Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Before the storm...

This week is all about the next six or seven: specifically, the month-and-a-half long marathon that is the southern hemisphere school summer holidays.  To prepare, I'm going surfing as much as I can.  That first draft is done and stewing away somewhere within the bowels of my computer.  Research for another project is currently taking the form of pleasant evenings background reading in advance of anything harder, and playing around with a few paragraphs here and there trying to find a voice for the project.

Today, I ventured out onto the Otago peninsula.  The surf was weak, small and messy - but the sun was out and I'd driven far enough not to be denied water time by as small an obstacle as that.   I picked my way across a white beach littered with the footprints of penguins and sea-lions - the only other visitors at that time, and with a nice fat small-wave blade beneath me, I paddled out.



And jeez, even when it's small the place has got power.  The sun ducked behind clouds, the onshore came up, and shadows played in the water.  I caught a few, found a place to sit, but I wasn't comfortable.  Sometimes, you can smell teeth.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A change is as good, etc.

Almost as soon as I put the book on the shelf I felt lost.  Not lost in the sense of doubting what I'm doing with the story - no, that needs time to ferment, time for the scars of its writing to heal; but lost, as in my day-to-day life immediately and suddenly lacked any kind of purpose.

So, inevitably, I picked up another project.  In the interests of keeping everything new, I thought I'd try something I hadn't before - non-fiction.  As yet, I haven't penned a word - I've sketched out ideas for chapters, trawled the catalogues of the city library, and immersed myself in the first of many books to be read.

I'm making this project as unstructured as I can - it's very deliberately for me.  Without wishing to give too much away - which will, if past experience proves to be true, be a much almost completely unrelated to any finished article - it seems serendipitous that my degree certificate arrived today (sixteen years and four months after graduating), and I now officially have a degree in Marine Biology and Oceanography.  Although it really shouldn't have mattered - it's only a piece of paper, very late, commemorating a very definitely underwhelming academic performance - I can't help but feel a tiny bit of pride, and that reconnecting in this way seems a very right thing to do.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Finishing lines

Today, I have a hangover and no guilt.  Yesterday, I wrote a scene and quite unexpectedly, realised that was it: that was where this story was going to be left.  The first draft is finished.

I should be quite pleased with myself.  Intuition tells me I should even be slightly ecstatic, but I'm neither of those things.  What I am, actually is:
  1. Aware of just how many holes there are in this draft: characters who have changed in the writing, sacred objects that have been unused, others that have appeared from nowhere, motivations missing and backstories lacking.
  2. Ever so slightly (all right, that's a downright lie...make it completely and utterly) grateful that today and tomorrow, I don't have to get up to wrestle with J. and M. and D.  That they can be best served by parking them in a drawer for a month, and thinking about something else.
  3. Desperate to pick up all the strands of my life I've dropped during the writing of this, and
  4. So this isn't wholly negative, I'm also confident that this is something I can pick up again after the school holidays, and more crucially - I also reasonably confident that I'm going to want to.  Just because the writing doesn't sizzle and crackle off every one of these damn pages right now doesn't mean it doesn't, or won't.  Familiarity breeds contempt, and sometimes it's hard to see the good in my own work when I've been staring at it for this long.  Logic tells me there's some good stuff in here.
So right now I've backed everything up to every flash drive I own, and an internet space too.  Confident in the knowledge I'm not about to lose it, I intend to forget about Dark Milk completely for the next two months.  And although large parts of me are fed up to the back teeth with it, there's another deeper part of me that can't wait until the first day the kids go back to school, the kettle boils, and I slip back up to the sleep-out.  I know that tired old threads will seem brand new, and the game begins again.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bumping along the bottom...

I've recently been debating - although not very seriously - whether or not to sell the bus, mostly because of the speed with which my offspring are growing.  With four and a small dog up, all required camping gear; with the heavy, german-made (and therefore heavy, like their food) camping interior that weighs more than I do, plus the antique dresser of indispensable camping accessories which my wife insists on while wondering aloud how I ever managed without them, it's safe to say that the performance isn't exactly sparkling.  After all, it only made 66 hp when it was new and even if it's still churning that out - well, you can see why it struggles, and that's before you even get to the fun part, of four people actually trying to live out of one of these things.

This weekend has reaffirmed the faith and squashed any such nascent thoughts.  I packed Jay in and set off for some father-and-son time down south, sans mother, sister, or surfboards.  It's easy to forget that the bus has always been in his life - we've always just gone off.   Spending time with Jay in the bus this weekend, I watched him unwind and chill out, and forget the stresses of being nine.


