Monday, 31 December 2012

Thoughts for a New Year

Yesterday I watched The Big Country on tv and thoroughly enjoyed it even though I knew the story. Made in 1958 with Gregory Peck and Jean Simmons, it also had Charlton Heston who over-acted throughout. About two thirds of the way through I realised how relevant it was to today's American situation - the gun rules. It seems the gun has always ruled in the USA, right from the days of the first settlers through the cowboy era and Mob rule to shooting JFK and RFK, Lee Harvey Oswald and John Lennon and on up to the last decade when suddenly mass killings are the thing, no doubt because people can buy machine guns.

I am keeping this short today because the technology is slow, possibly overloaded - so here's wishing everyone a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas & Social Media

It's time Christmas was gone. We're at the boring stage now - soggy wet weather, wind and rain, temperature around 5 degrees C. Fridge full of leftovers or odd scraps that won't make anything else. People getting crabby with too much food, too much wine and not enough exercise. TV mostly rubbish aimed primarily at kids.

Did my best. Can't help or change the weather, but regulated my intake of food and wine, took a walk every day. Yesterday stopped a young dog from plunging into swollen stream to reach young owners searching for him - the chances of being swept out into the nearby river were pretty high.

Did some work every day, too. Going back to Twitter this morning, noticed how several people keep trying to stop authors promoting their books. Don't understand their logic when they promote a) themselves b) their own authors and c)what they had for breakfast lunch and dinner. That's interesting? To whom? The truth is that everyone on Twitter is promoting something, even if it is only themselves. The urge to join in is there, and if  a book is the only thing you have to talk about, then why not? Nobody is forced to read what comes up on Twitter. I skip a lot of posts to find the ones that hold some interest for me. Live and let live, I say.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

It's up for sale! Victorian Beauty

Apologies for the faded out print you might have found on my last blog post.  I don't know why that happened and corrected it as soon as I noticed. Put it down to the stress of  trying to load a book to Amazon Kindle. Yes, Victorian Beauty is up there for sale!

Here's the blurb:

"Damaged physically and sexually, Melanie, the Dowager Duchess of Yaxley, escapes from an abusive son-in-law to become a housekeeper in a remote Northumbrian village. The Master of the house, Jarrow, is a widower with a delightful daughter, but few funds. Jarrow has his scars, but he also has a secret life that unnerves Melanie when she discovers what it is that occupies his nights. This historical romance with its great sense of time and setting, leads the reader through the clash of the scarred personalities, troubles with excise men to a resolution which surprises them both. Slowly Melanie realizes that Jarrow might just be the man who can make her believe in second chances."
The blogger award depends on linking to fellow bloggers, something that completely slipped my mind in all the frantic activity of the last few days. While I read and enjoy the blogs I mentioned, I'm not sure how to reach some of the people, but I'll give it a try.
Something else ~ a little Christmas present ~ sometime today Shadows will be free on Amazon Kindle. It is scheduled for two days from midnight on 25-26th December Pacific Coast time. Lets hope that works without hitches!
 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Seven things about me....




I’ve been awarded a Very Inspiring Blog Award from the Very Inspiring Blogger, Jean Bull. Thank you, Jean!

In accepting this I have to write seven random things about myself, and that’s never easy. First thing is that I don’t like cooking. I’ve been known to put a pan of vegetables on to make soup and then walk away and forget it until the pan exploded all over the kitchen. I wouldn’t cook if I didn’t have to eat. However, I do like eating, so cooking is a necessary evil.

Second thing is that I love driving. The actual pleasure of manoeuvring a car with everything at the optimum. Might not happen often, but I always strive for it. Taking a tight curve on the hill coming home and getting it right instead of muffing the gears and stuttering for the next twenty yards brings a grin of pleasure to my face.

Third thing – I hate going out to a “do” where the so-called music is pumped out so loud that even though you shriek (possibly doing damage to the vocal chords) the person sitting two feet away across the dining table cannot hear you.

Fourth. I’m persistent, so I’m not going to give up on trying to get my historical novel published by a reputable publisher in the UK. So agents beware, you will be targeted sooner or later!

Fifth. I’m happy to go on self-publishing my romantic historicals via Amazon’s Kindle. There’s a new book due out very soon now – just as soon as I can write a half-way decent blurb to go with it. It’s called Victorian Beauty.

Sixth. Closet Strictly, Merlin, The Killing and Last Tango in Halifax fan, that’s me. Not so enamoured of Hobbity or Ring things. In fact I never finished the third story in the trilogy, so that probably puts me well into the outer darkness for all Tolkien fans. Looking forward to Borgen part 2 in the New Year.

Seven. Finally, finally, have I told you I hate tomato skins? Cooked, uncooked, either way they’re dreadful slippery nasty things. Almost as bad as the skin on custard.

I now have to nominate some more people with Very Inspiring Blogs, so I choose:

Anita, Dean, Nicola, Janet,  and Sally. They may not know I read their blogs, but I do and I truly find them inspiring. Hopefully they won’t be too busy meeting deadlines to join in the festive fun.


Friday, 21 December 2012

More on that Deep Third


Moody winter scene
Sorry to bang on about this, but I got a tad confused with my last post. There seemed to me to be some places where I wouldn’t want to use Deep POV; never mind wouldn’t, think couldn’t use it. Try opening a novel or a chapter in deep and it doesn’t always work.
So let me recap what I know about this: the deep third viewpoint character does not need to tell his readers that he’s thinking or hoping or seeing or feeling. (It’s basically the same as getting rid of the narrator type tags—felt, saw, watched, thought and so on.)
Get rid of those tags and the reader is so much closer to the character – gets more involved in what’s happening in the story and deeper into the character’s mind and heart.

