Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Books: Heart's Blood


I've spent a bit of time in bookshops recently, and couldn't resist purchasing Heart's Blood, by Juliet Marillier. It's a stand-alone novel, inspired (says the cover) by the story of Beauty and the Beast. The cover also declares it to be filled with passion . . . so of course faced with the prospect of some time off, I decided this sounded like some good summer reading.

I hadn't read any of Marillier's other novels before, so was also interested to see what her books are like. After all, if I like this one, she has several others in the Sevenwaters series for me to plough through! Finding a new author is always terribly exciting. So I embarked with high hopes.

I certainly enjoyed it a lot. In truth, the story is not recognisable for Beauty and the Beast, although one can identify the seed of that story -- which was no doubt the author's intention. It's the story of a young woman, running from her past, who finds herself in a rather odd and secluded (and cursed) household where she finds acceptance and purpose (to help lift the curse), not to mention love. The characters are well drawn and interesting, and the writing is great. It's not a fast-moving or complicated story, however, relying largely on atmosphere and character to keep the reader interested. Interestingly, the romance angle -- although integral to the plot -- is not all that heavy. (Often I find that the love thread is the one that keeps me reading until all hours, but in this book it was not the case.)

Having said all that, I didn't love it. There is nothing I can put my finger on, but for me Heart's Blood lacked that X-factor that books like The Lions of Al-Rassan or The Liveship Traders have. It was lovely to read, and I certainly wanted to pick it up each night, but I can't see me forcing it on others to read, screaming at them that they won't have lived until they read this book. But definitely not sorry that I have.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Avatar

Saw Avatar last night. It's certainly visually stunning, breathtaking. Not only the 3D, but the visualisation and artistic design of the planet, which comprises a vast luminous forest that glows at night, along with geological formations made of 'unobtanium' that has strange levetational properties, leading to amazing floating mountains.

The setting is so magnificent that it holds the film together, and I enjoyed it a lot, despite the fact that the plot was essentially predictable and cliched. Moreover, the main character annoyed the hell out of me for the first hour or so, because he's so damn stupid. But overall it's the classic hero's journey, as a human comes to value the culture of the indigenous people and fights for them against the greedy, violent humans who want to murder them all so they can mine the unobtanium.

I would certainly recommend seeing this in the cinema.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Sparkling solstice

Midsummer, once again. This year the longest day starts early for me with a Footsloggers training walk along the Maribyrnong River. A beautiful morning, bathed in sunshine. Coffee and scrambled eggs for second breakfast at the Boathouse cafe. And then, in the balmy evening, friends around for drinks and conversation. A sparkling solstice.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Niggle

I've had a fitness niggle this past week. It started last Thursday, when I developed a pain in my lower right shin during my morning walk to work. Skipping the gym, I limped home at the end of the day, but decided I needed to get it looked at. Particularly since even such mundane activities as shopping were causing fatigue and an aching pain, despite no dedicated exercise.

I was really lucky to get a podiatry appointment with a highly recommended practitioner - who is also the official Trailwalker podiatrist - through a cancellation on Tuesday. Somewhat conveniently, she operates out of a clinic in Bay Street Brighton. The consultation was focused on identifying the origin of the pain, and it turns out I have tight calf muscles, particularly on the right. This is causing overload on another muscle, which is crying out. It is, however, a bit of a mystery as to why it suddenly manifested, since I hadn't been doing anything out of the ordinary.

Anyway, I came away with many calf stretches and a physio appointment, which was yesterday. The same diagnosis was reached, and after an excruciating leg massage I came away with yet more stretches and instructions to walk to work today, after which I was to ice my ankle and tell her how it went. The good news is that I didn't have any pain and so I am cleared to walk to work every second day for the short term. Since I only have one more day and then I'm on leave for three weeks, this isn't going to be a huge issue.

So for the past week I have done zero exercise until today! And I've really noticed the difference in terms of how much time has been liberated. I haven't yet got back to writing, but I am definitely starting to unwind . . . the past couple of months have been full-on. However, rather than contemplating ditching this whole exercise malarkey (well, the gym part anyway) I'm actually looking forward to getting back into it.

So if I'm allowed to walk every second day, I'm going to skip tomorrow and target some sort of longish walk for Saturday, which will be followed by our next team training walk on Monday. All going well, I'll resume at the gym after that. Then I'm back at the physio on Wednesday to take stock . . . Better go do my final round of stretches for today!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Lots to do with a buzz in the brain


Despite the fact there's been no writing for weeks (again) I have been thinking a lot about my novel. Every so often I read over the last few chapters written and feel a swell of happiness when I realise that I actually still like most of it. There are of course frequent awkward sections to address in an editing pass, but I'm feeling as though I won't actually have to do another rewrite (as in start from blank 'sheet of paper'). It won't be finished by the end of the year (ROFL) but at least when I complete this draft, it will be complete, more or less.

You'd think this surge of satisfaction would be enough to have me sweeping everything non-novel related off my figurative plate with emphatic (yet also figurative) hand . . . but no. Still I am confronted by my TO DO list. This evening, for instance, I have spent a couple of hours first researching a certain Australian fantasy author, and then compiling a list of questions for her to answer via email, for the purpose of my Aussiecon 4 comms brainchild -- a newsletter targeted at 'newbies' who mistakenly think science fiction conventions are for nerds.

But even this process has re-inspired me; for this particular author, when still unpublished, attended a writing workshop with Tracey and I back in 1999. Now I look at her web site with her 7 published novels and 7 figure deals and think wistfully, 'if only'. Perhaps I would be forgiven if this evening's exercise had the reverse effect on my motivation levels, for 7 novels (with another 3 on the way) is a much better return after 10 years than ZERO . . . but surprisingly, it doesn't. I feel determined, a little energised, although still sadly time poor.

And then there are the recent inspirational efforts of my writing coven. Tracey, who achieved the 50,000 NaNoWriMo words last month. And Lisa, who subbed a short story today. We pledged about a month ago to report words at the end of each week . . . (more ROFL). And Foz, revelling in the UK on what could only be termed (for her) a writing sabatical, churning out nearly 30,000 words of a new novel in about three days! Maybe that should daunt me as well, because that's about 10 times faster than I can write on a good day, but once again, no, it rings sirens in my head that warn me to reprioritise and SOON.

For a writer doth write -- no? Not this writer, at present, unless you count the occasional blog post and work story (which I don't). This writer needs to clear some more of the TO DO list, and not let any more back onto it until some words have been churned out!

But I do feel encouraged by the fact that the buzz is still there at the back of my brain -- it's a hum that tells me when the time is right, when the way becomes clear, I will be able to launch into it. It's a much better place than where I was a few months ago, when I couldn't even remember what was happening in the story . . . (sorry, what did you say his name was?). In another week, I'll be on holiday, and although we all know it's a crazy time of year, I like to think that I'll be able to commit to writing something just about every day.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Two recent trailwalker events

I've been a little remiss in keeping this blog up to date about recent Trailwalker activities; however, we are keeping a team blog, where all the events are being documented.

Recent posts of note include:
Footsloggers finally find the trail: CP3 to CP4
Fundraising garage sale (Saturday 5 Dec)

Our next team walk is Monday 21 December, so I'm going to have to find some time to get a long walk in this coming Saturday morning . . . Meanwhile, I continue walking to work and cross training at Contours. I do feel as though my general fitness is improving, which is good.

Ripping heads (or 'a day in the garden')

There come times in life when you feel as though you are wrenched from one thing to another with barely time to take a breath. After a while, you get a headache and then you start ripping others' heads off. The funny thing is that I'm enjoying all the various activities I've taken on, when I consider them individually. But I am someone who needs downtime. Me time. And the constant pressure of my massive To Do list is starting to take its toll.

This weekend, I did manage to break the back of one item that has been bugging me for months -- my jungle in the back yard. I have lost track of the number of weekends when it was either too cold/wet, too hot, or I was too busy to spend the few hours required to rip into the weed-infested 'garden'. But somehow conditions were perfect yesterday, so I made the most of them. It was hard work, but satisfying, and the relief I feel when I glance out the window is significant.

