Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Nearest book project

This looks fun!

* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence as a comment then repost these instructions in a note to your facebook wall (or blog!).
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

OK, so the nearest book to me right now is in a bookshelf with many other books, so I have a choice within reason!

I've chosen Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion: "Try one and see why artichoke devotees feast on these thistles each spring with such enthusiasm."

Sunday, 23 November 2008


Here we are a week after setting goals, and guess how many words I've written -- none. Very disappointing. Too many things on. Too tired. Pathetic.

It's fairly intense for me at work at the moment, with new responsibilities that I'm having to adjust to. I'm finding this is sapping most of my energy, so that in the evenings I'm pretty much dead. As for getting up in the morning . . . well, let's just say that early mornings of writing are not in any danger of happening. Even the weekends are proving a challenge. It seems easier to enjoy the local cafes and get the house under control, than get creative.

So for now I guess I'll bide time until I can get my rhythm going again. And find my energy. Hopefully some good, upbeat news soon.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Brain teaser

This is the start of a new series of mind puzzles, shamelessly lifted from a book I bought recently. See how you go with this one, which is the first in the book.

Love potion
Merlin has to make a love potion for King Arthur. According to his book of spells, he needs 4 litres of 'oil of toad'. To measure this out, the wizard only has two unmarked pots -- one that holds 5 litres, the other 3 litres. How can he measure out 4 litres?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Setting goals

Spent today with my writing group again. Several of us seemed to be floundering somewhat, so I decided we should each set some goals that we need to achieve by our next 'meeting' (December 20).

This was met with some reluctance by one of us (she who was not floundering). This person is currently participating in a modified NaNoWriMo (50,000 new words in a month), writes every day, and always has multiple projects on the go. Clearly she has no need of goals, so she's off the hook.

Well, I'm not so lucky -- or maybe committed, or organised, or whatever. It's been hard for me to maintain any momentum of late. I think I've been going out too much. And work is making me tired. So I've set myself the goal of 6,000 words in the next month. That's only 1500 words each week. (Actually, I have 5 weeks, so should make the target 7,500 words!) Should be a piece of cake.

To achieve this, however, I will need to get back into the rewrite. At the moment, I open the file, stare at the screen, and an immense weariness encompasses me. My mind screams and sends me off to watch TV instead. So I need to recalibrate. The first step will be cleaning out my study, which is very cluttered at present. I truly think it is affecting my ability to focus. It's sending out bad vibes. It's pathetic, but I know that once the kipple is gone, my mind will be clear and I will be able to think again. That's tomorrow's project. (And, yes, this is a familiar cycle for me. You'd think I'd learn to keep my study CLEAR!)

Others' goals included having to finish a novel rewrite, decide which novel to submit to a publisher and submit it, and decide whether or not to a) write 10 publishable short stories in 2009, or b) spend 1-5 years writing a novel that might never be published.

So that's where we're at. Let's see how we go.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Movie: The Women

Saw the movie The Women tonight. It was OK -- entertaining enough, but not earth-shattering. It seems to me that Meg Ryan pretty much always plays Meg Ryan, which is endearing, but same-old.

It's basically a movie about the importance of female friendships, and how women should be true to themselves, and not lose their identity in the shadow of spouses. In fact, there's not a male to be seen anywhere in the movie. Storylines involving male characters (such as the main storyline of a cheating husband) evolve through the female characters that are affected -- wife, lover, best friend, daughter, housekeeper and nanny. This was an interesting angle, one evidently also taken by the original 1939 film of the same name. (Although I bet the 1939 version didn't have the token lesbian character that seems to be popping up everywhere. As one of the characters in the film puts it: half of New York seems to be lesbian these days!)

I think I might have liked it more if the women were not for the most part glamourous, wealthy society gals in New York. Why not tell a story about women who make up the bulk of society -- everyday women with boring jobs (as opposed to fashion editors, fashion designers, writers)? Also, the characters were all fairly two-dimensional, facing the same old moral and personal dilemmas. It really didn't break any new ground.

Probably the best part of the evening was the foray to a new restaurant, 'After the Tears', a Polish vodka bar next door to the cinema. We had some Polish tapas (yum) and chocolate crepes for dessert with coffee. All this on a balmy night at an outdoor table. Very enjoyable indeed.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Page turners: Parentonomics

I'm running a bit behind with Page Turners posts. We read Parentonomics by Joshua Gans, a friend of mine and husband of one our group members, in September and discussed at our October meeting. I've delayed posting because I haven't quite finished the book. Somewhat unusually for me, I'm still reading it after the discussion. However, we had the second half of our discussion at last week's meeting, so it seems appropriate to post about it now. ( . . . Before I get into posting about the next book!)