Between Kaka point and the Nuggets, finding sea lions to hassle.
Purakanui falls.  Pretty, eh?
Papatowai beach.  Spooky, cold, shadows in the water.  Can I not surf here?
Catlins rain forest.  Smells even better than a similarly themed toilet freshener.
Pounawea sunrise.  I take pictures while Jay gets to do star jumps.  Character building, see...

So we did bus things: we explored, we tramped, we read.  We forgot about modern things like computers, fuel injection, and overtaking.  I drank beer, he ate his own body weight in ice cream.  Complete strangers wander up and talk about the bus, and then other things.  I can fix any problem short of major catastrophe with my own brain and hands and the tools I carry, and problems are well - expected.  That big front window displays the whole world in glorious panorama, accompanied by the warm bus-sell that only buses have.  And we finished the trip, as usual, with the bus running better at the end than it had at the beginning -  like the bus enjoys it too, and doesn't want to be consigned back to a nice warm garage.  Travelling by bus is a journey, in the truest sense of the word.

And so, the Catlins duly scoped out for further adventuring, we returned home in glorious, faintly dirty triumph, which is of course exactly how fathers and sons should return home.  Tales to tell, hot baths to sit in, more beer to be drunk. 

Bus adventures rock, and so do the Catlins.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Delays, denouements, and down-time.

After a few weeks in which I've really hit my straps - there hasn't been a single day in recent memory when I haven't hit my target of 1250 words for the day - I've eased rather than ground to a halt.  This, for once, is not for any bad reason, but rather because the myriad tasks that I've pushed to one side to make time and head-space to write has, by the looks of it, all gathered together in a quiet corner of the pub, had a group moan - probably fuelled with cheap Lambrusco, I think - about how badly I've been treatin' them, and set out on a jilted crusade, demanding to be dealt with.  And naturally, there's a time to fight alcoholic ex's from the battlements, metaphorical axe in hand in the shape of a mobile phone and the number of a good lawyer, and there's a a time to surrender and be breathed on. 

My capitulation comes because the noise of battle threatens to distract me from where I am, which is right in the middle of the story's climactic scene.  Not only do I want to devote this part my full attention, but it also feels as though the simple achievement of arriving here at this point now gives this child of mine a certain invulnerability.  If I hide it under the duvet and put the lights on a timer, no-one'll know if I've nipped down the pub for a swift half while leaving the kids at home.  Do they do Lambrusco in pints?  Outside Malaga, I mean - obviously.

You would be correct in thinking that part of me at least, is rather pleased with another part of me.  Pride and falls and all that: this feels like a small step on a longish ladder, but still - a definite one.  So I've decided to take Jay out of school on Friday and head off down south in the bus, loaded up with cameras, frisbees and fishing rods, just me and him, for a boy's weekend of doing nothing much in the Catlins. (Such has been the run of surf lately that leaving the boards at home is looking like it might be something of a blessed relief: my shoulders feel old.)

It seems much longer ago than the few months it actually has been that my first planned trip to the Catlins got frustrated.  I'm not sure if I shared the exact reasons for my canning it back then, but suffice to say I won't be watching Bill and Ted and then like, totally melvining my daughter at 7 o'clock in the morning.  Explaining to the osteopath exactly what I was doing when I put my back out has never been harder and I'll be eternally grateful that she treated me rather than doing as any sane person would have done - picking up the phone and calling for security.  

I can, in fact, only spot one small fly upon the horizon: the title of this blog.  I went for a surf this morning in my 4/3 and I was uncomfortably hot.  The summer rubber is coming out again (phnaar) - a day that for a while there, I thought I'd never see again.

Life is really quite good.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Flying down the lines

I set myself a deadline to finish the first draft of this story:  I want something in my hand that covers the whole thing by the time the kids break up for the southern summer.  I phrase it like that because there'll be no way that what's in my hand then will bear too much resemblance to the finished product.  There's just too many areas that I've flagged for thinking about later, but which somehow I can't consider now while getting this story out.  It's like a long, long vomit in a new bathroom; and the builder can't hand it over to the customer until he wipes up the mess. 

You want literary metaphors, I give them to you.