Not that I'm there yet with the back yard . . . My lawn is still a disaster -- more weed than grass these days, alas. And there is much pruning and planting to be done. And ripping out of dead plants that haven't survived the drought. In recent years I've grown lettuce, tomatoes and various herbs, but I don't think I'm up for that this year. Who would have thought I'd have so much difficulty tending such a small garden as mine? Am seriously considering getting a gardener.

On the absolute upside, I can now cross off 'weed garden' from my list, despite the fact that 'weed lawn' and 'prune' remain. Next weekend, however, it will be time to swing into other activities, so who knows when I'll get back to the garden? I have the feeling that Sunday was it -- my day in the garden -- for a while at least.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Page Turners: Cannery Row


The last book for the Page Turners year was Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. It's a very thin book, more novella than novel, yet still I didn't manage to finish it before the meeting tonight. The problem was that I didn't start it until Tuesday evening, by which time it was all too too late.

What I did read, however (about 50 pages, or ~1/3), I rather enjoyed for the most part. It's set in a rather downbeat community on a small street lined with sardine fisheries in Monterey California. It revolves around the people living there, all of them quirky and struggling and yet strangely content. The main plot deals with a group of local bums wanting to 'do something nice' for Doc - a marine biologist who is arguably the most respectable and well-to-do in the community. Yet the chapters dealing with this are interspersed with myriad vignettes focusing on others who live there as well -- there's a couple who live in an abandoned boiler, the madame of a brothel, Frankie the kid with a troubled family life who befriends Doc, and many others I didn't get to meet.

I found the language and imagery used in the novel very evocative and powerful, and although I didn't identify with any of the characters, had sufficient interest in them to be quite entertained. Most have dubious morals and few are even likable, but on an intellectual level it held me.

I have to say, though, that it hasn't held me to the extent that I am going to finish it right away. I have a few other books waiting in the wings that I am dying to read, so Cannery Row, like most of my unfinished PT books, will be discarded at this point. It's frustrating to think of the number of books I have partially read, but when my reading time is so limited, as it is presently, I am going to prioritise the books that have me making excuses to read them.

We enjoyed a fairly animated discussion about the book this evening, but I didn't take any notes . . . I believe a majority had actually finished it for once, which always helps!

Monday, 30 November 2009

An education about boys . . .

It has been a very busy few months, but I have taken in a couple of movies. Here's a quick rundown:

The Boys are Back: Saw a preview screening of this Australian film some weeks before it was released. Clive Owen plays a man whose wife tragically dies, leaving him to raise and re-connect with their young son, somewhere in Adelaide. Matters are complicated when his other son from a previous marriage travels out from England to stay. It's a raw and well-acted film about boys and men (brother/brother relationships and father/son relationships) -- an interesting insight for women. It's definitely a character drama, with not a huge amount of action, although there was enough tension to get me onto the edge of my seat a couple of times.

An Education: Another free ticket! Set in the 1960s, this is about a 16-yr old English school girl, highly intelligent, who catches the eye of a socialite man in his 30s. She is wined and dined and exposed to an intoxicating world that makes her question the worth of her staid private education, where the only end-game for women seems to be a secretary, nurse or teacher. It's not a romance, more a coming of age story. I certainly enjoyed it, although it lacked the rawness, tension and emotion of The Boys are Back.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Orion rising


This evening I was walking home from the train station at around 11pm (roughly half an hour ago) and I saw the constellation of Orion for the first time this Summer.

Everytime this happens -- my first Summer glimpse of Orion, or my first Winter glimpse of Scorpio -- a thrill rushes through me. These two constellations mark the seasons as surely as anything. One day you look up and there they are, celestial signals, timeless, ageless.

It is of course not the first evening this year Orion has been visible rising in the eastern sky, but it is the first time I have seen it. I wasn't looking for it, but there it was.

Summer is finally here.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Week log: one up, one down

It seems like my life is one big checklist at the moment -- whether training, writing, housework, fundraising, blogging, or marcoms stuff for Aussiecon 4. Too many things to do and not enough time. It has come to the point where I am considering taking a day off work to actually get some things done!

Anyway, the point of this post is to provide a training and writing log for the week:

Writing: zero (Will have to reverse that this week with some morning stints, I think!)

Training: Walked to work & back three times, went to the gym three times, plus conquered the 1000 steps twice in the Dandenongs on Saturday morning. This last was fabulous. It felt great to get out early and achieve something before 9am! See our Footsloggers post here. I also discovered the merits of 'sports water' (mizone) on Friday afternoon. I'd had a couple of minor cramps during my gym workout after work, so decided I needed some electrolytes for the walk home . . . what I hadn't counted on was the sugar rush. Instead of dragging my weary self home, I fairly bounced all the way. I am still in awe at the difference in my energy levels. Will definitely do some more experimentation with other brands and formulas -- if possible, I would like to consume somewhat LESS than 28g of sugar per 700ml!

So a good training week, despite the lack of long walk, but a lousy writing week. Somehow it's always the writing that gets shafted.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Phillip Island Footsloggers


Our trailwalker team -- both walkers and support crew -- enjoyed a rather warm sojourn down at Philip Island this weekend. We congregated at my parents' beach house on Friday night/Saturday morning, before being dropped off at Rhyll, which marked the start of our walk. This is one of the benefits of having our support crew in attendance -- no car shuffling!

We walked along the beautiful Rhyll estuary, then down through Koala woodland, after which we traipsed along various roads on the island. One of the problems with Phillip Island as a trailwalker training destination is that all the pretty walks are short and disconnected. So although the first part of the walk was extremely picturesque, most of it was fairly dusty and dull. We joked that these long dusty roads were good practice for the notorious Warburton trail . . . In total, we walked around 17km, our longest walk to-date, and by the end felt we had well and truly earned the G&Ts (or chilled white wine) we were hankering for.

The rest of the weekend was spent in a far more leisurely fashion. We indulged in said G&Ts over lunch, then spent some time discussing our training schedule leading up to the event. We marked off dates and determined which sections of the trail we intend to tackle when, and discussed some of our training strategies. Importantly, we also planned the next phase of our fundraising schedule, identifying several events both before and after Christmas. Certainly there was also much eating and drinking too.

Today we had a relaxed day, walking in along the beach to Cowes for breakie -- my latest favourite is Cafe Laguna, where the coffee is marvellous. We sat out on the pavement, mostly in the shade, and secretly laughed at the poor suckers in the flashy-but-awful cafe across the road.

Then we cleaned up the house and dispersed early to mid afternoon. But not before mixing up our 12 boxes of fundraising chocolates: giant freddos & caramelo koalas, strawberry freddos and boost bars.

In all, it was a lovely weekend, and great that our two support crew team members could come along as well. We are all getting along really well, and now that we have our fundraising and training planned, it's just a matter of forging ahead and making it all happen.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Island Idyll


Another four days down at the island and I'm feeling nice and relaxed. The great revelation has been my new Dodo mobile broadband, enabling me to go online while I'm away. So here I am, sitting in our beach house, feeling connected.

The main purpose of this long weekend away was to get some writing and walking done, as well as general relaxing. It's been a nice mix of cosy chats, companionable walks, targeted writing time. We've practised using the cappuccino maker too -- a good holiday activity.

Yesterday I took a drive around the island to work out a good 'long walk' route for when the Trailwalker team comes down here next weekend. Phillip Island is not really set up for 20km walks! Most of the picturesque walks are 3-5km in length, so I'm trying to figure out the best way of linking them up.

On the writing front it's been moderately productive. I've actually had a better week in general, getting up early Mon-Wed to write before breakfast, so to cap this off with some more output this weekend has been good. I feel as though I'm getting back into the swing of it, although am still facing an enormous number of distractions. Will try to keep up the pre-breakfast sessions.

I've been doing a fair degree of reading as well (or, rather, listening). Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is getting better as at goes on. And I've been very much enjoying the audio of The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton. Will blog on this properly when I've finished it.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies


Yes, well.

I was actually looking forward to reading this. I thought it sounded clever and funny. From a quick browse through the illustrations -- Elizabeth kicking zombies in the head, Lady Catherine keeping legions of ninjas etc -- it sounded vastly entertaining.

It's not.

In fact, I'm not sure I can finish it. For one thing, at its heart the novel is an abridged version of P&P. Abridged = BAD. I feel as though the abridgement has been done by someone with little respect for Austen and the essence of the novel. It has slashed scenes to the bare minimum -- to the point that the BBC six-part TV series actually features more of the story and original dialogue.

