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.