Friday, 31 October 2008

Getting away again

Planning to get back into it this weekend with a four-day trip down to the island. But it won't be strictly writing - oh no! This time, there will be many walks and much socialising with my non-writing friends who are accompanying me. How will I get writing done? Well, they can always read books, can't they?

And anyway, if I don't get any writing done, it won't matter, because that'll mean I've gone for almost four days without sitting at a computer! That can only be healthy.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

This is what I wake up to every morning . . .

This is absolutely brilliant -- and Chenna to the tips of her cute white whiskers.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Tough talk

Another weekend, no words. In fact, another week, no words. How easy it is to lose momentum! Too much socialising and sitting in cafes/restaurants. Too much Facebook and those seductive word games of Scrabble and wordscraper. Too much TV. (The preceding week of Veronica Mars season 3 began the rot.)

I have a weekend at the island coming up, and I hope to reimmerse myself enough to resume early morning (pre-work) writing sessions. I need to set myself some goals. I need to set myself some deadlines. I need to consciously reprioritise. November is NaNoWri Mo (national novel writers month - in the USA) and although I won't be attempting the 50,000 word novel in four weeks, I will make sure that I don't continue to drift as I have been the past few weeks.

Friday, 24 October 2008

movie: Titanic

The most recent version of Titanic the movie -- Titanic the mega-movie -- has copped a lot of flack over the years, primarily for its schmaltzy soundtrack and love story. But I think its criticisers have missed the point.

The movie is not about Leonardo and Kate at all. It's so much bigger. It's the story of a ship -- a magnificent feat of engineering for the time. It's a story about human arrogance and bravery and selfishness and selflessness. It's about seizing the moment and making every second count. It's about how people act under extreme pressure. It's about individual acts of heroism.

Leonardo and Kate are only there to tie the whole thing together. 'Rich girl meets poor boy' allowed the movie to explore the massive class element on Titanic. First class passengers enjoyed fine china, private promenade decks, cigars and brandy. Steerage class, on the other hand, slept four to a cabin and weren't allowed to enter certain parts of the ship. The story of Jack and Rose is merely a symbol.

There are so many scenes that make me feel extremely emotional, and not one of them is about L&K. There's the scene I'm watching now, when the string quartet, playing on the deck of the sinking ship disband and then one by one come back to play that famous song (??), while individuals show acts of heroism -- Fabricio the Italian cutting the ropes of one of the lifeboats, a mother reading her children to sleep as the room fills with water, Mr Andrews, the ship's designer, standing on his own, setting a clock to the time the ships goes down.

But as much as anything, it's about the ship. My favourite scene is early on in the film, when the captain says: "let's stretch her legs", and the command goes down to the engine room, where massive pistons pump up and down, and then the command is rung further down to the boiler room, where tens of poor souls shovel coal into the furnaces. And then there's the scene where the great propeller is raised up out of the water as the ship tilts to an almost impossible angle. Before breaking in half and sliding to the bottom of the ocean.

It's an amazing movie. I believe I saw it three times in the cinema. But in many ways it's been a guilty pleasure. In fact, I think I might have persuaded myself to believe the negative hype. But tonight I've watched it for the first time in years, and from the moment it first started rolling, I remembered everything I loved about it. And I don't even mind the Jack and Rose storyline.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Still an Icebreaker addict

Snowgum's annual warehouse sale commenced today with a special "members night". Icebreakers 40% off!

One thing I definitely needed was new casual shoes that will do for walking to work. I have worn through the soles of my fabulous red Timberland runners, so I have a feeling that any day now they will fall apart. The sale catalogue included some Merrill casual runners, so I attended tonight's warehouse sale with clear intentions.

Icebreakers 40% off!

I found the shoes and they looked great and seemed ideal. I also found another pair of nubuck walking baby janes in a charcoal grey. Very stylish and comfortable. I walked around in both pairs (not at the same time) and convinced myself that both were needed.

But I couldn't of course ignore the fact that Icebreakers were 40% off!

I went to the Icebreaker rack first and grabbed about eight tops in five minutes flat -- to be tried on and evaluated. I carted these around while I chose shoes, then we found en empty fitting room and I tried all 8 tops on. Every one looked fabulous, but of course I couldn't buy them all. So I settled for four.

But it didn't stop there. There was a small selection of kids' Icebreakers on the rack as well, so I had more decisions to make. In the end we decided it was rather extravagant to purchase an Icebreaker for a newborn (currently 2.5 weeks old) -- no matter that he will be approaching one next winter. However, with two nieces about to be transported to Germany for a European winter, Icebreakers could be justified as Christmas presents. I was sorry not to find something on sale for my nephew. But I know where the Icebreakers live!