Worse -- far far worse -- it has actually changed some of the dialogue tags. For example, instead of having Caroline Bingley expound on the various attributes of the truly accomplished lady, it gives this speech to Darcy. Oh, so wrong. Nor do I like the snide remarks inserted into the mouths of various characters. In the same Caroline/Darcy conversation, Darcy actually says all these rude things to Caroline, which she blithely ignores, keeping to her original dialogue. And in another scene Mr Bennett verbally abuses Mrs Bennett to her face, in a once-again one-sided edit.

And this is before I even get to the zombies.

Actually, I can forgive the zombie insertions more easily. They are, after all, the premise of the book. It's quite interesting to read the diversions in the story to accommodate zombie attacks etc. My main problem with them is an insurmountable one: they are simply too ancillary to the main storyline. Without tampering with the overall storyline (in the manner of Lost in Austen for example) the zombies cannot actually influence anything. They become nothing more than a backdrop to the main story of P&P.

I think I would have liked the whole book better had it started off in the true P&P manner, introduced zombies, and then diverged, more and more as the zombies actually had impact, caused characters to make different choices etc. I think it would have been more fun to write as well. As it is, it's little more than a editing job. Glimmers of creativity hidden like flecks of gold in a chunk of rock. Or maybe the reverse (pockets of impurities in a gold nugget).

This is actually our Page Turners book for this month. I don't think it'll matter if I don't finish it, although I would like to make it up to the Lady Catherine scenes with her ninjas. And I may skip ahead to read key scenes like proposal #1 and the delicious scenes at Pemberley. Hmmm.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Trailwalker update

Team Footsloggers leaped to the head of the fundraising leaderboard for the first few weeks, raising $800 without even really trying, thanks to the donations of kind friends and family; but now we have slipped back to 3rd overall with some impressive fundraising action from "Twisted Sisters" and "Iron Ladies". (It's nice to see the all-girl teams setting the pace in any event!)

We might nevertheless pat ourselves on the back for providing incentive to others to get into action! But we're not finished yet, with some fundraising ideas in their infancy and still heaps of time to make it to our planned $5K.

On the training front, we've been doing it solo for the past couple of weeks as well as next weekend, with a team weekend planned at Phillip Island 7-8 November. I find it easy enough to accumulate km in short bursts, but going out for longer walks on my own is not so fun and I've managed to find all sorts of reasons to avoid doing so. It will be good to have a weekend away with the girls.

We are blogging about Trailwalker in more detail at our Footslogger site, so check in regularly for all the insight from not just me, but Lisa and Emma also (so far . . .).

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Immersion (part 2)

I'm back from my immersion weekend and so far so good. I admit there was a fair degree of procrastination on Saturday in the form of a walk into town to get coffee and groceries, then I spent 3.5 hours reading the previous 13 chapters (37,000 words) aloud to myself -- just to get in the mood and remember what I was on about, you understand! (Ended up hoarse . . . )

So at about 6:30pm on Saturday evening I was finally ready to actually start writing something. Which I did. And then again this morning. All I need to do now is keep plugging away, a little a day. The key is maintaining momentum.

The good news: I actually enjoyed reading though chapters 15 to 27. Maybe there's hope for the story yet.
The bad news: I am stupidly behind the self-imposed schedule I concocted in around May. According to that I should be writing chapter 43 this week, rather than chapter 28. Hmmm.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Immersion

This coming weekend I am going down to the island for a period of writing immersion. The very thought of it makes me smile. And feel relieved. It has been too long since I've spent time with my characters in their world, and they feel like shadow creatures, rather than the flesh and blood they once were.

I have let my life get out of control a little bit. I allowed a natural distance from the story to form while I prepared my Hachette submission, but failed to regain the ground, and instead let it slip further and further away like a boat that has slipped its mooring. It is too far away now for a simple tug, and I will have to haul and haul and haul on a water-logged rope to get it back again.

It may happen that I spend hours reading back over what I have previously written, and simply thinking. I may need to pick up a pen and try to tap into the creative part of my brain using free writing techniques. But whatever it takes, I will be spending time in that world and that story -- something that has not happened in a few months.

I admit that for the past 6 weeks, I have been fairly obsessed with Trailwalker. Between that and dabbling with voluntary communications for Aussiecon 4, I have had little brain space left for anything else. And while I will probably spend a little time this weekend on both these things -- going for one or two purposeful walks, and developing up some copy for a promotional flyer -- I intend to spend the great majority of time on my novel.

I certainly do not regret taking on these additional activities. I believe both will be enlivening experiences, and Trailwalker in particular is for such a worthwhile cause. But I do want to get some balance back. Writing is key element of my overall character, and I feel that when I'm not writing there is something missing. I'm not quite whole. This weekend is about finding my way again.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Brighton to Beaumaris


Well, Footsloggers team training is now officially underway. For the first time since the adventure began, all four of us donned runners and daypacks on Sunday for a stroll along the picturesque beach path from Brighton to Beaumaris. Dodging numerous cyclists and the occasional jogger, we soaked up the gorgeous spring sunshine and started to put ourselves through our paces. The only notable absentee was Orinoco, our womble team mascot, who slept in.

For my part, I was wearing my new trailrunners and camelbak hydration pack, and both proved comfortable with no sore spots. The fact that I am prone to blisters and was walking in new-ish shoes, might go some way to prove the worth of the expensive thorlo socks!

Our specific destination was the Ricketts Point cafe, where we met our support crew teamleader for lunch. It was a lovely reward after the morning’s exertions, and great that we can start to get our support crew involved. Yes, OK, it was also a convenient way of getting back to our starting point!

In total, we walked about 15km in 3h 12 mins, which is a speed of 4.7kph. Next team training will hopefully be a weekend down at Philip Island in early November. The plan is to spend a day at Wilson’s Prom doing “hills” and a day/night walking around the island. In the meantime, I’m thinking it might be good to go check out the 1000 steps . . .

Saturday, 10 October 2009

The Scarlet Pimpernel


Tonight I have relived on DVD one of my old favourites -- the 1982 British TV version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, starring Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen.

The first time I saw this movie I was a teenager, trusted by my parents to keep all in order with my siblings while they went out. This movie was on TV, and finished waaaay past my bed time (~11pm vs ~9pm). Stupidly, I worried that if mum and dad had come home to find me still up watching TV, there would be hell to pay. So I watched almost the entire movie from my bedroom door (which was in view of the TV, if remotely), intending to scurry off to bed if I heard them come home.

Of course, this was in the days before remote controls, and I daresay had they arrived home to find the TV still on, they might have twigged. Assuming, that is, they hadn't already spotted my hasty retreat.

As it happened, they didn't come home until after the movie had finished, meaning that I could have watched the entire movie from the comfort of the sofa. I still cannot believe how hen-hearted I was! This incident is one I will never ever forget.

Anyway, I recorded the movie onto video the next time it was on TV, and have watched it many many times. A few years ago I tracked it down on DVD. It's amazing how many of the lines I still remember. I put it on tonight because I thought I had seen it so many times that it would be a good background movie, while I carried on about the house doing various domestic bits and pieces. Nope! It had been a couple of years and it still had the power to glue me to the screen.

The movie has dated of course, and now I can spot soooo many plot holes that were I watching it for the first time today I daresay I would consider it worse than bad. But it's an old favourite, and it always will be. It has adventure, costume, romance . . . everything!


Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Progress

Had some nice feedback from the Queensland Writers Centre this week. Although I still have not been accepted into the manuscript development workshop, I did discover that I made the 'long list', which has been published on the QWC web site. This is definitely better than nothing, although since they only took 8 in the end, I can assume that I am still somewhat off the mark. But this is progress!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Book: Necropolis


The October Page Turners book for discussion was Necropolis (Book four of The Power of Five), by Anthony Horowitz. It's unashamedly YA (or younger) and targeted at boys. This is a relief, because if it were an adult novel with women as an intended audience, it failed dismally!

For my part, I found it a trifle dull. The characters were not that engaging, and the action not that exciting. Moreover, the YA writing style, which over-explained everything, as well as the omniscient point of view irritated me excessively.

