Saturday, May 24, 2014

Jobs for Winter, part one of...

The last race of the season is tomorrow, and there's a storm raging outside.  This means two things - firstly, that I'll soon be having a few weeks with a bit more time, and secondly, having dropped my daughter off to a friend's house, I've been given a timely reminder of two of the jobs I've been promising the bus this winter - one is to clean as many of the electrical contacts up as I can, in an effort to improve the frankly abysmal performance of the wipers whenever anything else is on - like headlights, for example - and the second is to install a new heater cable. 

Grown men cry at the prospect of installing a new heater cable on these things, specifically because of just how much fun it can be removing the old one.  I'm going to have to think of something cleverer than the next sentence to accomplish this:  I've had a good tug (well, the nights were long and there was nothing on the telly) with a pair of pliers (ouch) and vice grips (double ouch) bracing my feet on the wheels and heaving for all I was worth (mustn't boast, and all that) and nothing showed even the slightest sign of coming.

If this storm produces a bit of snow, I might even manage to put it off until next year.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The last weeks of autumn are always bittersweet:  The water's still warm, but cooling.  The barefoot sprint across wet grass and the foreshore prior to a morning session (and the less sprightly exits afterwards) leave feet that take longer and longer to thaw out, the hunt for missing booties is acquiring urgency.  The racing season is drawing to a close too - 6 weeks of forced downtime in the darkest months is an invitation to drink, eat, and get fat.

Such things will come to pass, and soon, but not just yet.  There's still warmth enough for after-school surfs with #1 son, still the last couple of races to hold on for, still flowers in the garden.  The low sun shows off New Zealand's famous clouds, the views of the Milky Way take the breath away.

 I'm writing, more than I have in a year or two. Word count seems to be a fairly common tool by which writers measure their self worth, but with only a snatched twenty minutes here and there to write, I've revised my expectations dramatically downwards.  I think it was Graham Greene who said something to the effect that 400 words a day should be enough for anybody, so I've set myself the goal of 300 a night.  It's little enough to be achievable, yet enough to grow something with.  And more often than not, I've found myself doing more.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Gettin' out of Dodge

The time to head to the warmth is fast approaching.  Amongst the rumble of removals trucks and the angst of broken teen love I've been trying to digest the last weeks here.  I've been lugging my camera around with me, making a point of taking at least a picture a day. Seems like a good way to say a slow goodbye.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Speaking too soon again...

There I was congratulating myself on having a thoroughly reliable bus: result?  Oil all over the garage floor, skinned knuckles (my hands actually start leaking blood as soon as I touch a spanner), and just a little swearing.  It's nothing too serious, but fixing this leak still requires the removal of the exhaust which is, on these vehicles, an utter pain in the arse.  But I suppose it's good for me to keep my mechanical eye in, as it were, and on the way I'll get the chance to do a few bits of preventative maintenance that should keep her purring happily for a few more years' yet.

And there I was too, saying I was putting down my second draft and moving onto something else.  Well, I suppose that was half-right - I did put down my second draft.  I moved instead, straight to the third, without pausing to finish.  There was, as I've said previously, a spark missing, and I was never going to find a spark by mechanically flogging a dead horse.  Far better to cut the losses and proceed straight to the major surgery - a rewrite, changes of viewpoint and tense, deepening and turning of the plot.

If any one element does such a thing, then plot keeps readers turning pages: so I'm devoting more and more time to making sure I understand what's going on.  I'm not in the business of drawing up a rigid scaffold and sticking to it ruthlessly, that's an approach I've tried before and that yields the stiff, joyless results you might expect from a process that removes, at a single stroke, much of the impetus behind discovering new and interesting turns in the story - namely, language.

I'm a firm believer that language on its own can be a powerful agent of creativity.  Words suggest others, changes in tone and viewpoint suggest other words that lead, in turn, to other places and different stories.  Cutting myself off from that removes much of the fun of the creative journeying my writing takes me on. That's not to say I don't have to exercise restraint or discipline - of course I do, otherwise I'd never get anywhere.