But it worried me that being always in a character’s thoughts and emotions for the length of a story might be OTT (Over the top). I want to draw back sometimes, and look at the characters as though from a distance. I like the idea of opening a new chapter or scene as if from a great height and I didn’t want to give that up, because I think it gives something to the story. Puts the characters in their world, perhaps, gives the story a different perspective. Perhaps it comes from watching films, or perhaps it’s because I have a visual sort of mind, but anyway, I tried it and it works for me. From there, it’s easy to spiral down and climb back inside the character – whichever one it is.

Viewpoint characters can change, ought to change. A single character’s viewpoint risks becoming boring, and if, like me, you prefer to write of several major characters rather than just one, it’s intriguing to work out their thought processes just as you would have tried to make their dialogue personal to them. But I stick to one character, one scene, and don’t headhop. That would confuse me, never mind the reader.
I puzzled over using italics and have decided that I don’t need them unless my character suddenly decides to think of himself as I. He might. I sometimes do it myself, as in I don’t like that comment, or that dress or I simply hate the skins on tomatoes. (It’s true, I do.) If he goes for a first person sentence, then I’ll use italics for that sentence.
So now I think I’ve finally got a grip on Deep Third POV.  It isn't as restrictive as I first thought, and that's good. Phew!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

That tricky Deep Third


Winter fields
I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in this - when a critiquer points out that my POV has slipped, my immediate reaction is, No it hasn’t! But then it gradually sinks in that the critiquer is correct, and I guiltily alter the wording to suit. Sometimes, occasionally, very occasionally, I look and think, No, it is better as it is.

It is easy to get confused about POV. All this talk of Deep Thirds and Omniscient can make one’s eyes glaze over and sleep is only an eye blink away, but today’s reader tastes must be considered. There was a time when authors could write as much Telling/Narrating as they pleased. Read any book written and published prior to the last decade and you’ll find the stuff I mean all too easily. Jane Austen and her colleagues are excused of course, because they are among the legendary Classic Writers. But try authors of the fifties and sixties – they headhop like mad and include info dumps without apology – things we wouldn’t get away with today.
 
The powers that be – whoever they are in the writing world - claim that having a narrator creates a distance between the character and the reader and that readers are put off by this. At its worse, the author gets onto the page and tells the reader what the character thinks or does. This is the dreaded Author Intrusion. Of course some very famous books have used that style because it best suits their story. 'Dear Reader, I married him' springs to mind.

The aim is to have a reader “walk in the character’s shoes”- and I know which publishing house coined that phrase! So to achieve this close connection between character and reader, we have Deep Third POV, where thoughts and actions are not given by a third party who seems to hovering above the character and telling the reader what’s going on. Oh, no. Thoughts and actions are delivered by the character, as in the examples below from my latest work Victorian Beauty due to be published very soon:-

“With a frustrated sigh, Melanie gripped her bag firmly, brushed through the low hanging branches and strode out across the lawn. If she were shot for it, she would not follow that drive an instant longer.”

“His eyes narrowed, and Melanie’s stomach clenched in response. Her tone had been a little too pert. Lord, it was so difficult to strike the right balance.”

I'm told the need to use italic font disappears when using Deep POV. Direct thoughts in the first person are usually rendered in italic font, and are really not necessary if you've really grasped Deep Third. Sometimes I’m tempted to switch from the third person into the first person, as in:-
“Melanie gripped her bag firmly, brushed through the low hanging branches and strode out across the lawn. If I am shot for it, I will not follow that drive an instant longer.” If I need to use italics,  I've learned it is a clue that something is Not Quite Right.

I look at the examples I’ve given and wonder if they are strictly Deep POV. perhaps there's an English version of Deep POV and an American version. I think I know the theory, but in practice I wobble a bit, and as I said at the beginning, POV can be utterly confusing. I think my reading history over the last xxx years inclines me to something that is almost Deep Third, but not quite.

However, one good thing that happens when writing Deep POV is that Telling virtually disappears except where you really need it. When you’re explaining something that gets your character from A to B, perhaps, or something mundane that must be mentioned but doesn’t require detail. It's Good and Useful then.

Ah well, off to practice some Deep Third POV.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Social media and writers


I’ve noticed lately that interaction via my blog seems less than it used to be. I get the nasty feeling that my posts are boring the pants off everyone. Feedback via Comments grows less and less, possibly because the word verification thingy is annoying and frustrating – I know I find it so on other blogs and often give up without getting my comment to “go” through. And I'm aware that going to Australia for six weeks meant my blog deviated from the usual writing based topics - perhaps that turned people away.

There’s another suspicion I have though; that other media are attracting people away from blogs in general. Not only Facebook and Twitter, but mysterious things called Pinterest and Tumblr. I have no idea what they are and I’m not about to find out. It is easy enough to waste time on FB and T without joining more things! If this is the reason, it is something I cannot change.

 Writing has always been my main interest blogwise, though sometimes I feel like blowing off steam about one thing or another. Or I’ll record something that I may want to come back to at a later date – blogs are handy vehicles for that. But there’s only so much you can say about writing without repeating yourself.
That’s when I go to Twitter in the hope of picking up some item of interest.
I can scroll through a lot of posts and pick out what I’m interested in and ignore the rest. That may sound rude, but as people follow me, I feel obliged to follow back – it seems only courteous – which means I get loads of tweets from people I don’t know about things I’m not interested in.
But turn it the other way about and it also means there are a lot of people seeing whatever I choose to put out. But there’s the difficulty - as far as Tweeting goes, I’ve never really got the hang of it. How to say something engaging and witty in 140 characters defeats me, but others seem to find it no problem at all. I sit and stare at the screen but nothing comes to mind. I'd never make an advertising person!

 Facebook seems easier. I actually have an occasional conversation there with people I know or have come to know. The only person I know who doesn’t have a FB page is my other half, but he may yet be persuaded. They say it is the most likely place readers will look for new reading material, so that seems a good enough reason to stay there. If forced to choose, I’d opt for my blog and Facebook.