I don't believe anyone in our reading group was particularly enthralled by it, and about the most interesting discussion topic was the difference between this, which clearly doesn't translate well for the adult reader, and other YA novels (such as Harry Potter, for example -- but there are many others), which do.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Introducing Footsloggers

Registrations for Trailwalker opened today and I stayed up past midnight last night to ensure we were registered first thing. So now I can reveal our team name: Footsloggers.

Our Trailwalker team space, where we will be blogging as a team about our experiences, can be found here. Online donations to Oxfam at this site will be gratefully accepted.

We have pledged to raise $5000 for Oxfam, owing to the crafty Oxfam people setting this as the minimum for the first round of registrations. We have been far too excited and keyed up to wait until the end of the month (when those pledging $1000 can register), so there will be a massive fundraising effort in the months to come . . .

We have also set ourselves an ambitious target time of 30 hours to complete the event. Not sure about that one yet!

First team training is next weekend (11 Oct), when we will attempt a ~14km walk along the beach from Elwood to Beaumaris, with the reward being lunch at Ricketts Point. I am really looking forward to that, because then it will really feel as though we're on our way!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Time to get on with it

It's been over two months since I subbed the first 50p of my manuscript for the Hachette Australia manuscript development program, and aside from my brief 'words blooming' in early September, I haven't written a cursed thing.

For weeks I have been searching for a way back into the zone, trying to find a decent expanse of time, knowing I desperately need an immersion weekend down at the island. I believe I have identified an appropriate weekend (still over two weeks away) and hope madly that nothing comes up to prevent me from going down there. For, although I continue to plan and scheme for writing time at home, I fear I will need that weekend down at the island to kick-start my brain again.

Somewhat perversely, I am feeling relieved just now, having heard I was unsuccessful in my submission for the Hachette program. Of course I am disappointed (although not nearly as gutted as last time), but I can't help but think that had I been compelled to sub the rest of the novel (partly still in first draft format) it would have felt rather pointless to continue rewriting. As it is, I am back in isolation again, all on my own. It's now completely up to me what happens from here, and I should be able to just get on with it!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Movie: The Ugly Truth

The Ugly Truth was an entertaining Friday night chick flick -- funny, undemanding of my brain, certainly romantic. Perfect Friday night fare. Starring Katherine Heigl, it explores the age-old question of whether a girl needs to put on an act to get a guy, or whether true love will find her if she stays true to herself.

The basic premise is that Heigl plays a TV morning show producer whose network forces her to put up with a new segment called 'The Ugly Truth', in which our hero proceeds to advise viewers on relationships from his somewhat bitter and twisted experience . . . (men only think about sex, they don't want deep and meaningful conversation, they want thin beautiful women only etc etc). The segment is an instant hit, much to our heroine's disgust, but she is reluctantly won over and allows him to coach her in the ways to obtain a date/relationship with her gorgeous new doctor neighbour . . . you can probably guess the rest.

I must say the movie is not very flattering towards men, but the hero is engaging and undergoes his own journey to overcome past hurts and realise that he can actually find a meaningful relationship with a woman. Heigl is very funny (particularly in a scene in which she finds herself at a business dinner in vibrating underwear), and the chemistry between the two leads is pretty amazing, I thought (particularly in a scene where they dance). Not brain food or culture, but good for a laugh. (I notice it got pretty bad reviews, but I was in the mood to be entertained. What do people expect from a romcom?)

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Consumed

I must admit that Trailwalker is consuming me right at the moment. It's almost all I can think about -- currently it's the list of gear I need to buy and my pre-Christmas training schedule.

Here's my current shopping list:
  • backpack (possibly/probably a camelbak with hydration system)
  • trailrunner shoes (?) or similar
  • triathlon knicks
  • shorts (to wear over the top)
  • thorlo socks (1 pair to try)
  • heart rate monitor
  • MP3 player (new one)
  • hat (all mine are either too flash or too daggy)
  • appropriate tops (not sure what I want here, will probably experiment with a few different ones)
My pre-Christmas training schedule is pretty straightforward: walk to/from work 3 times a week (3.8km each way), plus a 10-15km walk somewhere on the weekend.

Gee, there's an awful lot of preparation involved in this! And we haven't even started on the fundraising!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Training begins

Today we embarked upon our first 'long walk' as an almost Trailwalker team. Three of us tramped around Studley Park (and surrounds) in a 13km figure of eight. We started at the Studley Park boathouse, looped out past the Fairfield boathouse, then returned via the Collingwood Children's Farm. It was a gorgeous day and our spirits were high.

Since we had previously decided to start our 'official' training on October 11, this was merely a 'preliminary' training walk, basically because we couldn't wait another 3 weeks. We/I wanted to get out there and walk together, get a feel for pace etc, and generally get into the mood. Now, despite the fact that we were a person short, it feels real.

We kept the pace pretty low today, not wanting to stretch ourselves too much just yet. We're feeling our way and testing our boundaries. Not all of us are regular walkers, so it will take a little time to build up speed as well as stamina and toughness. The 13km took us just under 3 hours, which is 4.3 km per hour. For me this was a very comfortable amble, and I am pleased to report I have no sore spots on my feet or anywhere else. In fact, I feel pretty good, just a little weary -- but pleasantly so.

Now we look ahead to the 11th and our first official team walk. We're not sure where this is going to be yet. In the meantime, I intend to keep up walks to work three times a week. So far, so good!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Pondering the home library

A large part of today's writing group brunch discussion seemed to centre around books, and the basis for keeping them. Being writers we are all book people, but we did speculate on what was to be considered a reasonable number to maintain in one's home library.

I have always been one to buy books. All through high school and university, books were perhaps the one thing I never held back on. If I wanted a book, I bought it. No questions. No guilt. I allowed myself this one vice, and read avidly, often until the wee hours of the morning. Sadly, I don't seem to read nearly as much these days. I suppose I am trying to fit too many other things in. However, I do still prefer to buy my reading group books, and any others that take my fancy. I always have a massive pile of books that I have not yet had the chance to read.

I love having a home library. I have purged occasionally over the years, so it's not a massive collection, but it is a reasonable size. Many books I have read more than once, or at least intend to; others I doubt I'll ever get around to reading again, but I keep them because I love having them there. They are mostly fiction, but not all. It has got to the point where I probably need to invest in a new bookshelf. (I can probably find space for one.) I could probably do with a purge as well. But somehow I know that if I sort through them, I will probably come away with a single small box full of around 10 books. The rest will all make it back onto the shelf!

But (and here is where we go back to today's brunch conversation), what do you do when you have seven loaded bookshelves and need to find room for someone else's almost as impressive collection? You start making wild declarations that you will cull your book collection to 100 books. (Ha!) Of course, we know this to be impossible, but it does raise certain points: why keep books that are readily available in libraries? Why keep books that you know you will not read again? Is there a need to keep duplicate copies of favourite books? What if said duplicate copies were both signed by the author?

My gut feeling in this situation would be to retain a book if I was in any doubt. (I confess I already have duplicate copies of some books!) There are plenty of books I know I won't read again, but don't particularly want to get rid of. But then, I don't have the above-mentioned space (or volume) issues. Despite the modest size of my house, I'm not yet in any danger of running out of bookshelf space. Until I do, I don't have to be ruthless. In fact, I'm far more likely at present to go buy another bookshelf!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Wordnik - does it represent birth or death?

I happened to hear part of a talkback radio show on the weekend about a web site called wordnik. It describes itself as: "An ongoing project devoted to discovering all the words and everything about them". Basically, it embraces all words, no matter how correct or invented -- so long as the word is in use somewhere, it's considered legitimate. Moreover, it's an interactive site, so you can record pronunciations, write definitions, make tags, mark as favourites etc. Rather an enjoyable procrastination site for a word-o-phile!

Much as I applaud the concept of a web site devoted to words, however, I can't help but feel a tug of resistance. Certainly this is how languages evolve, but one could argue they devolve as well (e.g. prevalence of orientated and obligated in modern use). Just how wild and free should a language be? Is it time to reject the artificial rules imposed on English way back when, and go with the flow? Or will abandoning restraint and a sense of 'correct' usage lead us back into the dark ages?