So this is why my blogging has been on the slow side: the slow, grunting birth of this story (imagine that however the darkest recesses of your mind see fit) and, incidentally, some quite decent surf.  I tell myself it's ying and yang - I can't create while the shoulder muscles twitch to paddle, the body is the window to the mind, and a thousand other similar platitudes.  It seems to be working for me right now, so I'm more than content to keep fooling myself - and possibly you - that a good surf, taken whenever it's on offer,  is almost an essential part of a writer's day.  If you surf, and if you write, I urge you to do everything you can to perpetuate this.  Even if you don't, what's it going to cost you to whisper it?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spring shoots...for a day.

After what seems like an epoch, I finally packed the family and the camping gear into the bus and headed off for a night away.  We were going to go camp at Kakanui, but there was a blustery north-easter blowing, and I decided that discretion being the better part of valour, (and in the interests of a good night's sleep) to go camp in the shelter of the forest instead.  It was getting late by the time we pulled into a deserted campsite, and we'd just outrun a long, low cloud bank into the last of the evening sun.  Food, bed and books - that was about it.



In the morning the forecast sun was hiding above said cloudbank, which had advanced further north during the night.  So after breakfast we packed up and headed inland, up towards Kurow.  We checked out some mental rock formations, the Elephant Rocks, where parts of the first Narnia film were shot. 



Long lazy lunches, ice-cream stops, and a minor emergency involving a frayed throttle cable and a hunt for the right sized hex key ensued - a typical day back in the kombi saddle.  We cruised back down a coast with surf not quite worth getting wet for and found the beach camp where we were going to stay, where my wife took a leak and came back wearing an expression that said very clearly, "We are never staying there..."  

A few miles down the road we found another site which was wonderful - all good intelligence for the summer ahead.  New Zealand is, at times like this, a very easy place to be.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dusting off the sun-cream...

It almost feels as if winter has passed:  there's been more that one consecutive day when I haven't had to have the heating on for more than an hour in the morning and the surf report is telling me that the water temperature has now risen to a balmy 10.4 degrees.  Some of the snowfields are delaying opening until later in the day to let the spring snow soften, and my garden is looking less like a weed-strewn liability and more of an asset.  Hopefully, this will mean someone will buy it.

Of course, now the house is on the market the south island has never looked lovelier.  At the weekend I fired up the bus and drove thirty kilometers up the coast, on a winding minor road perfect for slow travel by dub.  The swell wasn't really doing it, but there were glimpses of perfection.


The forecast looks good for this weekend, too.  It's still on the cold side for me to persuade the rest of the family that a night in the bus is a good idea (although I'm dropping hints almost daily about the effectiveness of merino and the joys of late-night beach fires), but day trips can now be undertaken with the almost certain knowledge that "day trip" might now mean "day trip" as opposed to "drive for an hour, jump out of bus, freeze ass off for ten minutes then spend an hour in a cafe trying to get warm again while everyone glowers at Dad."

So I'm looking forward to a weekend out and about somewhere in Otago.  It might not feel like home, but there's no denying:  it looks bloody good.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thanks, Anton...

I came acros yet another writing rule, yesterday - if there's any such thing. It's attributed to Chekhov, and roughly states that an author should take the first three pages of any story, screw them up and chuck them in the bin.  The beginning of the story is where you are after you've done that.

So now I have something else to aim for.  Apart from writing a book of which I can be proud and which, hopefully, other people will get to enjoy too, I'm now faced with the challenge of writing a story that doesn't require the first three pages throwing away, just to be contrary.

It's not going to be this one though.  Although I'm still enjoying it immensely, still making good progress, I'm already concious of the amount of rewriting it's going to require just to hang together at all.  That, I suppose, is the price of starting out on a journey with no idea of where it's going beyond the end of the next sentence.

As in life, it has it's own rewards.  And, obviously, a price.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cruising through blue skies...

I'm having fun this week.  Life, as is it's wont, has decided that for a while at least, it's going to be easy.  So I've scored fun surf a few times, had a couple of windless bike rides, and ploughed on apace with one of the works-in-progress, the story aimed at the 11-14 reader.

One of the reasons I've been having so much fun with this has been the way in which the characters have presented themselves to me.  One of the main protagonists seems to resemble nothing more than Joan Collins with supernatural powers (which she may well have anyway), and I love Joan Collins.  How couldn't you?  Well, maybe if you were gay, and/or under eighty, or repelled by fake tan, and I'm not sure her arch-enemy in the story is any of those things.  Think of Christopher Cazenove, with slightly madder hair and an evil smile.  When you've got those two on your side, how can you not have fun?