In all, I purchased a grand total of SIX Icebreakers this evening! A fairly impressive effort.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Brainstorming over brunch

Had 'brunch' with my writing group again today. It was a gorgeous warm spring day, and our cafe had new stuff on the menu. Bliss! Our conversation ranged widely, and I can't remember half the stuff we discussed, but one particular achievement was solving a logic/timeline problem experienced by one of us in her novel.

This is just the kind of thing I hoped we would do when we started meeting for brunch, ostensibly to discuss novels and novel writing. Someone has a problem, lays it out, and we put our collective brains to work on it. By brainstorming the issue, it no longer seems insurmountable, and we gain new perspective on how to tackle things.

I think to-date we've all been a bit shy when it comes to discussing our works in progress in detail. However, since the long weekend we had down at Phillip Island, when most of us shared our first chapters and we discussed how well they were working, we at least have insight into what each of us writing. Without having already experienced the opening chapter of the novel in question (we made the author read it out to us one evening), we might not have had enough knowledge of the story to be helpful. As it was, we instantly grasped the problem and managed to come up with some ideas to help solve it.

I think we need to deploy the hive brain more often to assist with novel challenges, whether plot, character, or setting related etc. It's a powerful force and we should make the most of it.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

From the deck!

Last week it was the massive deck down at Phillip Island with a Brown Brothers orange muscat. Right now, it's my own little deck at home with a gin & tonic. This is the first time since I've had a wireless router at home that it's been warm enough and pleasant enough to migrate out here, and isn't it fantastic? There're still a couple of hours of daylight left, and if the mozzies don't get me, I plan to sit here for a bit and perhaps write.

I've spent all afternoon on a story for work -- a terrible way to spend a sunny Sunday! Chenna has been keeping me company though, sleeping in the most unlikely of places all over a bunch of cables, with her head on the power source. Can't be good for her or the power source. And until a moment ago, she was sprawled out on the outdoor table, where I'm sitting just now. Very companionable.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

It takes sense to use scents

As writers, we are told repeatedly to use all five senses to convey setting. Although most readers wouldn't even notice, the presence of all five senses helps engage them and make them feel more part of the action.

By far the most common sense used in scene setting 'descriptions' is sight. Visualisation happens first -- colour, form, size -- and from visual descriptions, most readers can imagine what a scene looks like, and some can even 'play' the scene in their head like a movie in the mind.

But what about the other senses -- hearing, touch, smell and taste? Hearing is the next easiest to use, I think. It's relatively easy to throw in some birds chirping, or a baby crying, or people laughing etc. Touch too is fairly straightforward; you can use temperature, texture, hardness/softness etc to add dimension. With both these senses, the challenge is not to use the same sounds and textures repeatedly, and to instead ensure that they are specific and original (unlike my examples!).

Which brings me to smell and taste -- the most difficult in my view. Not only are they challenging to call up (for reasons I'll come to in a moment), but they are challenging to implement subtly and successfully. It's very easy for the use of these senses to appear self-conscious in narrative. I've read novels where the author seems to be working through a checklist: have I used sight? (of course, yawn); any sounds? (too easy); what about touch? (yep), smell? (check!), taste? (I'm working on it . . .).

So why is it so difficult? Here is a theory I came up with recently. I think the reason is that our senses of smell and taste (aside from when we're eating) are simply not used as often. I suppose it could just be me, but I don't actually use smell or taste much to engage with my surroundings. Most of the time I don't smell or taste anything at all.

I experimented with this as I walked home last night. I focused on smelling my surroundings. And most of the time I didn't smell anything. My sight and hearing never ceased (the latter despite the music blaring from headphones), but most of the time I smelt nothing. It was only when I walked through a cloud of scent left by a passing woman, or I encountered a jasmine bush or an open garbage bin, that I smelt anything good or bad.

Consequently I now believe that smell (and taste) should be used as an 'accent' sense, to be deployed strategically in narrative for maximum impact. For isn't that the wonderful thing about brushing against a mint or rosemary bush? The scent smacks you in the face. And while I'm not advocating that the use of smells or tastes should stand out in narrative, their power should perhaps be reserved for the scenes where added setting impact is warranted, for they sure do pack a punch.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

When does an edit become a rewrite (or vice versa)?

Now that I'm into the second part of my novel rewrite (i.e. 'Act 2') I'm finding there's quite a high proportion of material that's to be retained. Or at least I plan to retain it at this stage . . .

It's an interesting process. At the end of the previous complete draft I spent quite some time going through scene by scene, making a judgement as to which scenes needed to be deleted, which edited, which rewritten, and also some to be inserted as well. I knew Act 1 required quite a deal of rewriting and new scenes, because the setup is so very important. Even so, I believe I've rewritten more than I originally intended. It will be interesting to see what happens with Act 2, where much of it was deemed OK upon first consideration.