 

Friday, 14 December 2012

An unaccustomed blast

The UK is an astonishing place. Some fascinating facts overheard, read or otherwise imbibed this week - The population of London is now 53% ethnic, (so where are all the indigenous English going?), universities are sobbing that they need more overseas students (since English students are falling away and thus staff will lose their jobs) and lawyers are so hard pushed for work that they will persuade anyone to sue anybody for anything or demand a public enquiry/apology for something that happened  thirty-five years ago and the BBC is somehow to blame because Jimmy Savile did nasty things all over the country.  Pity he isn't here to answer the rumoured 450 people who say he violated/abused them, say I. Even more of a pity that they didn't say anything when he was alive. Can I detect a hint of lawyers in this, too?

Against all this mayhem and madness, the closure of the odd library doesn't seem so very important. Here the Guardian states that the UK has lost over 200 branch libraries this year and 146 the year before that. In my own region, Newcastle is threatening to close ten out of the city's eighteen libraries. The city council seems to be making more effort to save the Christmas lights than it is to save the libraries. If companies can be persuaded to fund the Christmas lights, why can't they fund a branch library? Would it be so bad to have a Fenwicks library or a John Lewis, even an M& S library? Better than no library at all, I'd say.

 Since I appear to be on a rant, let me add that I've always thought Christmas lights are a waste of energy. Buy energy saving light bulbs, they tell us. Switch off unwanted lights, turn down the heating in rooms you don't use, half fill the kettle...and then all over the country they go and blast the sky with unwanted light in the name of Christmas. Everyone seems to have forgotten it's a religious festival and pretty, sparkling lights don't matter. Grrrrrrrrrrr!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Endings



I think I've written the closing words of my latest story Victorian Beauty.
 
‘It is already written,’ Melanie said with every appearance of simply stating a truth. She caught Adam’s eye. He knew it was a blatant lie, but his smile told her he approved.'
 
Tomorrow, of course, I might think of something even better. It is always difficult to know when the definitive ending is there in front of you, because there's always the temptation to think that you could do better if you just thought about for a few more days...but that way, nothing ever gets finished and nothing ever gets published. Re-writing could go on endlessly and it doesn't always mean the work will necessarily improve.
Deadlines are great, because they impose an end point.
 
 But I'm pleased with this story. Set in Northumberland in 1864, it begins with Melanie arriving at Gavington to interview for the post of housekeeper to Lord Jarrow. She has something to hide, and so does her potential employer. Both are strong characters, and they need to be when her past catches up with her and threatens to expose Jarrow as a smuggler of illicit whisky.
 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Books in the style of....

The news that Wilbur Smith has signed a $15 million deal for six books he isn't even going to write astounds me. He is leaving Pan MacMillan after 45 years and moving to Harper Collins with whom he has signed the new deal. Smith claims he has more stories in his head than he can write, that he cannot write fast enough for his fans. So he is writing outlines and characters, and carefully selected co-authors will be doing the rest. Evidently this is a growing trend. Tom Clancy, James Patterson and Clive Cussler have all used a stable of co-authors to write their books in the last few years.

I suppose the fans and the publishers will be happy as the money rolls in, but where is the integrity in this? What if D H Lawrence had hired co-authors to write for him? Or Jane Austen? Would we admire their later work if we knew this is what had happened? The Mail snarkily suggests that Smith's fourth wife, who happens to be 39 years younger than her husband, is a major factor in this new idea. Since he is 79, it doesn't take a particularly snarky mindset to see where she is coming from!

It will be interesting to hear from fans once the first book written in this new way is published. Will they be able to tell the difference between a co-authored story and a true Wilbur Smith tale? What about the Patterson, Clancy amd Cussler fans - were they able to spot the difference? One would hope so, for we're constantly being told that an author's voice is a major part of their selling strength. The other worrying thing is if co-authors can imitate an author's style so well that the fans cannot detect any difference -  then where will it end? Is there scope for re-surrecting a well-known and loved author, sadly dead, and writing books in their name? I can see it now - Books in the style of ...... Enid Blyton? Agatha Christie?

Friday, 7 December 2012

Women writers

Today I'm cheating - I started reading a long article in the Guardian and didn't have time to finish it, so I'm pasting the link  here and I can go back and finish it at my leisure. It begins by discussing the writing of E.L.James and goes on to Rowling, Mantel, Donaldson, Meyer....women whose writing has changed fiction in recent times.

So read and enjoy, and I'll catch up later. Right now I have to go and find something a writer would like for under £5, wrap it in Christmas paper (do I have any?) so it is presentable for the bran tub at my local writers' lunch today, and then think about whatever it is I'm going to take as my contribution to lunch. Even thinking about it is making me hungry, which is very bad as I am hoping to lose the few pounds I put on by drinking all that Australian wine a few weeks ago. Empty calories, I keep telling myself whenever a glass hovers into view, but Australian wine is so good I just could not, cannot resist. If I don't do something soon I amgoing to be heading to town for a new wardrobe as nothing will fit.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Writing

Now that the month of novel writing is over I hope there will be more activity on the internet. NaNoWriMo, as it is fondly known by those who participate, takes over the month of November.  The aim is to write a 50k story in that month, and of course it means dropping everything else in favour of writing.

I don't take part, and so I notice how Blog posts drop off, comments are few, people disappear from Twitter and Facebook, critique groups don't move very much during the month. It demonstrates how much writers inhabit these places, or, put another way, how many people out there want to write a story even in these days when book publishing is supposedly in recession.

One answer to avoid the slow down would be to cultivate people who are not likely to launch themselves into NaNoWriMo, but how do you know? The most unexpected people turn out to have ambitions to write a book...some day. I attended a Girls' Night In at Hexham Library last night as a panel member, and was pleased to see so many people turn out on a freezing cold night, some travelling lonely country roads from villages in the Pennines where snow covered the ground. We told them how we'd begun to write, how we wrote, what we wrote etc etc. and they asked if our stories were ever altered by publishers, did we have any input on covers, how did it feel if stories or titles were altered? I suspect we had some budding authors right there in the audience.

