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.