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 . . .