For me it began years ago, back in the days of typewriters and Sno-pak, and it was tediously slow. I fiddled about in between real life and never finished anything, but then three things happened in the early nineties: computers came in at work, and I had to learn how to use them. I saw the possibilities and got a computer at home, and writing moved up a gear. Then I retired, and a whole new chapter of life began. First book finally completed, offered and accepted. I was hooked.


Monday, 3 December 2012

Endings are such a problem


No matter how many times I go over a piece of writing, I can always find something to alter, to improve, make clearer than it was. It would save so much time if I could see those things right off, but no, it’s always at the second, third, fourth etc draft stage. They say the brain sees what it expects to see and hides the mistakes – or doesn’t even register them. I’m tempted to start going through Victorian Beauty again, but I haven’t finished it yet. I still have the final couple of chapters to write, and this is where I stalled the last time I worked on this story.
Melodrama, they say, is the result of under motivation rather than over expression, so maybe I’d better start checking the motivation of my characters. Perhaps their lack of motivation is what's stalling me. Goldman says of endings: ‘Give the audience what it wants but not the way it expects.’ Ha! Easier said than done. McKee says ‘The climax of the last act is the great imaginative leap. Without it, you have no story. Until you have it, your characters simply wait.

My poor characters have been waiting more than a year for this resolution, so I’d better get on with it. But then, as Hemingway once said, ‘The first draft of anything is shit.’
I can study famous quotes and read about endings, climaxes, resolutions and the like, but when it comes right down to it, I’m going to have to finish the thing, or else admit I’ve wasted my time writing the first 80 thousand words. I don't want to give up; I like these characters. A piece of advice remembered from long ago - if you can't decide on the ending, write several endings and see which you prefer. I may very well try it. I'll let you know if it works.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Literary sex and Amazon


Something worth keeping an eye on for UK authors is the news released in the Bookseller yesterday that Amazon publishing plans to open a European publishing wing based in Luxembourg. Vicky Griffith will relocate from Seattle in the New Year and start building a team of editors and marketing personnel. There is a thought that Amazon may wish to acquire global English language rights with this move. Big name authors have not flocked to Amazon Publishing, and some US stores have boycotted Amazon published titles because of the required exclusivity on Kindle deals.

There’s an interesting piece I spotted in the in the Guardian by Lee Rourke here on why sex isn’t suited to the pages of literary fiction. I think he is saying it may well be suited to the pages of commercial fiction but I’d have to go and read it again to be sure. Why don’t you read it and let me know? I’ll go and dry my recently washed hair and then trot off up the hill to renew my car tax before I become illegal. and when I come back, I shall put my nose to the grindstone (or in this case the computer keyboard) and try and complete the remaining pages of Victorian Beauty.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Victorian Beauty

I have set myself a goal. I want to have a new book self-published on Amazon in time to catch the Christmas buying extravaganza. So I've begun second-editing a story for which I wrote a swift first draft some time ago. I've called it Victorian Beauty, and I've reached page 92 of 192. The title may change as I'm not sure it gives exactly the flavour I want.
There's still some way to go, and the ending will require a little more work than the rest of it because I finished it off in a great hurry. It needs more story to complete it properly, maybe an extra two chapters. In between editing, I'll be playing around with a cover as well. That's more like fun. It's good to be back in the mood again after all this time away having fun.

The story is set in Northumberland. After all, why struggle with locations in the south when I know Northumberland so well? why give myself problems?

If you are curious about the orange van in the picture, I spotted it on the road in Australia. Click on the pic to enlarge it and read the words scrawled on it!


Monday, 26 November 2012

Floods


July floods
My better half regards the dismal weather beyobd the window and wishes he was back in Australia. Really? When questioned, he answers: Well, perhaps what I want is Australian weather here.
That’s because here in northern England it’s grey and raining and half the country seems to be flooded. He’s forgotten how bright it was on Thursday, when we had blue skies, sunshine with frost and the world looked bright and sparkly.

Looking at pictures of flooded fields and towns on tv, it makes me wonder how folk survived in the sixteenth century. They didn’t have tarmacked roads or cars to keep them safe and dry, nor a centrally heated home or hotel waiting for them at the end of the journey. If they travelled at all in the winter months, it would be on horseback or covered waggon, slogging through miserable, freezing weather and avoiding puddles, swollen rivers and marshlands – and there would be plenty of those before the fields were drained and rivers restrained between stone walls.
Before we went to Australia, a culvert burst under pressure of the rain in Newburn, a suburb of Newcastle, and caused havoc. Now we are back home, and we hear that the Local Environment Department is worried because though there are several known culverts flowing beneath Newcastle into the Tyne – no one knows exactly where they run, and the old maps depicting their course are no longer available. Duh! Bad mark to someone in the records office!

Evidently the owner of land is responsible for the safe conduct of water fron one side of the property to the other, which is a worrying thought for landlords and businesses in the city centre, certainly, but also for the average homeowner who may suspect a water culvert runs beneath his house or garden.
Insignificant water courses on hillsides such as the Tyne valley can become torrents under heavy rain, as many of us have discovered in recent times. Suddenly it seems that no one is safe.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Home again


My Australian adventure ended with a trip to IKEA – said to be the largest in the world, and a walk along Bondi Beach admiring the lithe, tanned bodies soaking up the sun. It is certainly a lovely beach. I’m told it is raked and rolled every day to keep it looking lovely. The famed lifeguards were there, but not performing any daring rescues while we were there. They did go out in an inflatable and herded swimmers and surfers closer inshore – whether that was because the helicopter pilot had warned them of sharks, I don’t know, but certainly all the people in the water moved much closer to the beach.

Not only was Ian Rankin in the country at the same time as me, but James Bond aka Daniel Craig, turned up too, advertising his new film Skyfall. He was on the same piece of pavement as me – twelve hours later, and they put out a red carpet for him. Such is fame.

