm, but will then start to move into the earth's shadow over the next hour or so until it peaks somewhere around 8 to 8:30pm. By 10pm it will all be over and the full moon will sail across the sky once more.

Let's hope it's a clear night -- I can't wait!

[The image here was taken October 27, 2004.]

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Macro view

As I work on my re-write (or, more accurately, my re-plan) a couple of things have struck me. For one thing, it's incredibly difficult to read, assess and fix your own work. Give me someone else's novel to pick apart any day. The problem with critiquing your own work is that you know what's going to happen. In addition, you generally understand everything that's going on as well as what your characters are thinking and feeling. This makes judging whether you've effectively conveyed all that on the page really hard.

The other thing is that although an isolated scene might contain great words, elegant prose, intense emotions, dramatic action . . . it won't necessarily work within the greater context of the novel. In life, everything is relative, and the same goes for this. Not only does the scene have to work on its own, but it has to fit in with the overall rhythm and structure of the whole. It's a case of the micro versus macro view.

This is, of course, the essence of 'pacing' and it's something I clearly suck at. I am currently having to scrutinise the final third of my story to try to work out why it feels like there's no climax, no definitive moment when everything goes pear-shaped. The events are there. The scenes are there. Yet it just doesn't work. There's no feeling of triumph against the odds.

I guess I should be satisfied that I at least can identify this flaw in my own work, even if I have no idea at present how to fix it. It is, no doubt, a matter of which bits (no matter how well executed) to cut out, and of the parts that are left, which to emphasise.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Between the candle and the stars

Well, I've been procrastinating again, but what a way to do it. For those of you who didn't get the reference in the title of this post, I have been re-watching Babylon 5 (a 1990s science fiction TV series). Over the past week I have forged through season 1 and am now all set for season 2.

I first got into B5 in the third season (approx 1996) and it sucked me in from the very first episode. It was a show with a 5-year arc, so of course I had to rent out the videos from earlier seasons to get caught up. So too did my friends.

What followed was an orgy of B5 watching -- weekends during which a bunch of us watched entire seasons in a single hit, 12-hour days of B5 watching and eating junk food. [sigh] Those were the days.

Seriously, Babylon 5 is best watched in large, intense chunks. It's the only way to pick up on all the clues and put the puzzle together. It's a character-driven, political, 'good v evil' space opera that consumes your mind while you're in the throes of the experience. It becomes a temporary obsession. (Meaning that right now, I am calculating how many episodes I can get in tonight before bed!)



Sunday, 19 August 2007

Phoenix: end of the road (Vale)


After finishing minor premiers in the final year of the Commonwealth Bank trophy competition, Melbourne Phoenix made it to the grand final, but stumbled at the final hurdle. They went down this afternoon to the Sydney Swifts 45-37.

Many times this season, Phoenix have won the game in the first quarter, but it was the Swifts who did that today. Four of us passionate followers of the purple gathered together to watch the game on TV, and felt our hopes fade as our team was, in truth, outclassed.

We'll never know whether the outcome would have been different had it been a home grand final -- as it should have been. Perhaps in front of a home crowd, a sea of purple instead of yellow, they would have been more fired up, found something extra. After all, only once in the history of the competition has a team ever won away from home. (Phoenix in 2003)

We'll never know whether the emotion of playing the last ever Phoenix game had an impact. Apparently the Swifts are sticking around next year, so they didn't have the trauma of knowing it was the end of the road. After the game, the Phoenix girls were all in tears, and I'm certain it wasn't because of the loss of the game, but because of the loss of the club.

Pundits are calling it a great game, but I can't call it that. It's all too shattering to know that it's over, and we've lost. Phoenix is gone.

match report

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Writers and their cats

I've just been to a meeting of writers, but it wasn't a writers' meeting. We met at the Animal Emergency Centre, where two of us had brought cats to be blood-typed in case they need to donate blood for Lita's cat, Fox, who may need a transfusion.

We lounged about the waiting room, catching up and talking shop, while the vet-nurses took our beloved felines away. They tested Tracey's cat, Beth, first and since she proved both a match and a better body weight for donating, Chenna was saved the trauma in the end.

We're all very worried for Fox, who is booked in for a surgery to remove his spleen and part of his liver on Monday; but something about the situation, the fellowship of three writers and their cats, struck a chord in me. I know the whole cat/writer thing is a stereotype and that many writers have dogs (including Tracey, who has two), but somehow the idea of 'sharing' our cats was as significant as critiquing a piece of writing.

Tracey has written a graphic account of these events, in which Chenna's devilcat persona is revealed. For Chenna's account, see her post.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Books in bed

I love reading. I always have. But as time marches on I seem to have less and less time to do so.

In my youth, not a night would go by when I did not read for at least an hour before turning out the light. Every night. If the book was really good, I would keep going until 4am, telling myself as each hour rolled by that the next day didn't matter, that I would get through the day on a mere 3 or 4 hours sleep somehow. And I always did.