Parentonomics is subtitled "An economist dad's parenting experiences" and is exactly that. Joshua is an economics professor at Melbourne Business School who has found himself applying many fundamental economics principles -- mainly in the form of incentive schemes -- in the rearing of his three children. He has a blog called game theorist (musings on economics and child rearing) which I understand has a large following, and it is this which generated the material for the book.

Not being a parent, I'm not a follower of the game theorist blog, although on the occasions I've visited I've found it an interesting and entertaining read. Parentonomics of course picks out all the best bits. Joshua has arranged hundreds of anecdotes, derived from both his own parenting experience and his wide reading, into themed sections and chapters that deal with issues such as toilet training, discipline, and even children's parties. His writing style is easy to read, humorous and insightful, while the way he (and in many cases his children) thinks is fascinating. I admit that knowing the family probably makes it more meaningful, but I think this is a book that most parents would enjoy. Joshua dwells on both the successes and failures of his economic gambits.

Our first group discussion was over a month ago now and I don't recall much of it. I think we found ourselves dwelling on our own childhoods and how they compared with Joshua's kids', and that we discussed whether there might be a long-term impact of raising kids using incentive schemes. Without exception, we all enjoyed reading the book, even those of us without kids.

At our most recent discussion, we went through some questions that N, "the children's mother", had put together. (She intentionally wasn't present at our first discussion.):

1. Did you find reading the book voyeuristic? If so, was it because you knew (some of) the characters?
Most of us present said that in a few parts, but not many, we had felt a little voyeuristic, but only because we knew the characters. The most notable for me were incidents related to childbirth. Othertimes I felt like I was getting to know the family even better.

2. Did the fact that none of the characters are named (other than the author) bother you, or interfere with the flow of the stories?
We all said no I think. In principle this is true, although I think that Joshua wasn't always consistent with his pseudonyms, which probably bothered me a little bit. We commented that N was always "the children's mother" instead of his wife, which we found interesting.

3. Do you think you learnt anything about economics?
Yes, a little. I think I always considered economics to be about $$ and money markets, but in fact money is just one kind of incentive.

4. Did you learn anything about parenting?
Reading about parenting experiences is bound to introduce new aspects of parenting I hadn't before considered. Parenting is hard (from all accounts) and it's not surprising that everyone tries different methods. Parentonomics introduces a different perspective that might work with some children, but probably not all.

5. Have you thought about what a sociological equivalent to the book would be like?
I believe we agreed that there were many such books out there.

6. Do you think it's inappropriate for an economist to publish a book about parenting, about which he is technically not qualified?
Joshua makes clear right at the beginning that this is not an advice book, and that his experiences are his alone. There is no law that says one has to be qualified to publish a book. So long as there are people out there who want to read it, and a publisher who wants to publish it, it's fine!

7. Did the combination of stories about the authors children interspersed with his research work well as a narrative?
I thought so. However, I think most of us said the anecdotes about his kids were the most entertaining and interesting. I made the comment that I felt the book owed a lot to the personalities of the first two children, and the eldest in particular. Maybe it's just the slant Joshua casts upon them, but the way they think and act seems remarkable. But perhaps all kids are remarkable but it's not documented! (I understand child #3, who was very young for much of the time covered by this book, will be featured much more prominently should there be a sequel!)

8. For those who don't have children: did you find it difficult to relate to the stories?
We said no, we had all been kids once and many of us had nieces and nephews. As I said before, we spent considerable time at the original meeting reminiscing about our own childhoods.

To sum up, it was an interesting experience reading and discussing a book written by someone I know socially (as opposed to knowing someone from the SF community). Especially something that boils down to a fairly personal account of family life. There's some intriguing stuff in there. And some smart kids.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Wine in abundance (a plug for Wine Selectors)

Yesterday I returned home to find four cases of wine at my back door. How marvellous! Three were there because I had ordered them. The fourth was my second of two automatic allotments for the year. I confess I hadn't expected it to arrive at the same time.

So what did I order? Well, I'm stocking up for Summer. There's a case of mixed Rose, a case of mixed sparkling red and three bottles (OK, so it's not quite a case, but it's in its own box!) of sticky whites. The fourth is a case of mixed reds, which is what I usually get.