So, what are my impressions of my third trip to Australia? The weather was more variable than it has been before, with quite a few cloudy, windy days, and one or two with rain. That was surprising, though most of the time it was warm – there was sometimes a need for a sweater, but not a coat. The number of beggars sleeping rough on Sydney streets surprised me. The cost of living did too; I know the exchange rate did not favour us this time as it has in the past, but even so, the cost of living seemed high, and it was across the board. Shoes and clothes in general were delightful, but priced high, and often not practical for life in rainy old England. Food was also expensive. You need a very well paid job to live the good life in Australia.

Businessmen in shirts (ie without jackets) sit and discuss business over coffee in cafes that inhabit the ground floors of office blocks. On trains and in the streets, we were surrounded by people e-mailing, blackberrying and i-pad-ing. It seems work never stops, and that may have something to do with the awkward fact that Australia is ten hours out of synch with most of Europe and seventeen hours ahead of America. When business is waking up in those countries, Australians have done their daily grind, but they feel they must respond, so people out for the evening in in restaurants interrupt conversations, grab their mobiles and gabble away. The people of Sydney are multi-cultural, predominantly from Asian communities, but four hours away in Forster, this is much less prevalent. There, the bowling clubs rule supreme, and if you don’t bowl, you’re nothing!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Literary Taste and Bondi


Bondi Beach
I found a copy of Chocolat by Joanne Harris on someone's shelves this week and couldn't resist re-reading it. I enjoyed it more than I did the first time around because I’ve now read The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur le Cure. Beautiful writing in all three, each with an intricate story that takes its own time to unfold on the page and in the reader’s mind. Enhanced, for me, by the memory of the beautiful actress who played Vianne in the film version of Chocolat.

How Fifty Shades of Grey will stand up to the comparison, I’m not sure, for they are poles apart in genre, style and almost everything else. I gained a copy as a gift, a copy going spare, so I was told, because they were not allowed to use it as a raffle prize! Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I am reading it even though I freely admit I would never have bought it. So, how do I find it?

Bondi, looking north
I was led to believe the writing is poor, and in some places it is, but not everywhere. There’s a certain breathlessness about the style that seems to catche how 20-somethings think these days, and no doubt that is appealing to 20-and 30-somethings. It also taps into the fairy tale/myth/fantasy of the pretty but poor virgin meeting the handsome, sexy billionaire and discovering how much he fancies her. Sex is wonderful for them, and the graphic description is better than many I’ve read, plus which it has the big plus that it is not the usual run of the mill sex. The twist in the tale concerns the devilishly handsome hero being a control freak who requires her to be totally submissive to his wish to inflict pain. He is so nice with it that the heroine is tempted to consider and sign his pseudo-legal Agreement. When he describes the kind of action he envisages, which involves whips and canes, it taps into a very basic tantalising-fear cum desire to be dominated that lurks in the heroine's psyche and also deep down in many a female bosom.
I found myself grinning at the couple's witty e-mail exchanges, (which reminded me of typewritten notes addressed to Dear Big-Eyes which came to me through the ICI internal mail system in some long ago universe) and her asides to her inner goddess were a treat. Yes, I can see why it has been a runaway success.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Go Catch and Rankin


Kangaroo joey
Go Catch is a way of calling a taxi that’s new to me. The average mobile has GPS so if you ring Go Catch, taxi drivers know where you are and if they can pick you up. When we tried it, within a minute, four drivers had acknowledged us. We turned one down because he was too far away. Within ten minutes, 28 had responded. We agreed that one should pick us up, and he did, within five minutes, and told us it was the first time he’d used the system!

There are downsides, however. The next night, we agreed a pickup with one driver and waited ten minutes. He failed to arrive. When we rang him back, he made excuses, and it was obvious he’d ditched us in favour of other business. So it was back to the drawing board, and the next contact went through successfully.

Since it’s raining again, we’re trapped indoors and really quite glad for the rest. It’s time to get to grips with the work I’ve managed to do in-between all our sightseeing, and try and get it all in order. I’ve written about four or five chapters of Matho and had them critiqued, so when I get back I’ll incorporate them into the main file. After watching the programme on Ian Rankin, who writes the maverick detective Rebus, I was reassured to find that he takes eleven months to write and finish a new book, and always, always feels around page 65 that it isn’t going to work, that it isn't good enough.
By the time he’d written the last third of his latest book, he knew it wasn’t good, and would need copious re-writing, but at least he had the outline. ‘Now it just needs a lot of hard work to get it into shape,’ he said. Three or four drafts later, he had the finished item, and he confessed that if he didn’t have to meet a deadline with his publisher, he’d just go on tinkering with it, always thinking he could make it better.
He also said that he'd published eight Rebus novels before the ninth took off in the public mind, so there's hope yet for all us still climbing the publication lists.

Friday, 16 November 2012


Jacarandah in the park
We’ve walked our socks off in the last few days. Tuesday saw us bussing into Sydney and walking via Circular Quay to the Royal Botanic Gardens where we debated going into Australia House – free – and decided we’d save that for when it rained. We walked around Farm Cove to the Domain and out to the headland in order to find Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. Mrs Macquarie used to walk to the headland every day to watch the ships sailing in and the soldiers carved a chair out of the sandstone rock for her. Click and you’ll find more details of Lachlan Macquarie than you ever wanted to know.

Unfortunately, three coachloads of Chinese tourists were there to visit the chair, and every single one of them had to have their photograph taken sitting on it – we managed one picture as the last of the Chinese left and with one eye on the approaching hordes from the next tour bus. We left and walked through the gardens, stopping for coffee on the way, then went to find the Mitchell State Library of New South Wales. http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/ A splendid new building, all space, glass and light. I must admit I was awestruck.

