Monday, 29 September 2008

Wine tip


I came across an interesting article just now. It's about how to choose which wine to drink if you're watching calories.

One fact in particular I found very interesting:

If you like red wine
Think geographically. As grapes ripen, sugar is created and either turns into alcohol or remains in the wine. So, choose cooler countries of origin, where the grapes contain less sugar and the wine less alcohol.

Avoid wine varieties grown in warmer climates as they have higher concentrations of natural sugars, so opt for colder climate reds like South Australian shiraz or Tasmanian pinot noir. As a general rule, a shiraz grown in South Australia will have a slightly lower sugar content than a shiraz grown in the Hunter Valley.

Don't you think that's interesting?

Friday, 26 September 2008

writing in cafes

I could have done with an Asus Eee this evening. I was scheduled to meet a friend after work, but found myself running about an hour and half early. Perfect opportunity to go sit in my favourite cafe and write for a bit. Only I didn't have an Asus Eee, or even a paper notebook.

Fortunately, there's an Officeworks nearby, so I went in there and bought a paper pad and some pens and went into the cafe. (The one where they know me!) One cocktail and most of a glass of wine later, I had handwritten the first part of Act 2.

It was lucky that I spent yesterday evening reading over the existing draft of these chapters, and this morning's walk to work mulling over a possible opening to the scene. Not that I expect to use much of what I wrote this evening verbatim, but some of it will surely be useful.

It was such an enjoyable experience that it has firmed my resolve to investigate Asus Eees with greater vigour. After all, there are many times on a weekend where I feel as though I need to get out of the house to grab a coffee. For the first time I'm beginning to believe I actually might use a mini notebook computer for writing in cafes.

It was probably a good thing that the Officeworks where I went didn't happen to sell the Asus Eee.

In the meantime, however, writing by hand was productive, once I got into the swing of it. At first it was awful, because I'm so used to being able to edit as I go, and this made me reluctant to put any words down in case they were 'wrong'. But I got past that soon enough and found it quite librating. I found I started to care less about the pretty sentences and more about the ideas I was trying to get across. I didn't worry if I was using fragments, so long as the gist was there. I'm starting to think I should write by hand more often, to try to break myself of a tendency to be too precious about what I write. Maybe it will all come more easily if I 'let go'.

Maybe there's merit in holding off from buying an Asus to instead explore writing the old-fashioned way.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Closing the first act

Tonight I have finally reached "the end" of what I'm calling "Act 1" of my rewrite. It's taken longer than I planned. Much longer. And it's not even the end, really, because I feel as though I need to read through it to fix the rough edges. I know there are plenty of these -- things I've raised and then forgotten about. The irony is that most of these are things I was supposed to be addressing in the rewrite! How could I have forgotten them? (Well, not so much forgotten as let slip . . .) There are so many damn things to remember when writing a novel. It's a bit hard to keep a handle on it all. The good news is that it's only one of my character lines that feels a bit rough. It's way more complex, of course, which is why.

Sigh. So do I go on, or do I go back?

I really want to go on, because reaching the end of Act 1 means I get to move into Act 2, where stuff really starts happening. Act 1 is merely the setup. All 39,000 words of it. (This is up from 25,000 words in the previous draft.) I will say here that I am generally really pleased with how it's coming along, and am not at all fazed about the increase in word count. I've spent a lot of time and effort on deepening character and plot in particular. I believe that's one of the roles of a rewrite -- at least the type I'm doing. Take a draft that's OK in essence and make it more complex and interesting. I hope I'm achieving that. I also hope that I can continue deepening etc and that it's not only "Act 1" that's going to end up longer, or the whole thing will be out of balance.

Anyway, I've been looking forward to reaching this point for ages (months). I want to leap into it. The next chapter is all I can think about! But this little nagging voice is telling me to print out the first 15 chapters, read them through with a pen/highlighter, and spend a week or so making sure they're as right as I can get them, before going on. I believe an appropriate metaphor would be a house needs sound foundations on which to stand. (mutter mutter mutter) I should point out that I don't actually want to perfect it at this stage. It's just that I want to make sure there aren't any glaring holes or inconsistencies that could bite me later if I don't eyeball and/or fix them now.

I don't know. Maybe I'll get some of the next chapter out of my system and then go back. It's not like it's going anywhere!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Summersdawn

Some days I like to walk home from work without my headphones. Usually it's days when I have a very full brain and I need to mull stuff over, but sometimes -- like today -- it's because I want to really notice my surroundings.

Today was the Spring equinox. It actually happened at 1:44am, when the sun crossed the celestial equator and moved into our northern sky. Ostensibly it's when the day and night are of equal length and the days start to get longer again -- but that actually happened on Friday (as far as we can perceive -- see my earlier post). Nevertheless, it's a significant event on the celestial calendar, and -- being one to observe solstices -- I wanted to recognise it tonight.