The tricky thing is this: On the face of it, an existing scene may read really well. It may convey essential ideas, setting, backstory etc. But what happens when you change the scene preceding it? Suddenly, your characters are in a different place emotionally and possibly in other ways as well. So you need to carefully retrofit these moods & thoughts & repercussions into what's already there. But if you're already more or less happy with what's there . . . the whole thing can fall apart. Or else you kid yourself that maybe X wouldn't be dwelling on a specific event just then and so you ignore it. (And in many cases this would be true!)

When you're writing as sporadically as I am, it's very easy to 'forget' where your character is emotionally. This is why I always read back over what I was last writing, rather than launch straight into new words. I have to get back to the right emotional place. Plus in addition to emotion there are so many other things to keep track of: adornments and accessories, knowledge gained and mulled over, rising conflict . . . so many issues! This is one reason why I think I have a tendency to rewrite more than I intend. That, and I always find myself second-guessing the quality and appropriateness of the existing scenes. Surely I could do a better job if I rewrote it in such a way? I find it hard to judge sometimes just how 'right' a certain scene is.

When does an edit become a rewrite? I find this an interesting question, because so often I slip from one to the other without really noticing. There's a 'place' where you start with a scene, retain/edit large chunks/sections at a time, while simultaneously writing new chunks to replace the chunks that have been deleted. I honestly don't know if that's a rewrite or an edit.

In any case, although I invariably think such a modification ends up better now, who's to say I won't come back to it in another few years and think it's rubbish? It would be so much better if I rewrote it this way . . .

I guess you just have to keep going and make sure that the story feels right. So if an edit slips into a rewrite, you just go with it. In the end it must be better. Mustn't it?

Monday, 6 October 2008

New arrival

We have another addition to the family! My sister (M) and her husband (M) have had a baby boy (D)! Born on Saturday morning, baby weighed 7 pounds 5 ounces in the old scale, and is absolutely beautiful.

Being away for the weekend, I didn't get in to meet my new nephew until last night, but at least I got a cuddle. So far I have seen him asleep. There was a brief period yesterday evening when he seemed marginally awake and even had his eyes open a little bit, but then he went to sleep again. So far there's speculation that he might have inherited his father's curly black hair!

M&M&D are all doing well.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Chocolate & cheese (A tale of retreat)

I've just come back from a fabulous weekend at Phillip Island, spent with three other members of my writers group. Amusingly, there were several non-writing themes associated with the weekend:

> chocolate, cheese & avo toast
> I want what she's got (aka the cloning of Kirstyn)
> Show me the motorbikes

Ostensibly it was a writing retreat, but with four of us in residence, there was much scope for diversion. The first theme pertains obviously to eating. I believe we toned things down compared with the five-day retreat in August, but we did manage to ingest three entire blocks of chocolate and a massive chocolate cake between four of us over little more than 1.5 days. Add to that a decadent cheese platter, numerous mohito cocktails, plus bottles of Shiraz and a Brown Brothers Orange Muscat & Flora, and it's hard to see exactly where the improvement lay! Nevertheless, we managed to munch through a couple of fruit platters and many slices of avo toast in an attempt to offset the evil.

Kirstyn was entirely to blame for the second theme. I really cannot be held accountable for coveting her possessions, when she flaunts them so shamelessly. If it wasn't enough that she worked all weekend on an Asus Eee computer (I seriously am going to get one of them!), she also brought down her new Zen alarm clock. This is a rather impressive instrument that incorporates a metallic tube that is struck by a small hammer to issue a single note (E). The idea is that you set it for ten minutes before you want to get up, and it strikes the tube with increasing regularity, thereby waking you gently and peacefully. It is only available from Now & Zen in the USA.

Finally, we were very aware of the motorbikes all weekend, given that it was the Phillip Island moto GP. However, they were far fewer than we expected, and we successfully avoided all the traffic, both going down and returning. It did mean that we returned probably a couple of hours earlier than we would have liked, which was made all the worse by the lost hour due to the transition to Daylight Saving, but at least we didn't get stuck in 2-hour traffic jams. (Interestingly, on our way home we passed multitudes of people out with picnics to catch the homebound procession!)

Most importantly, we all got lots of writing done. I spent the weekend on the first chapter of "Act 2" of the rewrite, which is a chapter I've been looking forward to writing for a long time. In total I got about 3000 words done, which is a fantastic return for me. It's just so wonderful to be able to get away from home to focus on writing. Somehow, when I stay home, even if I plan to write, there are so many other things to get in the way. We spent much of today with computers out on the balcony, which was just lovely.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Retreating again

This weekend a group of us writers are going back down to the island for another retreat. Really looking forward to more drinks and computers on the balcony . . . we are going down tonight and back on Sunday night. Can't wait!