Which, to complete the bus/writing allegory, applies to fixing oil leaks too.  Because at times like these it's restraint and discipline that keep me from smashing the thing with a sledgehammer, or worse - taking it to a mechanic.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sunny days and creative delays

Since the house has been on the market bus trips have become more frequent: the sense of impending departure, even in the absence of any kind of done deal, has given us the impetus to try and get out into Otago more.  And it's beautiful, although I knew that already.  Wildlife, crazy beautiful beaches...

Hooker's sea lion in the dunes, Sandfly Bay.
Further up the road than I've been before...

Sandfly Bay, Otago Peninsula
The bus has been running better than it ever has in my ownership.  I'm trying to figure out exactly what I've done differently, but I can't actually see anything.  It's another example, if I needed one, of the organic contrariness of these things.  I'm convinced it's running better because I've finally convinced it I have some clue what I'm doing with a spanner in my hand (something, I admit, that has not always been the case.)  And I finally arrived at that happy point, where I looked at the service schedule in the Bentley manual (the knowledge), and found that there was not. one. single. thing. that was left wanting or of which I was uncertain. 

The writing, on the other hand, could be viewed in another way.  I've decided to put my completed first draft to one side - the second visit seemed too soon, too mechanical, too joyless - and am spending my writing time revisiting an idea that's been brewing, in one shape or another - my file history tells me - for nearly five years.  I'm putting no guns to heads, having no expectations: because the genesis of this story has been so long I'm reluctant to call it over.  The process is different too - I have no plan, I'm letting the language lead the way.  So far, I've always had something to far.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Shift to winter - then somewhere else

It's been, I realise, nearly three months since I last blogged.  During that time we've had something in the way of - if not an indian summer - then most definitely an absent winter.  As I write, the ski fields in the southern lakes are still almost bare, well past opening day.  The water hasn't remained warm though: it's now at the temperature when forays into the life aquatic become dependent on it not being too big (for me in these temps, read nothing over three feet.  I've ceased to see the fun in being hit by frigid lumps of watery concrete, a lapsing in my hardcored-ness that I make no apologies for whatever) and on finding somewhere to get changed out of whatever freezing wind happens to be blowing.  That's not really been a problem this last week - there's been a run of small waves on the east coast just big enough to offer a few fun ramps in windless conditions under clear blue skies: my definition of perfect winter waves.  The only thing to give away the presence of winter, in fact, is some of the wildlife - and even that's been sunbathing.

This side's almost done.

Various factors have contributed to my lack of blogging recently, chief amongst them the hard work of getting our house down here ready to sell.  The move to warmer climes is still very firmly back on - but it would be good to get some skiing in before we go.  Are you listening, mother nature?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

There's been a very definite shift in the weather over the last couple of weeks; winter suddenly feels imminent.  I drove over the hill to check Murderers this morning and there was snow on distant peaks.  The wind that whipped underneath my towel while I was getting changed at Aramoana (Murderers wasn't looking tempting) had little of summer in it either, and I pulled on a hood for the first time in a few months, looking after those ears.

I'm still looking to consistently click with the waves around here.  There's nowhere where I ever feel at home, on top of what's going on.  I've never been the best at reading beach-breaks, but I would still have expected to find a corner somewhere that I could have made my own.  It's yet to happen, just one of many things that has the warm song of the North getting louder.

I have far too many computers.  One effect of this is that I have folders with my writing in it spread around the house.  So when I pick up a different laptop - sometimes for the first time in months, for reasons too boring to go into here or anywhere - I get to see stuff that's been sitting, waiting for me.  Sometimes this is good, sometimes bad.  This time it's been good - I picked up something I'd sketched out which has a very different voice and feel to the story I've been working on recently, and it excited me.  I saw new places it could go, and the change of language is refreshing.

So I've picked that up for a while, and I'll run with it a bit longer.  I wonder how many other writers wok like this - flitting between one unfinished project and the next, sometimes seemingly never closer o finishing any of them.  Is it just a reflection of who I am - a damning reflection,at that - or a valid way of keeping what I produce - I don't know, passionate isn't the word...somehow less mechanical, truer, containing more of me?  Either way, even if only intuitively (obviously, as I can't even find the words to describe it logically!) I think it's important, part of the giving process of authoring, and for that a more rewarding, if less productive way of writing.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Roadtrip time...