Wednesday night we ate at Ivan and Lissie’s Tea House on Union Street in North Sydney. We ate Nasi Goreng which in Indonesian means "fried rice" but is so much more than that. It was delicious and we ate every scrap.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Cruisin'


Houses on the harbour
I’m back in the big city again. We came back Sunday night, and yesterday spent Monday in Sydney, cruising around the harbour for a couple of hours. The posh houses were pointed out to us, of which there are many. The poshest of them all is up for sale at $60 million Australian dollars. (The AD is worth around 65p. I don’t know what the AD is worth against the US Dollar – you’ll need to check a conversion chart if you want to know!) Saw the landmarks of the first settlers, the convict ships, places where the original inhabitants used to camp. Journeyed out to the Heads (no, not the loo) but the two headlands that guard the mile-wide entrance to Sydney harbour, where the swell makes the boat rock and people start staggering about the deck.

Heading back to Sydney
Back down the other side of the bay into Middle Harbour and under the Spit Bridge (it’s on a sand spit, not because people spit from it) staring at the nudist beaches and the shark nets…53 people were attacked by sharks inside the harbour area in the last year. There are something like 240 separate beaches and coves within the greater harbour area – or is it 240 square miles of water? Both facts may be true, or I may have mis-remembered one of them. The cruise boat was full of people from the Jewel of the Pacific, the ocean-going liner tied up at Circular Quay, and they had a tendency to chatter and not listen to the lady giving us the information over the PA system.

Last night we sampled Sydney nightlife by having a glass of wine in the Loft on Darling Harbour (one of the 240 within the greater harbour, yes?) and then went on to eat in the Meat and Wine Steakhouse Co in Cockle Bay, (part of Darling Harbour, which is part of Sydney Harbour…) where I ordered salmon and it came on a huge skewer suspended from a hook over its own  plate. Scrumptious. And Crème brûlée to follow….with Cloudy Bay dessert wine… which is to die for.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Curses on Ugg and Laboutin

Blackhead beach
I checked my spam folder on my blog yesterday, and found 5,000+ spam messages had come in since I relaxed the ability to comment on my blog a few days ago. Whah! Not good. Took me ages to delete them all, and I cursed Ugg Boots and Laboutin shoes all the time I did it as they seem to be the culprits. Since I think fashion shoes are ridiculous at the moment – and most of the time, when I think about it – I cannot see why they’ve latched on to me. A less fashionably shod person you could not hope to find! So I’m very sorry but the filters are going back on the comments facility.
I wrote a chapter of my wip last week, and was very pleased with it, but on the whole I think I shall need to trim this story down by a considerable amount. Matho vol 3 is meandering all over the place, and do you know why? It’s because the premise I began with is too vague. I knew what the story problem was going to be, but not how to solve it. I assumed that would come to me as I wrote the story out. I imagines it would filter through the brain cells as I wrote...you know the kind of thing.  Well, let me ‘fess up – I’m still no wiser as to how the problem is going to be solved. Will there ever be a finale? A climax? A resolution? Who knows – not I.
beach boy
It is an object lesson for me – in future I must have an outline plot before I begin writing. Without it, I found the creative bit couldn’t flow as easily, mostly because I didn’t know where I was going, and had no direction. So though I must force myself to think up a suitable ending, I know I‘ll have loads of work waiting for me when I go back on a second edit.
It’s lucky for me that my other story, Victorian Beauty, is coming along much better. Otherwise I might just give up and decide to go on a round the world cruise.
 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Australian Butchers


Australia has let us down. We’ve had two, nearly three days of high winds and tonight the weather really went berserk and rained. Not the soft, pattering sort of rain we often get in Britain, but full on throw-it-down rain.

Yesterday I went for a walk along the beach where it wasn’t so bad; I still didn’t need a jacket. But the two viewing platforms overlooking the sea were something else – I hung on to the railing for fear I would be blown over the edge, and the wind was either bending my spectacles or threatening to tear them off my face depending which direction I turned my head. When I came home, the lenses were coated with sqalt spray so thick I could barely see. I hate to think what it would have done to my contacts.

Today, before the wind picked up in strength, which is usually does around ten or eleven o'clock, we got really brave – or mad, whichever you choose to think – and cycled over to Blackhead Village where there is a small clutch of shops and a rather nice library. Cycling wasn’t too bad going – I coped with all the uphill bits and loved the downhill bits and enjoyed the level bits. Even managed to navigate two parked cars and a roundabout! We bought lamb chops, pork chops, sausages and frozen prawns at the butcher's shop to see us through the week and paid a phenomenal price for it all.
But then, we don’t usually buy so much all at one time…and  would probably have paid a similar price in England. We’ve learned not to buy meat at Australian supermarkets because although it looks good, for some strange reason it doesn’t have a lot of taste. We tried chicken with a smoky barbecue sauce first, and looked at each other in puzzlement because we couldn’t taste chicken. Bacon is especially bland. We ate the lamb chops this evening, and they were good and tasty. Cycling back was tough because all the downhill burs turned into uphill buts - which I walked!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Greed was Good


MacQuarie Point
My reading has been slightly well, different, since I reached Australia. I read a Ken McClure (Steven Dunbar) story on my Kindle, and then found and devoured The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris (a sequel to Chocolat and second in the trilogy that now includes Peaches for Monsieur le Cure) and loved it. Then I moved onto JoJo Moyes following Helen’s recommendation - The last Letter From Your Lover and now You Before Me. Both excellent, and different from the general run of the mill chick lit-cum romance. At Forster, I found the intriguingly titled Man Drought. I flicked through, expecting it to be a chick lit story, but it isn’t – and before I knew it, I was sucked in by seeing odd phrases I’ve heard bandied about but never knew the source or context.

Bernard Salt talks about the startling fact that women outnumber men in Australia, and that after the age of 22, girls have a hard time finding a husband. Failure to grab a partner in their twenties means they have to wait until they're 57+ before the gender balance tilts in their favour once again. It is also an intriguing comment on the changing habits of the generations over the last century.
He gives each 15-year generation a tag, and it was these tags that caught my attention. Frugals were born in the 1920s and early 1930s. The Great War coloured their and their parents’ lives, and they lived through the Great Depression. Hence they were frugal in every sense, darning socks, never spending wildly and always saving money against that inevitable rainy day.

