Thursday, 31 January 2008

pampered

I attended a Nutrimetics party tonight. I had no idea what was in store -- despite a vague idea that it was something to do with cosmetics. Turns out we had a foot spa! It was a funny sight: 11 women (and one little almost-3-year-old boy) sitting with our feet in a tub of essential oils and water, heads back with 'cucumbers' on our eyes.

I know this because someone took a camera. Unfortunately, I did not.

After the foot soak, we scrubbed and massaged and moisturised. Once we'd finished with the feet, we migrated to faces . . . or lips . . . or nails . . . there were many options!

I don't think I have an inch of skin that has not had something rubbed into it.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Writing on the balcony

I've just returned from a lovely weekend at the island. Managed some writing sessions, although they weren't as productive as I'd have liked. Nevertheless, I have just about completed the next chapter, so that must be good.

This afternoon I spent a couple of hours sitting with my computer out on the deck/balcony, complete with sea view, light breeze, and the shade of an umbrella. It was absolutely idyllic. A perfect temperature and just so pleasant. Thank god for laptop computers.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Pork belly vs chocolate?

Pork belly or decadent chocolate mousse dessert. Which would you choose?

The answer's easy. My next question is WHY?

I had a bizarre dining experience this evening -- all my own fault, I might add. The restaurant was lovely -- Delizia Cucina in Seddon -- even if the menu choices were perhaps a little off-beat (rabbit, quail, the aforementioned pork belly).

I don't know what I was thinking when I ordered pork belly. I was entranced by the notion of poached plums to accompany, and in my mind the pork would be a lean fillet. Turns out I was very wrong. OK, so I'm an idiot. The pork belly arrived and it was . . . well . . . let's say I could not bring myself to eat even one mouthful. It simply oozed great chunks of pork fat and crackling (was there any meat at all?). I'm sure it was cooked to perfection, but I'm afraid I sent it back dissected, but otherwise untouched. All my own fault, I told them. Seriously embarrassed.

Anyway, they were really nice about it and offered me a free dessert to compensate. Totally unecessary and I did protest, but they insisted. (I was definitely going to eat dessert, but was more than happy to pay for it.)

Which brings me to the decadent chocolate mousse dessert. This was seriously yummy, and a generous portion. And I ate it in entirety.

But I couldn't help looking at it and wondering why I could devour the dessert (and all its associated fat), yet the thought of even one mouthful of pork belly made me gag.

On sleep

It wasn't pretty this morning at 6am when I dragged myself out of bed to feed the cat. Oh yeah, that's right, I was supposed to get up and write.

So the kettle and computer both went on and I sat here and mulled over words for an hour and a half. Good start.

Over breakfast just now I read an article about sleep and it said you only really need 5 hours, since the first 5 hours is when you get deep sleep. This had me encouraged -- maybe I can persist in going to bed at midnight and getting up at 6am! Then the article went on to recommend people went to bed at 10-10:30pm (you must be joking) and get up at 7-7:30am. I wish they'd make up their minds!

Monday, 21 January 2008

Domestic Goddess

Sometimes, very occasionally, I rather enjoy cleaning.

Usually, I hate it. It's time-consuming and labour-intensive and I can think of 50 other things I would rather be doing. But sometimes I like it.

Tonight was one of those times.

The reason for this aberration is the fact that during the past few weeks, the house went to the pack. I have struggled to keep on top of the dishes. The box from my new TV (a very big box) was still in the hall. As for vacuuming . . . well, let's just say it was more than due. So when the house gets like this, I start to yearn for it to be clean again. And when I'm prevented from making it livable by writing deadlines, or social engagements, or extreme heat, then I start to fantasise about cleaning -- and, in fact, other forms of housework as well.

Which brings me to tonight. All day, I have plotted and planned about how I was going to get rid of the box, finish the washing (and water the garden), cook a meal for once, do the dishes, vacuum, and even wash, the floor. All these things I have done and the world is right again.

Give thanks to the domestic goddess.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Favourite kind of day

Today was my favourite kind of day: a morning/afternoon spent discussing novel writing (and associated topics) with my writing group, and an evening spent deep in the act of writing itself.

So far it seems to be the same six-or-so of us -- a subset of SuperNOVA -- that keep turning up to the 'novel stream' meetings. Today, much of our talk was about the Hachette Livre spec fic novel workshop, for which a few of us are applying. I'm sure others in SN are also applying, but they haven't graced us with their presence at brunch yet!