The funny thing was that I was never sleepy in the middle of the night, ploughing through some wonderful novel. That was part of the problem. It was too easy to keep going and ignore the consequences.

My how times have changed. These days I fall into bed and lie there staring at the ceiling, wondering whether I have the energy to pick up the book beside me. Usually I have novel ideas etc whirling around my head, so I think about them for a while, feel my eyelids getting heavy and switch off the light without evening opening my book. The time is not necessarily any later than it used to be. I just don't seem to have the same energy.

So maybe it's not that I don't have enough time, but more that I've lost the ability. How depressing.

The complicating factor is that I've usually got a couple of books on the go: one for my Page Turners reading group, and another one (or more) fantasy novels. Currently, the line-up is:
* Freakonomics (the Page Turners book; it's in my bed waiting for me to start it, which I'd better do soon)
* Sasha, by Joel Shepherd (a fantasy novel that's top of the pile (i.e. in my bed) at the moment. It's the one I've been reading most recently, having bought it and been excited by the prospect of a female elite swordsman. It's OK but not brilliant.)
* Banewreaker, by Jacqueline Carey (JC wrote the brilliant Kushiel's Legacy series, but this first book in a different duology is very different in style and, while well written, is just not grabbing me. It's been a while since I've picked it up.)
* The Golden Fool, by Robin Hobb (RH is another of my favourite authors. I put this one down a while ago to read a Page Turners book, and I haven't got back to it. I want to!)
* The Dragon Queens, by Traci Harding (The sequel to Gene of Isis, which I really liked. This one is in two parts and at the end of the second part I switched to something else. I'm finding the book incomprehensible, unfortunately.)
* Child of Flame, by Kate Elliott (This is book 4 I think in KE's 7 book series. While I love KE's writing, I do find this series a bit of a slog. I re-started this book a few months ago and was once again diverted onto a PT book. Not sure when I'm going to get back to it. I really want to finish the series!)

So there you have it. A very big pile of half-read books. The fact that they're still beside my bed implies I intend on finishing them. There are many more books in my shelves with bookmarks forever marking the place I made it up to. Maybe I'll come back to some of them one day, but at my current pace of reading -- not to mention the vast number of books out there -- it could be a very long time. Do you think I'll ever have the time and energy to read properly again?

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Realising the dream

This afternoon I attended the CD launch of a work colleague, and was reminded that one's artistic aspirations can be realised if one tries hard enough. It's so easy to let everything else get in the way (and I'm really battling that at the moment), but perseverence will get you over the line in the end.

The music industry is somewhat different from novel publishing of course, in that it is not so hard -- and is even encouraged -- to record your own CD and sell it at gigs. But in order to succeed, you do need to have talent and a good dose of luck, and you need to find ways of having people hear it. People only tend to buy CDs if they've heard some of the tracks, so the next challenge is getting it played on the radio, or playing live to new audiences. This could be considered an additional hurdle the novel author doesn't need to face (although no doubt there are other hurdles . . .).

Despite being quite different markets, however, there are certain parallels. I know that Ben has put his heart and soul into first writing and recording the album, and more recently putting together the CD package and marketing program. I have been following his progress avidly -- and, I must confess, a little jealously, since I liken this to having a novel published. Nevertheless, I am genuinely excited for him and hope he manages to get the good industry reviews and radio airplay that he needs.

It's been good to witness the culmination of his artistic endeavours, and I just hope that I can follow suit!

If you're interested, check out Ben's web site here.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Evening movie

I saw the movie, Evening, last night. It's not often I go to a movie without knowing anything about it, but some friends were organising and I just turned up. My only veto was nothing scary, dark or vicious. All I knew about the movie was that it was "in the vein of the Notebook".

Very true.

Boasting a stellar cast, Evening is the story of an elderly woman, Anne (Vanessa Redgrave), attended at her deathbed by her two daughters Connie (Natasha Richardson) and Nina (Toni Collette). Connie and Nina have their own issues to deal with, while Anne meanwhile, drifting in and out of consciousness, relives an episode from her past about her first (and only) true love, Harris.

Most of the movie takes place in the past, where Anne (Claire Danes) is the bridesmaid at her friend, Lila's, wedding (which takes place in a gorgeous mansion at the edge of a cliff). There, Lila's brother Buddy (Hugh Dancy) introduces her to Harris (Patrick Wilson), who is the son of the family housekeeper. Love entanglements ensue, leading up to a tragedy.

It's not so much a love story as a "life" story. It's about how every experience in your life accumulates to make you the person you are, about how you make your own happiness, how there is no such thing as a "mistake".

The movie is beautifully shot, with some interesting "dream" sequences to represent the disintegrating state of elderly Anne's mind as she drifts in and out of lucidity. For example, the night nurse sometimes appears in a silver-sequined ball dress and offers profound advice, and fireflies whizz around the bedroom.

It's not as much of a weepy as The Notebook -- I don't think I have ever bawled as much as I did in that film -- but it is poignant and enjoyable, with excellent performances.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Arabesque . . .