The story's got its roots in Greek mythology, namely the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece.  The research for this has been pretty interesting:  Heracles, for example, finds his way into the story aboard the Argo, as does Thesseus, he of the Minotaur fame.  Something that I don't think will translate with authenticity is the sheer level of violence of the times: you want revenge on your cheating husband?  Murder the kids.  Remarry, have another argument.  Murder the kids again,then said spouse (natch), then maybe lop your brother's head off too, just to shut the moaning grandparents up.  It's mindblowing.  This is the same culture that used to chuck every other baby off a cliff to appease the gods.  It's amazing they left it to India to invent the vindaloo, really.

So I'm having to tone that down a bit.  But you can rest assured that whenever the opportunity presents itself, I'll be turning Joan's dial up to eleven.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mackenzie madness

I've been for what will probably turn out to be my last ski trip of the year, a jaunt through the Mackenzie.  Myself and a friend from the 'naki had a cruisey road trip, with good snow at Ohau and fair to middling spring corn at Mt Dobson.  Before this trip I'd just kind of touched on the edge of the Mackenzie, but this time I ploughed right on in.  It was one of those high-expectations-get-totally-exceeded type things.


I'm not even going to try and write how cool it was.


Although the Tasman valley and glacier was up there.


Mount Cook peeked through the clouds just so I could check how cool that was, too.


And after all the grand-scale mind-blowing alpine vistas, there were some fresh spring lakeside colours that were just - well, cool.

And it wasn't even that cold.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sick...

Waves today out along the coast.  Unfortunately, I've been hammered by the flu, so although I took a board out looking with me today, the fear of getting cold and sick again kept me out of the water.  I've lost about half a stone in sweat and vanished appetite, so jumping into sub-ten degree water is probably not high on the list of things I should be doing.  There were some guys on it and having fun though, and I took a few shots.  It's definitely harder trying to take decent surf pictures with a compact as opposed to an SLR - shutter lag, struggling to make out an LCD in daylight - still, got a couple of frames to make something of...


Plenty of grunt on offer today, for sure.  Beautiful blue skies and sunshine, and the headland at Blackhead is still just about big enough to keep the north-easterly off it.  It's vanishing surprisingly quickly - it's been quarried out for road stone. I can't help but think it's a little unnecessary to take an entire headland out.  


Smooth as a baby's bottom.


And here's the token arty attempt.  I can't wait to get back on it.

The surfing's not the only thing that's suffered.  Along with my physical energy, my creativity seems to have been well and truly sapped.  I keep resolving to get up at stupid times of night and write - just to harden the creative muscle, as it were.  (Stop sniggering at the back.)  Unsurprisingly, bed always seems to win.  Perhaps it's indicative of just how drained I am at the moment that I can't even link those two thoughts together properly.  Best stay away from pen and paper then, because it's never good to look back at past efforts and realise that yes, it really was utter crap.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Picking things up, putting 'em down...

It's a well-known technique for writers - putting a work aside, and then coming back to it with fresh eyes, motivation, or ideas.  After a couple of fallow months I got around to picking through the thriller again, and I'm feeling quite good for doing so.  I've been playing around - as I've mentioned in a past post - with a early-teen/young adult story which is, I think (and to continue the agricultural allegory,) in the fullness of time going to be quite a fertile row, or whatever.  But to labour a point, it needs fertilising, and to lay fallow itself.  Annoyingly, I don't seem clever or inspired enough - any of the time - to be able to string together a whole book's worth of good ideas without putting it aside at least once.  So that one's out to pasture, and the thriller's come back into the stable.

Maybe it's the genre, or maybe it's because parts of this story have been kicking around my head for so long, but I haven't had too much trouble getting the words out, and it makes me wonder if the reason I put it aside was a blockage of another sort - perhaps an emotional one on my part: an I'm not good enough kind of blockage, perhaps.  Think of it like a golfer getting the putting yips, perhaps - either way, it seems apparent that I can only write constructively on a project when the drive and inspiration together outweight the self-doubt.

Putting things aside in another way, I haven't been surfing since I got back from the 'naki.  I've had some truly beautiful, cold bike rides up and over Mount Cargill, heading out towards Blueskin Bay with snow-capped mountains on the skyline.  I've been looking for surf, mostly found none but once or twice blown it out because I can't be doing with getting cold on a miserable day.  Maybe I'm just going to have to mentally put my surfing aside until the elements align, and just pick up the bike instead and see what happens.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Not quite a lightning bolt...