We also had a lively discussion about the role of agents, and just how much clout they should have in a novelist's work. We hear stories of agents requesting full rewrites of manuscripts before agreeing to even represent an author. To me, this seems like an extra hurdle to jump over. Yet many of us do, because we're so keen to have representation, since so many publishers will simply not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

This evening I have been editing my 5 chapters/50 pages for submission to the workshop, based on reader comments. This is rather a satisfying exercise, because I can see it taking shape. I've been weeding out words and repetitions that don't work, adding sensory detail, clarifying things that don't make sense . . . or deleting them if they're unnecessary. These 5 chapters are going to be streets ahead of anything else in the manuscript.

I'm looking forward now for the submission to be gone, because then I'll be able to concentrate on chapter 6 and beyond. I've become a bit too fixated on chapters 1-5! Before, when under pressure, I found the very thought of chapter 6 (which is to be yet another rewrite) daunting. But now I find it exciting!

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Deadline

There's nothing like a good deadline to sort one out.

I have had a rollercoaster ride of emotion this week. I am submitting my work-in-progress for the "Orbit/QWC manuscript development program for speculative fiction authors". This involves submitting 50 pages of novel (approx. 13K words) and a synopsis to Brisbane (in hard copy) by next Wednesday.

It's a brilliant opportunity for me, and the timing is really good. I have re-written the required number of pages (just) and I have a complete draft that can be worked on. Moreover, Orbit/Hachette Livre would probably be my first choice of publisher. So if I make it into the program (they're only taking 10) then my beloved WIP will be read by either the publisher or senior editor of Orbit, who may decide to publish it.

Of course, this is all highly speculative: IF I make it into the program (and the competition will be extremely tough) they MAY like it enough to . . . (holds breath and crosses fingers). Even if they decide they don't like it much, I will still receive valuable feedback etc.

At the moment, however, there's still speculation as to whether I'll even get the application away -- which brings me back to my rollercoaster week.

I've known about the deadline and submission requirements for over a month. That should have been plenty of time to get a synopsis together (how hard could that be?) and write the final 10 pages required to meet the entry requirements -- especially since I had two weeks off work over Christmas. But somehow all that blessed time has slipped through my fingers, and I have found myself this week trying to perfect the 50 pages and create a synopsis (which, by the way, is extremely difficult) in time for my self-imposed submission deadline of tomorrow.

There has been much ranting, raving, and pep-talks received from a very patient Tracey, who has also (it seems) devoted her entire week to reading and fixing some very dodgy words on my part. (Thanks, Tracey!)

Anyway, she has also convinced me that it'll be OK to submit on Monday, giving me the weekend to finalise everything -- which is why I am finally allowing myself to post here.

It's amazing how much more rational I feel, knowing that I have until Monday. Suddenly, I am actually able to focus on words and expression and logic. Instead of taking me an entire day to produce a second draft of my synopsis -- which seemed optimistic last night -- I have achieved it in a mere couple of hours this evening!

But, in all, deadlines are good. At least this one has got me back into writing again, because since November I have struggled -- and before November I hadn't written anything since finishing the draft in July. So it's about time I got back into the groove. After all, if I'm feeling optimistic, I may have an entire manuscript to submit around the middle of March!

Friday, 11 January 2008

I am legend (the movie)



It's been a whole week since I saw the movie version of I am legend, our most recent Page Turners book. So I had better mention it before I forget!

Since we'd done the book so recently, about half our reading group decided to go together to see this movie. Naturally, we were interested to see a film interpretation, although from the trailers I don't believe any of us expected the movie would be "true".

A good thing too. I could probably count on one hand how many aspects of the movie directly reflected the book:

1. the hero's name was Robert Neville
2. he was the only human who lived by day in his town - all the others were sick with a disease and only came out at night
3. every night he made sure to be barricaded inside his home before sundown
4. there was a dog . . . which died
5. there was a woman

Seriously, if I was the author (Richard Matheson) I would feel insulted by the liberal interpretation of his work. Even the main themes -- and even the point -- of the novel were done away with.

Having said all that, if you watched the movie without the book in your head -- which for us was difficult -- it probably wasn't too bad. We did pick at some of the visual effects and plot holes, though. Actually, it probably was bad. Not a good movie.