. . . is a Middle-Eastern restaurant that is well worth a visit. We had the banquet tonight. It starts with pita bread, tabbouleh and a couple of dips, followed by plate after plate of entree -- feta and mint filo parcels, lamb and pine nut pastries, falafels, baby sausages and chicken wings.

After that there's a nice break during which you can enjoy wine and conversation. Then come a couple of mains to share. Tonight it was traditional Moroccan chicken with rice (aromatic pilaf style with pine nuts) and beef koftas (kind of like rissoles).

After another break comes dessert -- Turkish delight with sweet nutty pastries -- and Arabic coffee, dense and black, spiced with cardamom.

There is plenty of food -- not an obscene amount as can happen with some banquets, but a satisfying, tummy comfy amount of food. And the food is good.

This is one of my favourites.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Rollercoaster

You'll notice there haven't been any posts 'on writing' of late, despite my enthusiasm of a week and a bit ago. Back to work and it all goes out the window! I just don't seem to have the brain space for it at the moment.

I've been reading over my chapters intermittently, mapping out proposed changes where necessary, keeping a list of scenes. Last night (in a form of procrastination) I allocated each of my proposed revised scenes to-date with a number to indicate tension rating -- the aim being, of course, to have it going generally UP, but with elements of a rollercoaster. I graphed it and it didn't actually look too bad. However, it did highlight the fact that the next two chapters were going to ruin the whole progression. Not enough tension. Not nearly enough. So this evening's mission has been to come up with ways in which to fix this.

The answer lies in me doing more character work on some of the minor characters. And this requires me to think. And all I want to do is go to bed and read. I haven't been reading nearly enough of late; I've been going to bed late, and lying there with my own story going round and round in my head. How can I make it better? How can I fix the things that aren't working? Is any of it actually working?

Tomorrow morning I should get up at 6:30am and free-write on the first of these characters. Perhaps in my befuddled dawn state I will tap into something worthwhile. I don't generally find free-writing easy. I find it hard to break the link between thought and words. But I haven't tried it at 6:30am. Maybe it will work. Maybe it's what I've been waiting for.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

A date with the Phantom


Today I saw the latest Australian production of The Phantom of the Opera. I believe I sat there with a smile on my face for the entire show. The music is so commanding that it engulfs you completely, and the staging is magnificent.

I first saw phantom about 15 years ago. Then, as now, the star attraction was Anthony Warlow. If it's possible, he was even better today than last time -- although this perception may be due to the fact that we had seats up close and could see all the facial expressions. He was so passionate, so brilliant. His voice was so instantly recognisable and wonderful that it sent chills down my spine.

A few years ago they made a movie of The Phantom of the Opera, which I also loved. I saw it a couple of times in the cinema and bought the DVD. The movie is 'staged' really close to the theatre production, which made it feel as though you were witnessing a live production. But of course there's nothing quite like seeing it at the theatre, almost close enough that the singers could spit on you.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Page Turners: The Arrival


In first for Page Turners we studied a graphic novel this month. The Arrival by Shaun Tan is a beautifully illustrated novel without words. It tells the story of a man who leaves his wife and daughter and travels to a far-off mystical land where everything is strange and unknown -- food, architecture, animals, language etc. We know he's in search of a better life for his family, as his homeland is under threat of dragon-like shadows.

The novel focuses on his first few days in the new land, as he tries to find somewhere to live, something to eat, and gainful employment. Along the way he meets and chats to kind strangers who are also refugees from different forms of persecution and they relate their own stories to him.

As a book for discussion it proved very interesting. On a philosphical level we could discuss the topics of immigrants and refugees -- certainly the book's primary theme. But we also spent time marvelling at the amazing illustrations, at the motifs of everyday life that recur and mutate across the pages, at the skill of the drawings, at the use of sequential frames to depict action and make clear exactly what is happening. In many ways it was like watching a silent film, frame by frame.

One aspect of the novel that I particularly liked was the man's little 'friend', a weird looking creature that adopts him and becomes a dog-like companion. Most of the characters in the novel had a weird pet-creature that accompanied them everywhere -- yet every such creature was different! It reminded me of the personal soul-daemons in the Phillip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy.

The strangeness of the place depicted in The Arrival was disturbing for some in our group. I didn't find it so, but I constantly found myself waiting for something bad to happen to the man, that this mystical Dali-like place he'd fled to couldn't possibly be as bountiful and peaceful as it appeared. However nothing bad did happen, and the final scenes show the man and his family happily making a new life for themselves there.

Overall I found it very moving and poignant. On his website, Shaun Tan writes at length about the processes and inspirations behind the novel. This makes very interesting reading. He discusses his fascination with 'belonging' and outlines how he came to be interested in the migrant experience.


Wednesday, 1 August 2007

For the Harry-obsessed . . .

From an exclusive interview JK Rowling gave TODAY on msnbc come the following short articles. They're worth a quick read:

* the importance of death in her books
* an elaboration on the epilogue
* plans for a hp encyclopedia

Definitely SPOILERS for Deathly Hallows.