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!