The Pre-Boomers were born 1946-1961, and came up with free love, The Sixties and James Bond. They became the world’s first teenagers, and they lived through the Cold War and moved out of the family home at 18 on a lust-driven imperative.

Generation X children came long in the years 1961-1976, and thought up the idea of road-testing partners before the age of thirty. A cynical generation, they watched Dynasty and Gordon Gekko and thought Greed was Good.

Generation Y children were born 1976-1991. They are the first generation to stay at home with mum and dad, and are often know as helicopter kids because they hover around the family home; also KIPPERS – Kids In Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings. They were the first generation to ask if they could bring their lovers home and have their sex life, often with serial partners, in the family home. Their pre-boomer parents, more liberated than their Frugal parents, agreed. Transparency? Or what previous generations called wanton promiscuity?

 The Millennium Generation are children of the Xers, born in the 16 years up to 2006. All bets are off on what their tag will be, for they are the ones devoted to their electronic devices and wary of going out alone in the big, wide world.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Whale-watching


We tried to go whale watching on Friday, but it was so windy the catamaran Amaroo did not go to sea. Instead we had a wander around the shops of Forster, and came home again. Later we tried to go for a walk across the headland, but were so plagued with flies – ordinary houseflies – that we turned back.  They try and fly into your eyes, narrowly miss getting sucked into your nose and mouth, and settle in dozens on your back. I can see why the stereotypical Australians wear hats with corks bobbing around the rim, though I must admit I’ve never seen anyone with this type of headgear!

Today we tried again. Up early, into Forster for 9am, and our tickets secured. By 10am we were under way, warned that we had to sit down on the top deck because it was high tide and there wasn’t much clearance as we went under the bridge that spans the lake. Once out on the open sea, we saw whales about twenty feet from the boat – glimpses of backs and flippers, tails and some spouting, but nothing spectacular. There were several, including a mother and calf, but I was a little disappointed because not one single whale leapt out of the water, but that’s life. BBC wildlife programmes spoil everyone by bringing close up views into our homes. It seems so easy, but the cameramen probably spent six weeks at sea to catch the spectacular footage we get to see. My little camera wasn't up to the task!
Fishing boat crossing our wake

The boat trip was great with or without the whales. Riding the swells by sitting astride the seat and gripping with my knees as if I was riding a horse, leaping up and nearly falling over whenever a spout or black hump showed in the water. Trying to keep my balance as I walked a crazy path across the width of the boat, staring out over the rolling swells coming in off the Pacific and wondering if the sun was going to come out or the storm clouds on the horizon would drift closer.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Pedicures and Porcupines


I have been to a spa for a pedicure. This is a first in my life, and contrary to all expectations, I enjoyed it. Picture the scene: a candle lit room, soothing music playing faintly, and a billabong footbath. Warm soapy water with bits of herbs floating about my feet, which were then dried by a person kneeling before me. Onto the beds, blankets over me, a fragrant pad over my eyes and I’m in the dark while someone massages my head. The fruity, orangey smell I chose for the treatment hovers in the air.

It would, at this point, be very easy to fall asleep, and I’m told some do. The room is silent but for the music, and I’m warm and cosy under the blankets. Then someone peels back the covers from my feet and leaves them exposed to the cool air. At once I wonder what will happen next. The blindfold pad is still over my eyes, remember.

My foot is firmly grasped and covered in warm oil, then washed and work begins on my toes. It is a this point, as my cuticles are probed, pricked, poked and generally whipped into shape, that I think what a good torture scene this would make in my work in progress.(wip) I must remember this if I ever want Matho tortured. The horrible anticipation of what is to happen when you can’t see, and then the pain…

Not that I suffered any pain. Far from it. All was serenity and warm honey and hot towels, then the rasp to take away the hard skin which made me giggle as my feet are ticklish. The last bit was all about painting my nails a luscious crimson, which I’d already picked out before the treatment began. When I finally removed the eye pad and swung my feet to the floor, I felt like a new woman. And my feet are so smooth, I am amazed.

On the way home, we saw a car parked in the middleof the road. The driver was taking pictures of a porcupine, so of course I got out and took pictures, too. He - the porcupine, not the driver, - trundled across the grass to my feet, at which point I got up from crouching position for fear he was after my newly painted toe nails! He looked like our hedgehogs, except for a more bristly set of quills. A cute little thing. I hope he goes back to wherever he came from without getting squished on the road.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Retail therapy Ozzie style


Shopping in Woolworths in Forster this morning. The fascination with Australian products continues and vegetables continue to impress not only with their size and vigour but with the price! Contrary to when we came here four years ago, the exchange rate is not favourable to British visitors, but is very good indeed for Australians travelling to the UK. I have to remember that 1 Australian dollar is equal to about 63p in Sterling, and then guess the price of spring onions that are three times the size of the ones back home.

There’s a store called Bunnings here that is a dead-ringer for B & Q back home. It has the same senior citizen staff in red uniforms, and the layout of the aisles is exactly the same. Granted they have more bug zappers than we do, and a far greater selection of outdoor lights, barbies and pizza ovens, but hey! Otherwise, they’re siblings.

Great excitement watching whales cavorting in the bay this afternoon. Dick was having great fun and we watched him – opinions are divided as to whether he was one whale or two. One, says Helen.

Because today is my birthday we’re celebrating in fine style tonight. I opted for prawns – and here, wouldn’t you know it, they are giant prawns! David and Bill will barbecue them, and we’ve punnets of huge strawberries, Helen’s made a crème brûlée and Bill’s providing the Moet & Chandon. Yeeha!
(I intended to post this on Monday but unfortunately - or fortunately, whichever way you look at it, I got distracted by the prawns! Sorry!)

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Writing and Dolphins

Berowra Waters
Moved back to Forster for a week, perhaps a fortnight. Sun bright, warm wind, whales are spouting in the bay and multicoloured parrots fly by the balcony. I’m concentrating on my writing for a day. I checked off my e-mails this morning while sitting on the balcony dressed only in shorts and tee shirt. In contrast, I hear it is snowing back in England, but can’t quite believe it.