Monday, 14 September 2009

Chilling out at the Island

Had a fabulous weekend of R&R down at Phillip Island the past couple of days. The weather is finally warming up, and Saturday was a lovely day to be out and about, despite the wind. On Sunday, mindful of my trailwalker ambition, we embarked upon a longer walk than is perhaps customary for us down there. Instead of stopping in Cowes for coffee, as we had the previous day, we kept going past all the way to Silverleaves, where we enjoyed a lovely turkey bagel lunch, with coffee and apple & rhubarb crumble. Decadent. And then we walked home. It was an hour each way at a moderate pace -- purposeful without being spanking, a little faster than leisurely. It was the first time ever I didn't take my computer down to the beach with me, and it was lovely to walk, talk, chill out and watch a little netball and Anne of Green Gables on TV.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Team in training

It's official. We have a trailwalker team. However, I'm not going to reveal our team name here until we're registered, which won't be until October.

We had our first team meeting on Friday evening, when everyone met each other. It was one of those evenings when everybody had heaps of things to say, and we had so many things to talk about, that the energy in the room was stupendous. Training was one of the big ones: how often could we get our act together to train as a team? How far would we have to walk in training? What shoes should we wear? Where should we go for our training sessions?

Another item to discuss was whether or not we thought we needed to stop for sleep at any stage during the event. I think this is still unresolved. Part of me feels that we might as well have some sleep, because where's the sense in killing ourselves? We have already agreed that our goal is to finish, not break any special time barriers. But there is the consideration that if we sleep our muscles might seize up and we'd feel ten times worse. One possibility is to have showers (and possible naps) at the Olinda house of a friend of my family. Olinda is checkpoint 4, but is just under halfway, so it's probably too early for a nap, but maybe a shower would be beneficial.

We also talked about fundraising. I don't think we've come up with any bright ideas yet. And team T-shirts for us and our support crew. Of course.

In the end we decided two important things: our team name (TBA) and the date for our first official team training session, which is to be on Sunday October 11. We are to meet at Studley Park at 8am (OMG) and walk for 3 hours, before indulging in a yummy brunch. Emma is responsible for determining our route.

Having said that, we are sneaking in a preliminary walk this coming Sunday at a location yet to be decided. It seems that most or all of us are available this weekend after all, so the game is soon to be on!

And so it begins.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Diversions

Since my post on 'Words Blooming', where I announced to the world that I was writing again, I've been diverted yet again from my cause by several factors. I won't list them all here, despite the fact that they're all legitimate (except, perhaps, for Saturday's descent into wine swilling from 2pm), but I will mention two that are looming as potential ongoing threats to my writing time.

There's Trailwalker, of course. We haven't even kicked it all off yet (that's on Friday) but already I've been spending time reading up on it online. And once we start training on weekends, I can see the end of the 'idea' of Sunday writing sessions. I say the 'idea' because the reality is that I haven't written on a Sunday afternoon for months. (Shame)

Then there's Aussiecon 4. Sunday's comms meeting was good, because I managed to avoid committing myself to anything much. But this evening, I have put up my hand unbidden to do a media campaign. I have even spent the entire evening drafting up a document for people on the email list to read, filled with ideas and promises. What am I thinking? It's pride, pure and simple. I have been added to this list/subcommittee as the only person with publicity/media experience, and I don't want them all shaking their heads about how I'm not adding any value. So, I decided to take the bull by the horns and do what I do best -- conceptualise a campaign and volunteer to drive it. Of course, it's the type of campaign that could take as much or as little time as I like. But my pride is on the line here . . . I have no idea when I'm going to find time to do all this.

As well as write. Oh dear, oh dear.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Aussiecon 4: comms team

This afternoon I went to a brainstorming meeting with the Aussiecon 4 comms team. It's an interesting turn of events, actually, since I've never been on the organising side of a SF con. I find myself loitering on the verge of becoming involved after a social dinner last weekend, at which I met the co-chair of the con and my involvement in media and publicity was revealed.

I went to today's meeting in the role of 'advisor' and 'insight provider' although I was somewhat apprehensive. Part of me would rather like to jump in and get involved, because I know that I could add value. I also think it would be an enlivening experience and I would meet a heap of interesting people. However, I am also aware that I am trying to finish a novel, while at the same time start training for Trailwalker, after both of which I intend to renovate bathroom and kitchen. Just how far can I stretch myself? Am I being selfish?

Anyway, I made a few suggestions, but spent most of the meeting taking things in, trying to work out what was going on. I was far too overwhelmed by it all to volunteer outright for anything. The reality is that I don't think I know enough, and I'm not the sort of person to put myself forward. Even if I secretly thought I would be good at something, my inherent shyness and reluctance to over-commit myself stopped me.

I have, however, agreed to be on the comms team mailing list and help out with the development of newsletter and flyer material. I have no idea yet what this is going to involve. I guess we shall see. And sometime next year, when they want to start utilising media, I daresay I may help out with that as well. I am feeling my way at the moment, but perhaps will start raising my head a little more as time progresses. I will just have to make sure I keep things balanced and under control! Interesting times . . .

Friday, 4 September 2009

Possession: A romance

I have wanted to read Possession: A romance, by A.S.Byatt, ever since I first saw the movie several years ago. I know this is the wrong way around, but one can sometimes not help it! As a matter of fact, in this case I think it might almost have been the right way around, because now, having read the book finally, I realise that the movie is little more than a pale shadow of the novel. As might have been expected.

At its heart, the story is simple. Two modern day scholars (Roland and Maud), experts in the works of fictitious Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte respectively, uncover a hitherto unknown connection between the two that leads them on a quest to unravel the mystery of their relationship. By means of journals, letters and poems written by Ash, LaMotte and various loved ones, Roland and Maud uncover a Romance complete with love, regret, bitterness and tragedy. Playing counterpoint to the story of those long-dead, is a tale of modern literary academia, obsession and 1980s feminism.

As a whole the novel is a thorough exploration of every meaning of "possession": possession of knowledge and artifact, possession of women by men, possession of the living by the dead. Because of the different media used to tell the story, the overall effect is a richly textured tapestry of prose & poetry, quest & chase, mystery, romance, fairy tale and academic theory. Each chapter adds a new layer of complexity and depth.

I read this book twice effectively: once in the conventional manner, plus I listened to an audio recording in conjunction. The former allowed me to fully appreciate the construction of the novel -- how the diary entries, letters, poems etc were used and presented, plus there was the possibility to skip forward and back at will. This last was almost essential for me, because it allowed cross-referencing and re-reading, which in a novel of this complexity was beneficial.

The audio book, on the other hand, presented the narrative in a contextual manner as the reader placed emphasis and interpretation on the words. This was a wonderful bonus for someone who doesn't read poetry. It also allowed me to experience the novel by immersion, rather than ploughing through the words and concentrating on constructing the story in my head. I believe I appreciated the poetry in particular a lot more via the audio experience.

It's not a fast-paced book. Because so much of the information is gleaned from diaries and letters, there's a lot of ground covered that is not directly relevant to the plot, but which all helps to build the overall texture. And then there are the poems, which one might be tempted to skip, but which actually complement and reflect the main narrative and create the atmosphere. I find myself in awe of Byatt's vision and skill in conceptualising and then achieving such a grand epic.

I was a little disappointed in the role coincidence plays, particularly in the last third of the book. Roland and Maud initially make fabulous progress in uncovering information; after starting with the drafts of letters Roland finds by accident, they use logic and existing information to piece together clues that lead them to discover the hiding place of a stack of letters between Ash and LaMotte. And then they follow their trail on a trip to Yorkshire, again using deduction and textual references in the poets' works.

But after that, coincidence steps in, as a French scholar pipes up with information about LaMotte's presence in Brittany in the year directly following the Yorkshire trip. Without this convenient discovery of a cousin's journal, just at the right moment, an important part of the story would have gone undiscovered. Moreover, in the final scenes, a box is uncovered that holds 'all the answers', effectively rendering much that has gone before irrelevant. I suppose the question is whether the box would have been retrieved had not everything happened . . . possibly all that was needed was the original discovery of the letters.