So I walked home with my headphones off and I listened to my surroundings and watched the day fade. Venus is prominent in the western sky, a bright diamond accompanied by the much fainter Mercury and Mars. Scorpius is high overhead, preparing to descend into its Summer slumber. It's making room for Orion, which rises as Scorpius sets at about 11pm tonight. And watching over everything is the ever-present crux -- the Southern Cross.

So now we can look forward to the long days of Summer.

In my fantasy novel, I've given the equinoxes names: Wintersmorn for the Autumn equinox and Summersdawn for the Spring equinox. And I have to say that as the weather warms and the evenings lengthen it really does feel as though Summer is just around the corner.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Mini laptop sounds 'Asus' for writers


They're getting to know us quite well at the cafe where we writers meet monthly for 'brunch'. After another six-hour marathon spent indulging in lattes, wine and cocktails, I once again feel rejuvenated and reinvigorated.

At yesterday's meeting we talked much about the Asus Eee laptop computer -- a mini laptop that is taking the writing world by storm (or at least my writing world). It boasts flash (solid state) memory instead of a hard disk to make it robust enough for carrying around (and ideal for slipping into your handbag), and has just been released in a 10-inch screen model (larger than earlier models, but still small). But the best thing about it is its price (somewhere between AU$500-700).

Here's a review. I suspect it's largely targeted at the student market, but its simplicity is bound to attract others.

To get a feeling for what life would be like, we used one of the cafe menus to replicate the table space a 10-inch Asus would take up and practiced typing (on imaginary keyboard) with a latte in the other hand. Two members of my writing group have already succumbed to the need, and we fantasised about writing for hours in cafes, since the computer has a long battery life (>5 hours). Some models come in cool colours. I think I might want one too. A red one. Or a green one.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Being pathetic & unproductive

Tonight is all about procrastination. I simply can't settle down to being productive. For the past hour I have been checking blogs, reading web sites, e-mailing friends, making coffee, checking the weather . . . and that was after I permitted myself half an hour to play wordscraper on Facebook.

I keep clicking back to my WIP, at which point I stare at the screen for 10 seconds, before clicking away to do something else. What, I ask, is so hard about writing a few words down?

And here I am again. Not being productive.

Not even Neil Gaiman's sharky pep talk is working this evening.

OK, off I go yet again to make another attempt.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Magical keyboard

Earlier today I glanced down at my computer keyboard and saw the word "spell" on one of the keys.

OMG, I thought, what could that button possibly do? Why does my keyboard have a key that suggests a magical ability?

A moment later, I laughed at myself, because of course it was a reference to spelling, and most probably checking thereof. But I seriously seriously spent a few seconds immersed in the fantasy of that other meaning.

What does this say about me, I wonder?

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Dance of the planets

With Spring has come beautiful clear evenings and mild nights ideal for gazing upon the stars. The western horizon at sunset is particularly lovely at the moment, with a number of planets visible. This is what the Melbourne planetarium skynotes says for September:

A great dance of the planets is occurring in the western sky this month. Bright Venus and faint Mercury can be seen moving higher in the western sky, passing Mars and Spica who are drifting towards the horizon. Near the end of the month, Mercury starts its swing back to the horizon with Spica and Mars in tow.

A dance of the planets -- what a lovely idea! Venus is usually easy to see, bright and beautiful, but Mercury is a planet that's easy to miss, since it's often so close to the sun. I think the next week or two will be the best time for spotting it. Jupiter is also up this month, but starts off quite high, near Scorpius.

Another celestial phenomenon this month is the Spring equinox on 23 September. Here's some more very interesting info from the skynotes:

At 1:44am [on Tuesday 23rd] the Sun crosses the celestial equator and moves into the northern sky. While it is often thought that day and night are equal on the Equinox, this is not the case. It is only the centre of the Sun that is above the horizon for exactly 12 hours; our day is slightly longer at 12 hours and 9 minutes. Why is this? We calculate sunrise and sunset as being when the edge of the Sun first appears above or disappears below the horizon (not the Sun’s centre). What’s more, the Earth’s atmosphere adds its own strange effect – it bends light from the Sun so that at sunrise we happen to see the Sun before it physically crosses the horizon. The reverse occurs at sunset: we continue to see the edge of the Sun for several minutes after it has actually sunk below the western horizon. As a result, our equal day and night occurs before the Equinox on Friday 19th.

Now that I didn't actually know, although in hindsight it makes perfect sense. I feel another celestial celebration coming on . . .

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

An aunt's progress

This past weekend I once again enjoyed the company of my 5-yr old niece. Much easier this time round, a whole year later. Maybe because I had more of an idea of what to expect. Maybe because she is more grown up. Maybe because I was less fixated on planning everything out.