As a result of all this, I'm swimming in bottles of wine at present -- not necessarily a bad thing. It's Friday evening after all. In the face of such abundance, I naturally cracked one open to drink (a Cab Sav).

I should add that I ordered all this from my wonderful wine club, Wine Selectors, which I utterly recommend. The club has a tasting panel to put together fabulous mixed cases at extremely reasonable prices. My 'wine plan' delivers typically four mixed red cases a year, each containing wines from a particular region (somehow I convinced them to send me two per year instead of four). I'm billed automatically for these regional series cases, plus can order at will from catalogues and e-mail newsletters with special deals. I've found this is a good mix. I always have plenty of excellent red that arrives automatically, plus can supplement with whatever takes my fancy.

And the best thing is that I never have to go to a bottleshop and stare despairingly at row upon row of wine. I always have it in the cupboard -- and it's all excellent.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Four days, four cafes . . .

Had a great four days down at the island, with a focus on both literary and culinary pursuits. An interesting development was the reading of my complete manuscript by one of my friends, Kath, who's seen bits and pieces of the story since the beginning. Anyway, she was keen to read the latest rewritten section and offer comment -- which she did -- but then she somehow convinced me to let her read the rest of it. Right to the end. Rough and raw with scribble all over it. Terrible stuff, all of it. The first person other than me to actually get to the [ENDS].

This was, as you might imagine, rather daunting for me, mainly because it needs so much work. I am focusing on adding layers of texture as well as tightening the plot and deepening characters, so to have someone read the 'crap stuff' was not what I had in mind. But she caught me in a weak moment -- it's so nice to have someone actually read the material that I've slaved over, even if they read it about 100 times faster than I can write it -- and I relented. This allowed us to have some discussions about where the whole thing is going (is it a trilogy?) and how the rewrite of this book at least is going to pan out.

So now I have more of an idea of where a potential sequel and even a third might head, and I feel excited by the prospect of exploring these characters further and making sure they get their full journey.

I managed to do some actual writing, but not a huge amount, primarily because we were too busy exploring the culinary offerings of Cowes. Day 1, three of us went out to breakfast to a cafe called Mad Cowes, where I had my usual poached eggs with spinach, mushrooms & grilled tomato. This is my standard 'healthy' breakfast, made a little less healthy but very yummy by dollops of basil pesto on the grilled tomatoes. And coffee of course.

Day 2, Kath left us and Sarah and I went to the Phillip Island Food store for lunch. This is, I reckon, the island's best kept secret. It's in the heart of the main Cowes shops, near Coles, and specialises in gourmet food cooked on the premises. I've heard its lemon tarts are widely sought-after for entertaining, and the rest of their cakes and salads look amazing. Anyway, we had homemade enchiladas with Greek salad. Absolutely divine, with naughty, mouth-watering flaky pastry. We topped it off with a shared slice of the famous lemon tart with coffee. The cafe is complemented by a gourmet grocery section, which sells local wines, fancy cheeses, plus top-shelf gourmet teas, pastas, olive oil etc. Very chic.

Day 3, and Sarah and I ventured out to Silverleaves General Store and Cafe, which required us to get in the car. This is an old-style cafe, also serving food cooked on the premises, specialising in old-style food, like devonshire teas and ploughman's platters. We had afternoon tea, hence shared a serving of scones with raspberry jam and whipped cream. Lovely. There are also some grocery sections, selling wines and preserves etc.

Day 4, and our last day, so we decided to make the most of it. We ventured to Infused, surely the most upmarket restaurant in Cowes. Its lunches are in the same style as its dinners -- very upmarket indeed, but we threw caution to the wind and enjoyed ourselves. We decided to order in the 'tapas' style, ie multiple entrees to share. This allowed us to have a little bit of a few different delectable dishes: olive bread with olive tapenade and mushroom-stuffed roasted capsicum; steamed spring-onion dumplings with chili jam; rocket, pear, feta and olive salad; salt & pepper squid with pear and ginger salad. Each dish was superb, accompanied by a glass of pinot noir on my part, and beer on Sarah's. We sat out in the sunshine at a rustic picnic-table, eating this amazing food. A fabulous way to end the weekend.

So now I am home and back down to earth. Chenna is pleased to be home, since she can now go outside again, but I can't help thinking it would have been nice to stay down at the island for just a little longer!