On the other hand, you could argue that this novel is about the journey of Roland and Maud, rather than the destination. Both are characters who value solitude, and find a connection in this and their need to know the truth about Ash and LaMotte's relationship. Roland's gentleness cracks Maud's 'icily regular, splendidly null' defences. Roland, meanwhile, finds his own sense of self-worth. They have an oddly platonic relationship (until the final chapter) and seem to value the wait.

I could go on. There's so much to say, so many things that could be touched upon. But I will stop here while my thoughts are still general. I feel as though I could write a piece on each of the eight or so major characters in this novel -- they are so interesting and rich. But I would end up revealing plot points, which I've tried to avoid here.

However, I will touch upon the movie briefly before finishing. When I first saw it, I loved the movie of Possession. It is a delicious blend of romance and mystery. What it lacks is the wonderful texture and atmosphere of the book. The plot is fairly close, although from necessity some of the characters were dropped, but the poetry and language of the letters and journals is largely gone. Inevitable of course, but it does make me appreciate the book even more, and it will probably be a while before I truly love the movie again. Probably the most annoying difference for me was the change in Roland's character. Surely as the central character he should have been retained intact? But they changed him from a gentle, under-confident and timid Englishman into a confident and somewhat brash American. In hindsight, I don't buy the movie Roland as a scholar. Anyway, it's still worth a watch.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Words blooming


Spring is here and I'm writing again. Thank heavens for that. I'm not sure what happened during the dark cold Winter months. But there's little point dwelling on that. As the days gradually lengthen and become warmer, blossum adorns the stark boughs, and I find that my words are also starting to bloom in what was temporarily a barren wasteland. It's partly improved discipline -- I know that -- brought on by that arbitrary date that marks the passing of Winter. But I also think it's a general lightening of heart, the result of many factors: new challenges, new achievements, new goals.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Trailwalker

This week I have decided to put together a team to complete the Oxfam Trailwalker: 100km, teams of four, 48 hours.

Yes, it's true, 100km of non-stop walking.

Obviously it's a fabulous cause, but I confess the main reason I have decided to do it is because I desperately want to know what it's like to walk 100km. It's partly the challenge for itself, and partly the fantasy writer in me wanting to do some experiential research.

I want to experience the leaden muscles, the sore shoulders, the aching feet. I want to know what it's like to trek through bushland in the dead of night -- the sounds, the smells, the blackness. I want to know how the mind cycles through a challenge such as this -- will I feel the buzz of excitement or the heavy drag of despair?

When I first decided upon this course of action earlier in the week, I was probably a bit blase about it. Sure, it's a long way, but I walk to work a lot, so how hard could it be? Yeah, it would be tiring, but we'll have a support crew to provide us with coffee and chocolate along the way. Thousands of people have done it, so it must be achievable.

The more I look into it, however, I realise how big a deal it actually is. Yes, there's training involved -- I knew that. But the amount of recommended training is a little intimidating. Not only do they recommend short walks (3 times a week) and long walks, but they recommend long walks along the actual trail itself. They recommend you get your support crew involved so they effectively are in training as well. You're supposed to practice what snacks you eat, how often you eat them, walking the trail at night, what clothes to wear, navigation techniques etc. AND, you're advised to take out insurance to cover injury or death!

None of this has deterred me, but it has made me realise this is going to be a time-consuming (perhaps all consuming!) undertaking. It will be fabulous for my fitness and a wonderful experience, but it is also going to impinge on my life in a big way -- no doubt consuming vast chunks of valuable writing time. I could wring hands in frustration, but I'm not going to. I'm going to embrace it for what it is, and pledge to get more organised. Can't wait. Totally excited.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

MWF: Visions of the city

The second panel I attended at the Melbourne Writers Festival last Saturday was called Visions of the City. The premise was to explore how the city is imagined in fiction -- with a distinctively speculative fiction flavour. The panel also launched Overland magazine's 'Melbourne Futures' issue.

The drawcard for the panel was undoubtedly China M, 'new weird' SF author, but also featured two other recognised Australia-based SF writers. It seemed that the SF theme was largely due to the fact that fantastic fiction explores cities in peril rather more thoroughly than most other genres.

The discussion meandered a lot, and became quite intellectual in parts -- far too intellectual for me to summarise, in fact. (I'm not sure I followed half of it!) However, there was some discussion of the creative process, which is always interesting.

China's creative process is to begin with setting. Evidently his settings are always urban and hugely important -- hence his presence on this panel. Anyway, he composes set pieces (or dramatic events/scenes), devises characters, then sets all these down on a page and draws twisty lines through them. These are then pulled straight and become the timeline he writes to. Sounds fascinating.

Margot L, another writer on the panel comes at it from the opposite direction. She starts with character and waits until they start muttering, then she follows them to see where they go. In her words: "The more I plan, the more boring the story is." A message I heard from two different authors on Saturday!

She went on to describe her approach to novel development, which is an interesting evolution from short story writing (for which she is perhaps better known). She says she uses an overall plot line -- borrowed from a fairy tale, for instance -- as a scaffolding, and writes several stories that touch that scaffolding. From here she works on them until they form the complete novel.

As always, it's totally fascinating to hear various authors approach to the creative process.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Galileo and the first telescope


Alerted by Google's wonderful tradition of changing its home page logo on days of significant interest, I learnt that today is the 400th anniversary of Galileo's invention of the telescope.

For anyone with the smallest interest in astronomy or just plain stargazing, this is truly momentous. What an amazing man.

Here's an article from the Guardian (the source of this image, which is sadly an imitation).

Sunday, 23 August 2009

MWF: Kate Grenville and Anne Michaels

I attended two interesting panels at the Melbourne Writers' Festival on Saturday. The first at 11:30 was called 'Oranges are the only fruit', and featured a conversation with authors Kate Grenville and Anne Michaels. Both have recently launched historical novels, and the session was billed as the authors 'peeling back the layers' on these.

What followed was a fascinating discussion about all sorts of things, from the challenge of writing about history and appropriate ways of using historical facts and documentation, to the writing process, to 'perilousness' in terms of both character and author experiences.

Kate Grenville in particular said several interesting things that serve to illustrate just how individual the art of being a writer and author truly is -- and also how fabulous it is to listen to other writers talk about their craft.

One of the first things she said was that in historical research she considers there is no such thing as a 'fact'. What you have are objects/documentation/incidents that have their own energy that resonates with and asks questions of the present.

Her latest novel is The Lieutenant, which was inspired by journal entries from a first fleet officer who became friends with a young aboriginal girl, despite language barriers. I understand (not having read it yet) that Grenville has used these journal entries to seed the story, which seeks to fill in the gaps. It is purely fiction, threaded with pearls of 'fact'.

Her writing process is also fascinating. She made it clear up front that she doesn't plan her novels in terms of plot. She said it was better to plunge in and keep the story at the edge of curiosity. ("When you finish a book, you forget that at the beginning you had no idea what is going to be about.") Then, when asked a little later about reader considerations during writing, she revealed that she never writes for anyone but herself for the first X (~20!) drafts, that she follows tributaries of story, tight-rope walking into nowhere, trusting that something will open up in a satisfying way. It's a private journey of discovery and self-indulgence until she is ready to start thinking about the reader for several more drafts. The Lieutenant took her about 30 drafts.

I do of course wonder what constitutes a 'draft'. Does she mean an editing pass, or a full blank screen/new words type draft? And how long does each of these drafts take? Are they the same length? Although she admitted it is inefficient, this is her process. I love the sound of it, the freedom.

Anne Michaels' second novel, The Winter Vault, is centered around the team who dismantled and relocated the great Egyptian temple of Abu Simbel to prevent it from being flooded. I haven't read this yet either, but from the reading she gave it is a very lyrical and poetic novel (her being a poet).

She seemed a rather 'emotional' writer, and talked of her characters giving her the courage to explore the core questions of the novel, which sound as though they might be somewhat devastating. She said she was never sure whether she was going to come out the other side. It makes me keen to read a novel that could induce such a state in its author!

I bought both novels, as I am wont to do when I hear an author discuss it in even a little detail. So they now get added to my collection of books I'm intending to read.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Movie - Cheri



Last night I saw Cheri, a film about the world of high-class French courtesans in the early 19th century. The title character was not, as I had supposed, Michelle Pfieffer's character Lea, an aging but still beautiful courtesan, but the nickname of her young lover, the son of one of her contemporaries.