Loaded the bus with the whole family and camping gear for the first time in too long, and headed for central Otago.  Hot days, cold nights, and some special places...

Above the lake at St Bathans 

It's called the Blue Lake...

There's worse views to have upon rolling back the side door from the comfort of bed.

Another river full of trout that stayed there.  Bastards.
We went over the pig route, State Highway 85 from Palmerston to Ranfurly - an old wagoner's route from NZ's pioneer days.  Coming over some of those hills with a team of horses must have been unimaginably hard - places like Dead Horse Pinch got their name for a reason.  It's amazing how western humanity has largely become a race of total pussies in just a couple of generations.

Good times, and good dubbing country...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The publishing problem

Ah, publishing.  We've been expecting you.

As the story starts to take a tauter, more final shape, it's understandable that my mind has turned to how I'm going to get it out there.  I've always subscribed to the viewpoint that only a "proper" publishing house would do.  A closer look at the current publishing situation though, has begun to fill me with doubt.

For a start, I'm in New Zealand.  Aside from the presence of a couple of literary behemoths, publishing houses here tend to be small and niche.  The importance of the fiction being from New Zealand is continuously stressed.  I, however, am not - and therefore neither is my fiction.  I could change place names to jump through a hoop, but I doubt the result would be satisfactory to anyone.  No, better to not pretend to be something I'm not.

Finding an agent might prove to be something of a nightmare, too.  Almost every agent who's details I've checked out is currently not accepting submissions, the product of a down-turn in the publishing market - which is number three.

I could try and push my book to agents in the UK or the US too, but I would be facing the same down-turn, and probably an even more glacial pace of submission and rejection.

So I have turned my mind to self-publishing, albeit not by the traditional route.  I've been checking out the sales of ebooks for the likes of Amazon's Kindle, and it seems on first and second glance to be a market pregnant with possibility.  The problem, as always, is marketing, but at least I won't have surplus stock with which to insulate my attic. 

I'll be looking at epublishing in more detail in future postings.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Curing itchy feet...

My feet have been getting itchy.  Really itchy.

Whether this is because I've barely set foot outside Dunedin in seven months - two brief weekend camping trips aside - or because the end of summer is in the air (was that it?), or because in this last crazy fortnight in NZ what's really important in life is standing proud in our minds, I'm not sure.  I know last weekend was really hard though - epic sessions going down in Taranaki with a crew of good friends out, while I drifted between so-so waves in a layer of fleece.

I got back from a trip out in the van, swept the sand and the ice-cream wrappers out, and parked it in the garage.  Next to the camping gear, and the shelf with the spares on it.  There's an oil filter sat there now, along with a four-litre can of Castrol.  I stood there and looked at my van and figured just what I'd have to do to fire it up and drive the thousand mile journey north:  oil change, valves, set the timing. Check the tyres.  Fetch the ipod and throw some baked beans in the headbanger.  Go - there's plenty of time along the way to deliver the motivational speeches that I know, deep down, keep her going.

It was hard enough not to run right on in and book the ferry then and there.

I moped around for a couple of days, wondering how I could shake myself out of it.

I surfed every day - quick blats to the beach in the car, so as not to cut up the day.  Didn't help, too much.  Now I had sore shoulders to go with the itchy feet.

Tried to write - that always makes me feel better.  Couldn't.

So I loaded up the bus - me and the dog, a surfboard, lunch, and a laptop.  I went and parked down at a nice beach, surfed some okay waves, walked the dog, and then sat down in the bus and ate.

It's a curious thing, as to why sitting in the back of the bus should be so healing.  Maybe it's the smell. (All buses smell good.  If you're an olfactory pervert who doesn't like getting their hands dirty - stay away.  You'll have to have one.)  Maybe it's some cosmic imprint left in the fabric of the thing by near-as-dammit forty years of good times going down in there.  Whatever.  But for the first time in a week the words came back, in a trickle at first, and with them some sense of - if not contentment, then a lessening of unease, for sure.

Buses is fucking great, and you knows it.