However, I did cry when the dog died . . . as I did in the book . . . although the circumstances were completely different.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The merit of flashback

Three years ago, putting the summer break to much better use than this year, I wrote some character backstory pieces. At the time, my intent was to reacquaint myself with my main character -- I felt I didn't know her well enough. So I wrote some pieces about significant events from her childhood. It also came after a period of relative inactivity, so it was also an attempt to get back into the swing of the habit of writing.

To my surprise and pleasure, these pieces actually turned out rather well. Precisely because I placed no pressure on myself, the words flowed and the voice flourished, plus as the scenes unfolded I created characters and situations that have stamped their authority on the draft I subsequently wrote. I believe this exercise has greatly enriched both the story and character.

In fact, I was so happy with one of the pieces in particular, I have been trying to find a way of using it, either as short story or as a section of the novel, ever since.

The most effective use would be in the novel, but the only way I could use it would be as a prologue or flashback. I am really against using it as a prologue for two reasons: 1) I'm not a fan of prologues in general, 2) I don't feel the event, although pivotal to my character's life, is pivotal enough to the overall story to plonk it front and centre.

So that leaves a flashback. Again, this is not ideal, because flashbacks drag readers out of the main story and are often considered redundant. After all, why can't you reveal the key information subtly during exposition or reflection or dialogue? Well, you can, and I have in fact done this, since I reached the decision a while ago not to include this scene as a flashback.

However, I think I have changed my mind. This is a good example of how you sometimes can't predict where writing a scene is going to take you. Somehow I have managed to end a chapter with a leading statement that implies one is going to get the flashback. To the point that if I don't put it in, readers may feel cheated. Of course, I could rewrite the chapter ending, but right at the moment I am rather inclined to try using the flashback (which is of course already written -- although in need of serious editing) to see how it could work.

Right at this moment, I think it could work extremely well. For one thing, it introduces a very significant character that appears later on in the novel. For another, it sets up a vow my character makes that impacts how she views relationships in adulthood. Moreover, I can make it provide a tiny clue to a mystery my character sets out to solve during this novel and its sequel.

Another advantage of using this scene is that it's pure action and therefore is a good vehicle to show other aspects of society and culture and character that might otherwise be 'reflected upon'.

Bottom line is that I am currently convinced this is a good way to go. Even better, it's a far easier way of writing the 10 pages outstanding for my submission, due in two weeks. Far far far easier.

Life is good.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Slow start

I have not had quite the start to the year I'd planned. Here I am, six days in, and I have had precisely one writing session, and not a terribly productive one at that. Moreover, after such a promising start to November, my productivity dwindled steadily across the month, leading into a dismal December, during which I barely thought about writing, let alone actioned it.

Dreadful.

Even worse, I have a deadline of sorts: 50 pages and a synopsis to be submitted by 23 January as my application for a week-long workshop in May. I now have around a fortnight to go, with around 10 pages to write and the balance to perfect. Yikes! I'd better get a move on.

The main problem has been a combination of too many social engagements and extreme heat -- plus the occasional domestic activity. I am especially frustrated by yesterday, which should have been the perfect writing day, as I had nothing on at all, but which turned out to be the worst sort of hot day ever -- nearly 40 degrees and still. My house rose up to 31 degrees, and I simply cannot work in such conditions. In fact, I can't do anything. (Except watch the cricket.)

Another problem has been the particular scene I am writing. It is the same scene I have been writing (and re-writing) since about the middle of November. There is obviously something rather wrong with it, so I need a chunk of time to get my head back into it and fix it. And now I am back at work, it's all going to get that much harder.

I am beginning to wish that I had devoted Thursday and Friday to writing, instead of going back to work. Where are my priorities? It's not as though there was anyone else at work with me!

Sorry about the rant, but I am feeling very frustrated.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Books . . . and yet more books

My bookshelf is one of my favourite pieces of furniture. It's solid oak, 3m wide, four shelves high, and is the centrepiece of my living room. In fact, when looking for places to buy, ensuring I had a wall to put it against and room enough to get it inside, was a prime consideration.

The problem is that my mighty bookshelf is full. Invariably I have books stacked above or in front of the rows, and it was all starting to look untidy. One option was to purchase a new shelf, which I may yet do. However, in the short term I decided to purge -- go through every book and see whether there were any I could part with.

