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.