There is a whisper of work planned for today. A fence needs oil/varnishing – no one can decide on the correct term, except to say that we are not painting it! It’s a six-foot high fence, and there’s a lot of it. The younger elements of the party think it’ll be a breeze, and done by lunch time. I harbour severe doubts over this time scale, but we shall see. There are four of us, after all.

I am slowly getting back to writing. There has been so much going on (incuding a second visit to the Cloudy Bay Fish restaurant where we drank the Pelourus as well as the Sauvignon Blanc on the excuse that it is my birthday next week) that I haven’t done much on my two wips, but I’m ready to start on chapter 24 of Matho’s story. Not that I know what’s going to happen, which is worrying. This is the first time I’ve been writing without an outline plan to follow, and I don’t think I’ll ever try it again as the writing flow, if I dare call it that, slows while I puzzle over the next happenings. I fear that sometimes I’ve gone off-line a wee bit, and there will be some major cutting when I get to a second draft. But it’s all part of the great learning curve that is fiction writing!

I finished The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t think I ever realised when I read Chocolat that there was magic afoot, but it was a long time ago. Peaches for Monsieur le Cure didn’t feature it much either, but Lollipop Shoes is full of it. The writing style was a real pleasure, and I should study it for what it can teach me.

DH has just popped in to tell me there’s a pod of dolphins in the bay and people are swimming with them! Wow! Must go see!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Berowra Waters and Quality


Back into Sydney on Tuesday to pick up a telescope which we’ve decided is the ideal house-warming gift for people who have a beachhouse with a view in every direction. If they’re lucky, they’ll spot whales travelling up the east side of Australia, and perhaps dolphins or sharks closer in shore. There was a heart stopping moment on the beach when ominous triangular fins approached a surfer, but a more knowledgeable onlooker assured us they were dolphins, and nor sharks.

I was hoping to find the same didgeridoo player on Circular Quay this year, but so far I've not been lucky. The sound echoes all around the Quay, and you just follow it to the source. Qualty of playing varies, but the one I'm looking for is good -it's just a pity I don't remember his name! try this as a sample: Click

Yesterday we took the car down to Berowra Waters, which turned out to be a stretch of water that links, several miles away, with the sea. The road down was single-track and hacked out of the side of a cliff, so not a good journey for those who suffer from vertigo, though the steepness of the drop of was obscured by masses of very tall, very straight trees. Foliage seems to flourish only in the top section of the tree, so they’re very different to trees back home.

There’s a ferry at the bottom so on we drove and were gently ferried across to the other side where there is a restaurant, a shop and lots of power boats tied up in the marina. We ate our sarnies, fed two ducks and generally nosed around watching boats come ashore, pick up supplies and move off again. Some young lads had trouble with an engine that refused to start. It was very quiet. Fish jumped, herons fished and the sun was exceedingly hot. We debated driving further, enticed by the road sign that said Wildlife Crossing, but checked the map and decided against it. Distances are something else here.
NB There's a small book here entitled Writing a Novel. Glancing through it I noticed this in the first chapter:  "Quality is the indefineable mystery of writing, the relationship between words, which is as much the product of the space between words as the words themsleves." It goes on: "A good writer is someone who can see quality in the world and can somehow translate that onto the page." Something to ponder in a quiet moment while I wait for the man who checks house alarms to arrive.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Sydney 2012


This just so not Australia! It is pouring with rain, and the wind is horrible.
View from restaurant

This week I’m in Sydney, which, contrary to popular opinion, is not the capital of Australia. That honour goes to Canberrra. We arrived last night, so this morning we climbed aboard the 9.39 train from Berowra into the city, which takes about an hour because it stops at every station along the way – all nineteen of them, with wonderful names like Warrawee, Mount Kuring-gai, Turramurra and Pymble. The trains here are double-deckers, and have seats that face forward or backward depending on your choice. Thunder clouds followed us all the way south into Sydney but it was still fine when we rolled into Wynyard underground station, we headed for George Street and out into the heart of Sydney.

Market St
We had business to conduct, and my new shoes had given me blisters so that had to be taken care of (Bought a box of Bandaids) before we found our way to the spanking new Westfield Centre where Gucci and Prada inhabit the ground floor. We went upstairs and found the food hall on floor five, then searched for the Cloudy Bay Fish Restaurant. Took some time, but find it we did and thoroughly enjoyed our Fishcakes with home cooked potato chips and salad. Anyone who loves Cloudy Bay wines must seek out this place, for all the Cloudy Bay wines are available – a glass of Sauvignon Blanc 2012 for thirteen Australian dollars.

Then it was off to David Jones – one of my favourite stores. Two floors - and they are huge floors – of men’s fashions. All colours, all styles, including one horrendously trashy Elton John type jacket with sequins flashing. Next to it was a black and white checked suit which – surely - only a chef would wear. Then on to the three, or is it four? Floors of womenswear. I restrained myself, I swear it.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Port Macquarie

Road trip today. From Redhead to Port Maquarie via the scenic route. It's a good thing D & H have a 4 wheel drive because today we turned off onto an unsealed road - to you and me, a dirt track. One vehicle wide, but fortunately not riddled with the pot holes we encountered in the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus. Very tall trees on either side, sudden vistas of green fields and smallholdings, then the trees close in again. A twisting road, winding always up, up and up again, with drop offs on either side perhaps hundreds of feet deep and filled with rain forest trees. 890 Metres to the top, so that's near enough 900 times three, say 2,500 feet. On a downhill bend we came across a motorcyclist coming up, and missed him by a hair's breadth. He would be eating our dust for long way up the hill!

Port Macquarie, when we got there, is a very pleasant place, but the heat was tremendous. We searched for table in the shade, and were unlucky; they were al taken. So the four of us clustered around one end of a table that had some shade, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch with plenty of ice cool Tiger Beer on the side.