This movie is visually stunning. The whole way through I marvelled at the gowns Michelle P got to wear, many of them with elbow length sleeves and relatively demure necklines. But the fabrics! The colours! The use of broad waistbands and layers of silk! And the hats!



It's a movie about love and age and that old adage: "If you love someone, set them free . . ."

We had an interesting start to our movie, because the sound didn't work properly, but we didn't immediately realise it. Here we were watching the credits to the tune of sweeping music, when the characters started talking silently without the music abating. I took it for stylised opening credits, and assumed that the music would fade out and voices fade in at some point. Only it didn't seem to be happening. And then I leaned over and asked whether there was ANY talking in this film, to be met with a bemused shrug.

And then the people behind us harrumphed and called the technicians!

It turned out that there was in fact supposed to be a theatrical narrative overplaying the ENTIRE credits, as well as parts of the movie! Setting the scene and explaining who the main characters were, and filling in various details. Never would have guessed. I was thinking it was going to be some modern take on a silent movie! Very funny.

Anyway, turns out all they needed to do was reboot a computer, so all was fine after a slightly delayed start.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Continuum 5 - Harness the energy

I spent this weekend at the annual Continuum convention, essentially a weekend of socialising with other speculative fiction writers (published novelists, successful short story writers, and those still aspiring).

It began with our monthly brunch, relocated to Mr Tulk, the elegant cafe/bar annexed to the State Library. According to one web site, this rates in the top 10 brunch cafes in the Melbourne CBD, but although I must say I LOVED the decor and ambiance, I was underwhelmed by the breakfast menu. Having said that, my scrambled eggs were very tasty.

It was the fastest brunch ever, and we were all back at the con for some panels on 'The art of expansion from short story to novel', 'Untapped fears' (a panel on the horror genre), and 'The sparkly modern-day vampire (and his less sparkly cousins)'. Lots of interesting discussion.

I was particularly taken with some of AG's comments on the 'expansion' panel - she outlined her concept of a 'character portal', which is essentially a significant past experience that colours the way in which a character reacts to/perceives events in a story. Any one character might have several portals that shape their character, and any one of these might become dominant at any point in time. It's an interesting way of looking at how a character's past can really affect their emotions and decisions in the present.

She also referred to 'energy' in a story, and how a writer should 'go where the energy is' - particularly in the context of expanding a story, or embarking on a sequel. In fact, this was identified as a good premise for conceptualising sequels: rather than a single story covering multiple books, a sequel can launch from a complete story. Essentially, one should look at where the 'energy' is (ie the interesting stuff that has a life of its own) and springboard from there.

We also went to a book launch on Saturday night - a short story collection from someone I don't personally know, but who is evidently a great young writer. The launch took place at this quaint little bar called Cabinet on Rainbow Alley, which is just off Little Lonsdale; the bar has a balcony overlooking Swanston Street. We drank a lovely red wine -- Sanguine Shiraz -- very smoky and smooth. Mmmm.

After a chili infested Chinese meal we ended up in the con bar and drank the evening away in conversation and congenial company. It was great to catch up with some of my writing group not officially at the con, but who had dropped by for the evening.

Today's events were more subdued, with a couple of panels on 'The past is a different country' (comparing he challenges of writing historical fiction and SF), and 'Do you have to be a scientist to write GOOD science fiction'. We ate a nice lunch at the Groove Train in Melbourne Central, then went back after the con to another cafe in the complex for coffee and cake. (I confess I ate very badly today -- fries with lunch and an enormous slice of cake in the afternoon. Will have to work that off this week!)

A great weekend. All I need to do is harness the energy and get some discipline.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

15 movies that stay with you

Another facebook challenge. Does it mean your 15 favourite movies? But no, I think there's a difference between truly AMAZING movies, and those favourite ones you watch over and over. (Sometimes of course they're one and the same.) So here are mine (no particular order):

Atonement
Children of Men
LOTR trilogy
The Princess Bride
Mulholland Drive
Persuasion (Amanda Root version)
Brokeback Mountain
Singin' in the Rain
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
The Court Jester
Withnail and I
Pirates of the Caribbean - Curse of the black pearl
Last of the Mohicans
Rachel getting married
Titanic

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Easing back into it

Oops! A two week hiatus. I can't think what I've been doing, because I've had a two week break from writing as well. My how time flies when you let your defences down!

Anyway, this week I am easing back into the rewrite. I've done some light editing tonight and written a few new words. Now I just need to remember what is supposed to happen next . . .

The goal is still to complete the rewrite this year, so I need to get a wriggle on.

Coming up this month, however, are some writing events: the Continuum spec fic convention is happening in a couple of weeks, followed by the Melbourne Writers Festival. Lots to keep us busy and hopefully inspired. I guess I'll be writing weekdays this month.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Subbed & pumped

After spending the past two weeks pouring over the first couple of chapters of my novel, editing, weeding out backstory, honing, I subbed my first 50 pages and revised synopsis to the Hachette Australia manuscript development program today.

The feedback on my revised synopsis from my writing group was generally positive, so it only needed a few tweaks here and there. The real work was done on the first chapter, which I pared back and reshaped substantially, while retaining its essence. I reasoned that if I could nail the first few chapters and synopsis, any prospective readers would hopefully be sucked in by the time they got past chapter 3. Since my chapter 2 is already in my view pretty strong, that left chapters 1 & 3 to focus on. Well, mainly chapter 1.

I feel rather pumped about the whole thing at present. It's given me a focus. Applicants will be notified of success/failure on 23 September, so I have until then to progress my rewrite -- because if I am successful I will need to sub the full manuscript right away. If I am not successful, I will likely take a little break to combat severe depression! But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

For now, I'm feeling optimistic.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Movie: Harry Potter #6

Harry Potter and the half-blood prince is one of my least favourite HP novels. I've always found it maintains a bit of a holding pattern, particularly after all the action in Order of the phoenix. Lord Voldemort doesn't even make an appearance (except as Tom Riddle in copious flashbacks) -- after dominating HP5, which culminates with a climactic confrontation with Dumbledore. As a result, Half-blood prince seems anticlimactic to me.

The movie, though, could almost be the best of them so far. I say 'could' because I'm reserving judgement until I see it again. It's easy to be blown away the first time. However, it somehow manages to convey all the desperation of a world in despair that the book didn't for me. It is a very atmospheric movie, dark, lots of rapid movements, lots of sweeping camera shots with interesting angles. I really liked it cinematically.

There seems to be vast number of new characters as well. There's a real focus on the students in particular -- many of them new -- although once again there are very few classroom scenes. Somehow, the movie carries more weight. It's less 'cartoony'. A bit like the difference between Star Trek and Babylon 5. All this, despite a huge emphasis on teen romantic entanglements (not the strongest aspect of this movie).

The boy playing Tom Riddle is sufficiently creepy. And this would definitely be the strongest movie for Draco Malfoy. In the book he behaves mysteriously and Harry is obsessed with following him around and spying . . . which gets repetitive. In the movie we witness all of Draco's angst and conflict as he carries out the Dark Lord's commands. He does a great job and it helps add weight and tension to the movie.

I did feel a bit let down by the ending. I can't put my finger on it, but somehow it lacks sufficient weight. And there are always the things that get left out. More Lupin and Tonks! And although Ginny emerges a lot in this movie, I still don't think they bring her out enough. She's such a fabulous character in the books. She deserves more, particularly given her relationship with Harry.

But on the whole, I really enjoyed this movie and am very much looking forward to seeing it again. Maybe even in 3D!!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Technology

Technology is amazing. This evening I have spoken via Skype to my niece in Bonn, Germany, and my parents in Katherine, NT. At the same time I have been watching Ashes cricket in Cardiff, and monitoring the antics of various friends in all different parts of the world via facebook.

This allowed me to tell my father the cricket score (to his frustration his TV wasn't working and he hadn't figured out online radio streaming yet), and fill him in when North got his century and Haddin his 50. I also found myself holding my web cam up to the TV so my brother in law in Bonn could see the cricket. OK, so it was only for 10 seconds, but . . .

It's incredible that I can sit physically alone in my living room, yet be surrounded by so much company!