It's been an odd, great week.  I flew up to Taranaki with daughter number one, and from the moment we landed it felt very clear to me that I was home.  This is odd for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I've lived in (count 'em) thirteen different places in my life, and I've not yet ever moved away from somewhere and then had any tug to it whatsoever, let alone one as strong as that exerted by Taranaki.  I felt like the blessed child - I got to surf Weld (and got waves there, which for me is seldom a given), the Patch in the sunshine and light offshores with just me and a friend out, and then drove south along the highway, stopping in at a couple of places I've never even seen before, then getting good, if hungover waves south of Opunake. 

Quite apart from the obvious - going for a surf without having to check into the thermal injuries clinic afterward - the trips along the coast really did it for me.  It's easy to take waves round every corner for granted, easy to growl at the rocks that remove fins and lumps of shin, easy to take umbrage at the amount of cow shit coming down Taranaki's watercourses.  It's less easy to explain why it felt so right.

So, after not even six months the estate agent was back in the building last night and the house is - quietly for now - on the market again.  I have a month to try and knock the garden into some kind of shape.  The days are getting longer, there's even almost occasional warmth in the sun.  I'm sure there'll be waves along too, and I'll get to see Otago at it's best.  I'm going to enjoy every moment and try and garner more memories for the rest home, which will hopefully have a view something like this.


 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How much swearing is acceptable in a children’s book?


I've been up against this one for the last couple of days: just how much can a writer swear - and when - in a children's book?

Obviously, I'm not talking about picture books for the under fives here. I'm thinking more specifically of the type of reader that number one daughter is: Twelve years old, reading ahead of her years. A Twilight fan par excellence, (books which I tried to read but gave up – I went through my own teen angst, thank you very much. I don't really feel the need to read four whacking great volumes of someone else's, vampires or no), she's also a fan of the Cherub series by Robert Muchamore (which has a certain level of bad language) and the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, which doesn't, instead showcasing the fact that you don't need to be swear to convey rude or insulting language. Alright, the Cherub series has its protagonists drawn from children's homes in working class areas, and there are probably few enough linguistic angels there, so I can understand Robert Muchamore's including a few "naughty" words. But elsewhere in children's literatureliterature: how much is too much?

My own feeling is that in reading matters, we should(with a few caveats) leave it to children to be self-censoring. If my daughter picked up The Wasp Factory I might feel obliged to offer her a few words of warning before she got too far ( and I'd probably express my own forthright opinion on the book at the same time..!), but I wouldn't take it out of her hand. The pace of reading is, I think, sufficiently different to watching a film or a television programme, and the level of involvement required – a book requires reading, in a way that other media don't – makes it much easier for us to put a book we don't like down. And to make a massive generalisation (which pointedly excludes The Wasp Factory, by the way!), gratuitous sex, drugs and violence seem to figure much less prominently on my bookshelf than they do on my TV screen. I'm not saying that they're not there and/or equally/more compelling or graphic, here: if anything, quite the reverse. Just closer to their proper places in life.

But in books specifically for children?  I wouldn't be too happy with my daughter having writing designed for her that included f-bombs, the c-word is definitely out, and bugger - that favourite Australianism - greatly offends at least one of my close friends (who I certainly wouldn't describe as overly prudish) and is not, particularly, a word whose true meaning I'd like to explain to my twelve-year old on a winter's night just before bedtime.  Almost anything else would seem to represent something that most kids will have seen coming out of themselves since birth...

Thoughts and opinions welcome!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Them there school holiday work breaks...

Yes, the dreaded school holidays are with us again, and like thousands of parents the world over, I've been dredging the innermost reaches of my brain trying to figure out new ways to get the kids cold, tired, or otherwise to a state of exhaustion where they might give me five minutes peace.  This is a quest in which I've largely succeeded, but needless to say - by the time I've got them tuckered out, there isn't enough left in the tank to contemplate writing a blog post most days, let alone mount an assault on The Novel.

I have, however, had one minor result that I am - in the spirit of depthless generosity - going to ascribe to this fortnight of toil.  I managed to wake up this morning, after a night of unusually vivid dreams, with almost a fully-formed plot in front of me.  I flicked the kettle on for tea, and while I waited for it to brew sketched out the outline, ready to revisit once I've recovered.  Dreams like this don't come on their own - no.  They require the imbibing of copious quantities of alcohol and blue cheese, and my children - the little darlings - have given me plenty of motivation to seek solace in the arms of either the bottle or indeed, barely controlled fungus cultures over the last ten days.  So this story's going to be all theirs.