We went to the Collingwood Children's Farm again -- a disaster last time, but this time requested. Naturally, I was dubious about the wisdom of repeating what I felt had been a traumatic experience, but this time was different. A gorgeous day (instead of howling winds that sandblasted eyeballs), and a little girl that actually wanted to be there (instead of wishing she was still curled up on my sofa watching DVDs). A transformation! We petted goats, ogled at cows and horses, witnessed a very pregnant sheep and many little lambs, chased chickens, collected feathers, greeted geese, ate sausage rolls . . . in short, we stayed three hours!

The other major activity for the first day was creating creatures out of modelling clay and then baking them. At least, they were supposed to be baked, but alas I burned them instead. That stuff is not easy to handle! But much fun was had by us both in making little aliens and a dragon and some dragonflies . . . it doesn't seem to matter that some of them are black! (They were supposed to glow int the dark until I incinerated them!)

I was also quite pleased to take us both out to breakfast -- this being one of my weekend habits. We didn't go anywhere flash, but instead went somewhere close so we could walk/scooter together. An omelet was specially requested and consumed, at least in part. But then the complimentary cupcake ruined all the best intentions. Oh well. At least I ate all my breakfast!

And sleeping? Well, that went fine until 5am when a little voice in the bed beside me inquired every 5 mins henceforth how soon it would be 6 o'clock (evidently the ideal time for getting up). Hmmm. At least we didn't have the middle-of-the night 1-hr-long conversation as we did last time!

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Page Turners: The Kite Runner


In the end, I decided not to read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini for most of the reasons outlined in my post below. I didn't like the writing style (I found the author manipulative, which kept pulling me out of the novel). I didn't like the main character. The plot seemed trite and predictable and convenient. I would have liked to keep reading in order to hear more about Afghanistan, but I just couldn't make myself pick up the book or headphones. (For the latter, I blame Jane Eyre in many respects.)

Consequently, I forced myself to watch the movie the night before our meeting last Thursday, so that I might have some idea of the conversation. However, I tried not to say too much, because of my excessively negative reaction to this book. I thought the movie was OK. It did make me cry in a few sections, but it didn't make me wish I had persevered and read the book.

So I'm not going to go on here any more about what I didn't like. Instead I am going to summarise some of things discussed by the group, because I took notes.

One of the things many got out of the book was insight into the world of Afghanistan, past and present. Certainly the author portrayed a seemingly authentic picture of the Kabul he lived in as a child, including lots of detail about the various classes and the sport of kite fighting. We did wonder, however, about the authenticity of Afghanistan under the Taliban, given the author did not return himself until after the book was published. Nevertheless, all agreed it was a fascinating insight into that part of the world.

Inevitably, we talked a lot about Amir as well. Most seemed to agree he wasn't a nice person as a child, but thought it was a product of upbringing and culture. Owing to his difficult relationship with his father, Amir had a lack of role models. But does that justify the terrible way he treated Hassan in this book? And can you be redeemed for that? Someone argued that it was often better not to like the main character in a book, because antiheroes are more interesting. Well, I disagree with that. I need to be able to connect to the main character, not despise them. Flaws are essential, but there are limits.

Some felt the story was more about Amir as a character, and his inability to grow up because of the shadow cast by his father.

Interestingly (and possibly catalysed by my comments) others brought up the question of whether or not Hosseini is a good writer. Most seemed to think not, but in most cases their experience wasn't destroyed as mine was. They responded to his ability to generate emotion in readers -- and certainly he did that.

The relationship between Amir and Hassan as boys is pivotal to the story. Essentially they are friends, but it's a very unequal relationship, with Amir brought up wealthy and privileged, able to read and write, of a class that was respected. Hassan, on the other hand, was from a discriminated race and brought up as a servant. Yet he gives Amir an unswerving loyalty and devotion that I found really hard to take.

During the course of our meeting, the picture book called The Giving Tree was raised. This is a book about a tree that gives every part of itself to a boy over his lifetime as he grows into an old man. In the end, the tree is no more than a stump, yet it still gives of itself to provide a seat for the old man's weary bones. When I read this book, as I stood in a bookshop, I wept and then I hated that such a book was targeted at children. No relationship should ever be that unequal. And when the book was mentioned by chance in our meeting, I instantly felt it exemplified the level of giving Hassan showed Amir. How do some people end up being able to take take take and never give?

To sum up, just about everyone either liked or loved this book -- 6 out of 8 present had read it. The main positives seemed to be the descriptions of Afghanistan, and the depiction of just how shifty some people can be!

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Wordscraper

With the demise of Scrabulous on Facebook, we are being forced to play Wordscraper instead. It's very similar, but the board is different every time -- although it's symmetrical, it feels almost random as to where the 2W, 4W, 2L and 4L 'circles' (not squares) are located.

This means that it's possible to score very highly, with potentially multiple 4W and 2W in the one word. This led to my being confronted by a game where the opening move (against me) scored 384!!! It's proving rather difficult to recover from that.

But at least it fills the Scrabulous void.