This is more tricky than it sounds. I am an incurable book-buyer and can't bear the thought of parting with any of them. How does one decide what to relinquish? It is likely that I have many books that I'll never read again -- in truth, most of them; but does this mean I no longer want them? Definitely not! Just looking at them brings back fond memories and I find myself wanting to read them again, so if there's the slightest chance I'll get around to it, I want to keep it. Moreover, I like to lend my books to people -- to share the joy of a good book.

Even more frustrating is the number of books I've bought over the years, but haven't yet read! These would number at least 50 -- I haven't counted, it would be too depressing. Most of them are fantasy/SF genre, but a good number are general fiction and some non-fiction as well. I can't honestly see how I'll ever get around to reading all of them. Yet I dusted them lovingly and replaced them on the shelf. I just don't seem to read as much these days as I once did.

So at the end of hours of dusting and sorting (and grazing!) I have one very small box of books to get rid of. The rest are all nicely arranged and rearranged, looking a lot neater, with some space to spare (for the new books!). To achieve this, I have succumbed to double-stacking of paperbacks on a couple of the shelves.

Moral of story: I need to devote many more hours to reading!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Reflections on 2007

Another hot Australian summers day, and suddenly it's 2008.

We set so much store in the transition from one year to the next, not because we expect anything to change from one day to the next, but because we must have something to mark the change that happens from one year to the next -- and that can indeed be extraordinary!

For me in particular, 2007 was a very big year of change. Three momentous things happened that have potentially altered the course of my life. Everyone's life is punctuated by milestones, often linked to starting or finishing studies or jobs, maybe the occasional holiday, births and deaths, or the achieving of long-sought goals. They are the events that shape us and define who we are.

1) My greatest achievement this year was finishing a draft of my novel.

I don't think I could have predicted, when I first picked up a pen back in January 1991 with the intention of "writing a novel", that it would have taken me 16 years to type "The end". The truth is that back then I was hopeless. Couldn't write anything worth reading, let alone publishing. Sure, I had friends who told me it was great, but either they were being kind or deluded. Nothing I wrote was any good.

I've needed the ensuing 16 years to hone my craft. To make mistakes and learn from them. To learn especially that writing a novel is far more complex a weave that stringing a few words together prettily. I could have made all these discoveries by writing a series of 3 or 4 -- even 10 -- very bad novels. Instead, I remained fixated on the one central idea, the same few characters, which have evolved over the years into the novel I have just completed. I have lost count of the number of "chapter 1"s I have written. Yet with each version/draft, there was a definite point at which I recognised the inadequacies and was compelled to restart, re-vision, re-create something better.

The journey is still not finished. Despite having typed "The end", there are still revisions and rewriting -- not to mention plenty of craft still left to master! But there is still the satisfaction of reaching the end of a story, so many years in the making.

2) My second greatest achievement this year was losing 25+kg, which rather speaks for itself! I'm still not sure what triggered the whole campaign, but it was certainly as though a switch flicked in my brain. Within the framework of the weightwatchers program, I was able to find the discipline to reprogram my eating and exercise into a healthy regimen. I now eat breakfast, have at least one serve of a fruit per day, drink plenty of water, eat smaller meals, and try to exercise/walk as many days as possible. (I might add that this has all been tested over the Christmas/New Year period.)

How will this change my life? Well, health benefits aside, being three sizes smaller can only make shopping a far more pleasurable experience!

3) The third big change for me this year was a change of ownership/management at work. This might not seem like much, but in a small company like the one I work for, where the team of 6-8 is almost like a family, it's huge. Although I will not go into details here, suffice to say that the transition has been interesting and has definitely impacted on my life at both work and home.

Of course, many other things have changed in addition to those three listed -- and changed for the better. Such as my parents' holiday house at Phillip Island, which provides both a family holiday venue and writing haven for me. Or my new TV & stereo. Or the spin-off writing group for novel-writers. Or friends' weddings. The list is potentially endless.

I am looking forward to 2008. Despite the arbitrariness of the date-of-transition, I always have a sense of resolve during January, as though everything that was put off during December can be put off no longer. We've managed to clear the festive season, so now there's nothing for it but to get on with it. Get on with the novel re-write. Get on with that proposed bathroom renovation that was supposed to happen last year. And now there's a whole year ahead. 12 months of possibilities and opportunities. Of milestones. Of change.