As I said, Technology is amazing.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Chapter one revisited

In the end I abandoned WriMoFoFo in favour of working on my synopsis. This I have rewritten and I hope it is better. It is now with the group for review, so will be interesting to see what people think.

Now I am taking another look at my first chapter, also in preparation for submission to the Hachette Australia manuscript development workshop. I received feedback on this last year from the group, with pretty much everybody agreeing that I needed to revise the opening to ensure I begin with ACTION. It's amazing how one can be so blind to obvious flaws. Reading my opening now, I can see that of course it is dull and slow. I begin with description and backstory. How utterly stupid is that?!

So this week I am rewriting the opening few pages at least. The plan is to keep events the same, but start in a different place. I may end up revising the entire chapter, so long as it ends in the same place, because I really do NOT want to rewrite the follow-on chapter! I need to submit approximately five chapters (50 pages) and don't have time or inclination to revise them all. Hopefully a big effort on chapter one will be sufficient.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Movie: Transformers 2

I snuck in a movie this week, but although Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was entertaining enough it was pretty forgettable. I must admit I had been warned, but the first Transformers movie was rather good, I thought.

Anyway, the sequel got all too far-fetched and ridiculous, with special effects taking precedence over storytelling. I found the action sequences all too fast-paced, so that I couldn't really see what was happening. And it was nigh on impossible to distinguish friend from foe most of the time. Nor did I care much about the outcome of any of the battles. I do recall feeling frustrated because the characters kept on falling over instead of getting where they wanted to go.

Having said that, Megan Fox is stunning all through, and John Tuturro is both funny and poignant. It's not all bad. There are some lovely scenes in Egypt, and some tremendous shots of an evil decepticon dismantling an ancient pyramid! (Although I have to say the writers' use of well-known ancient architectural wonders such as Petra and the pyramids rather lame and disappointing.)

Enough said.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Synopses over brunch

It's been over a week since our writing group brunch, and I've neglected to mention the excellent discussion we had about synopses -- most particularly, mine. I've been tempted to post my synopsis here in past weeks, but decided against it. After all, it wouldn't be good to reveal the story and ending to all you potential readers! However, I did send it around to the group for their opinions on whether or not it was working.

Answer: no.

The main problem, they told me, was too much plot. Secretly I knew this, I think, but it's very hard to make judgments on your own work. I wrote a fabulous synopsis of someone else's novel; much better, they said, than my own. Yeah, well, I knew that too. It's easier to be ruthless about someone else's work and highlight the interesting stuff. When it comes to your own work, it's all essential!

So. There were other comments of course. More romance, for instance. This is something I had intentionally downplayed thinking it might sound corny, but it seems that was a bad decision. Fantasy readers want romance (me included), so I should make it clear there's a relatively strong romantic thread.

They also wanted more world building, more fantasy setting and grandeur, particularly at the start. This was unexpected. Thinking it was important to demonstrate I could tell a story, I had focused on plot and skirted over much of the fantasy world stuff. Stupid when you think about it, because the latter is far more of a strength in my writing than the former. However, to offset this, it's important not to use too many made-up words. There's a challenge!

So now I am working on a revised synopsis and will send it around again for more comment. Hopefully I can breathe a little more life into the next version.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

15 top books in 15 minutes (ish)

A new book list challenge: Fifteen books I've read that will always stick with me.

The rules are: First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag 15 friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose. DON'T TAKE TOO LONG TO THINK ABOUT IT.

OK, so here goes in no particular order:

  1. The Liveship Traders (trilogy) by Robin Hobb
  2. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  3. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
  4. Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin
  5. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
  6. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen (also Persuasion)
  7. My Sister's Keeper by Jodie Piccoult
  8. Mordant's Need (duology) by Stephen Donaldson
  9. Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer (plus many others)
  10. Olivia Joules & the overactive imagination by Helen Fielding
  11. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III
  12. The Ruins of Ambrai by Melanie Rawn
  13. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  14. The undomestic goddess by Sophie Kinsella
  15. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I actually struggled to come up with this list of 15. Many of the above I have read multiple times, plus there's a lot of fantasy (and quite a lot of fantasy I left off in an attempt to keep it balanced). I'm sure there are other amazing books I have read, but I can't think of them right now. I tried to base this on books I entreat other people to read, or find myself lending to people.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

bright bonfire, new moon

Once again, we celebrated a winter solstice with a bright bonfire. The night drizzled but our spirits were not dampened. The moon is new tonight, displaying the glittering canopy of stars to wondrous effect. Nature's glory. Oh, but to lie on the scented grass of some distant plain and gaze up at the heavens! Trapped in bricks and mortar, artificially illuminated, I can but imagine such boundless glory.

Friday, 19 June 2009

WriMoFoFo - week 1

Not a good week in the WriMoFoFo grand scheme of things. I've been exceptionally tired (courtesy of a read-a-thon until 5am on the weekend) and just haven't been able to get back on track. I've tried to write, truly, but just haven't been able to successfully thrash through the sleepiness. Or, when I have pushed, very bad bad bad words have come out. Not my finest hour.

Onto next week.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

WriMoFoFo for real

The 'official' WriMoFoFo starts today. So glad I got some practice in over the past four weeks. Although I seemed only to WriMoFoTh -- the final week was a disaster and I haven't written anything since Monday. But it all starts again today, so the slate is wiped clean and I embark with renewed vigor and high hopes. Onwards and upwards! (And get ready for four weeks of short or non-existent posts.)

Friday, 12 June 2009

Beauty therapy

I consider myself to be a low maintenance individual. I don't wear makeup, don't own a hairdryer, and never buy designer label clothes. However, I have of late found myself paying an increasing degree of attention to certain aspects of my appearance.

It started with my hair a few years ago, when I finally decided that I was no longer blond and would have to commit to highlighting. Once my best feature, my hair had turned ordinary, and once I came to terms with the fact that my 'natural look' was in fact hideous, I embraced the prospect of regular salon visits. This strategy was of course helped by the fact that I could now afford it.

This progressed nicely for several years and continues to do so. But a recent spate of cosmetic parties and the close proximity of a day spa a few doors down from work have caused an escalation in my beauty regime. Daily facial cleansing, lip gloss and mineral foundation have been added to my repertoire (the latter two still in the early days of actual usage).

Moreover, a few months ago I commenced 4-weekly eyebrow waxes. Not only am I now saved the hideous task of plucking with tweezers, but I need no longer glance in the mirror and cringe at the shaggy state of my brows. There was a time not so long ago when I would scrutinise the eyebrows of every woman I came across to see if I could find anyone with brows as dreadful as mine - to make my own slackness appear justified.

Most recently -- today in fact -- I have embarked on the next phase of my beauty therapy. Eyelash tinting.

It was my eyebrow groomer who first suggested it. My lashes are fair and not very long, and since I never wear mascara (glug) I daresay my eyes were a bit of a non-event. It is something I have considered in the past and discarded, never really knowing how to go about it. But, finding myself on my back in a day spa, a few doors down from the office, I found myself agreeing to give it a go. After all, it only takes 15 mins.

So there I was today, giving it a go. It's an interesting experience. You have to lie there with your eyes closed -- complete with goop and gauze and stuff -- for 10 mins while the dye processes. But the brain is weird. One moment I'm lying there quite relaxed with my eyes closed, the next I'm struggling not to open them, just because I know I CAN'T. Instead of leaving me alone in my private darkness, Virginia massaged my hands to distract me (do you have trouble relaxing? Your fingers are like sticks.).

And then my eyes started stinging a tiny bit. Not enough to be painful, but . . . these are my EYES for heavens sake. Did she say there was peroxide in that dye? That can't be good. Peroxide in the eyes. Oh god, what have I done? Is this safe? I'm going to go BLIND!

Um . . . I say. My eyes are stinging a little bit.

Don't worry that happens. Soothing.

So is there any chance I could go blind?

No, no, no, impossible. Pause. Hmmm, maybe there's merit in not talking you through every step.

Nervous chuckle.

There's only 2 minutes to go.

OK. Breathless. Calm. Calm. Be calm.

Of course I'm not blind. And my lashes look brilliant, even if I say so myself! I've had them tinted blue-black and I think might be addicted to my new look already. I daresay I will never be considered 'well groomed', but I'm happy with these few small steps along the way. Who knows what will be next -- regular manicures?