Snow and the lack of Surf

Yes, the surfing's been completely proscribed by the aforementioned school holidays.  I did take the family off skiing, up to Mount Dobson, a small field in the Mackenzie Country which is almost all beginner and intermediate terrain and which has terrific views over to Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo.  It also looks like a great place to break myself into going a bit more backcountry - lots of moderate off-trail runs accessible by relatively easy hikes, so I may revisit there on my own account if it looks like there's some really nice fresh snow on the cards.  What struck me about Dobson though - apart from the complete lack of school holiday crowds - was what a terrific place it was to just be, in the most hippy-dippy, quasi-Buddhist horseshit sense of the word.  The facilities are - well, basic is being generous - but somehow that just adds to the experience.




Of course, no school holidays or ski trip would have been worth its salt without the obligatory rising-of-the-swell.  The east coast, it seems, was all time during the time we were away.  But with the cold spell we've been having, and  legs heavy with the after-ski burn, somehow I didn't mind too much.  Yes, the clarion all of the warm north might be growing stronger, but there's days down here that are just pure magic.





Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fresh tracks...

There's an old saying, which I'll paraphrase as "the body is the window to the mind", from which comes the oldest writing "do" in the book (so to speak): show, don't tell.

Right now, this window's feeling pretty broken after the first skiing of winter.  I'm certainly not in any state to pick up what I was working on - it's written in a way that demands my full engagement.  So instead, I'm casually jotting down in a notebook exactly how I do feel, for next time I have to show  my reader an utterly exhausted shell of a man who, on this evidence, is just about to have his skiing arse well and truly handed to him by an upstart daughter.  

It's a curious mixture of physical pain, mental exhaustion, definitely a sense of encroaching age, all tinged with parental pride.


I'm sure that I'll get something else out of looking back at being in that environment on such a wonderful couple of days, too, but in the meantime I'm off to finish my notes, do some yoga, and just maybe - just maybe - get enough fitness to delay the arse-kicking for another trip at least.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Second drafts and letting go

I'm really enjoying revisiting this novel-in-waiting after the thriller stalled.  Partly, that's because it's such a completely different type of book:  thrillers are all about plot and tight, sparse language.  If your prose interferes with the page flipping, inhibits the pure story-telling, then that's bad.   The story I'm working on at the moment is much more about the carnival of language, as my Creative Writing lecturer at Massey puts it. 

An exercise I've always enjoyed is trying to write like  foreign languages translate into English. Translated Spanish and Italian novels , for example, have this wonderful quality to them - I can't really describe it as anything other than a lilting music.  Books written in or by Indians - whether in another language first or in Indian - have their own music too, a curious mixture of sub-continental flare and a tight, correct use of words.  (I wonder what a linguist would say about that: if British Colonialism is the common ancestor of modern Indian English and English English (for want of a better word), why is it that the Indian version seems to be so much more correct?  Has the presence of other languages in the country slowed the evolution of the language, or do they contribute in some other way to keeping it more correct?  I digress, wildly.) 

This story's set in Italy, rooted in a time at the end of the first world war.  So it's an interesting exercise trying to find the right voice - there's not only geographical considerations, but historical ones too, and it contributes to me using language in a way that I, at least, am loving, which in and of itself drives the story in ways I hadn't planned or foreseen.

Which does present its own set of problems.  Because I'm so proud, really, of some of the writing I've done, it makes the whole business of re-envisaging areas in the story rather bereaving.  This side of editing is one I suspect many novelist struggle with:  after all, carrying out a complete revision of a short story is one thing, but investing the time and energy to completely chuck out a whole novel?  The thought of it would make a strong man weep.

Maybe I'll get to the end with a better understanding of what's going on with this, look back and decide to chuck it all out and start again. What's fun though, is letting the language alone be the driver.

Oddly enough, I'm finding that working on this is also rekindling my confidence to go back and tackle the thriller again when it's time. I can't help but feel that maybe at the end of the day, they're all parts of the same puzzle.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The drought breaks!

Finally, I got in.  It's been a beautiful morning, the kind that makes you want to take a camera with you everywhere you go, right from the first pink rays of dawn scraping the tops of the hills around the harbour.  I drove up and over them to go check the surf.  Fantastic views on a golden morning.



The small swell has shifted direction slightly from yesterday, and had too much south in it to wrap into murderers.  I had a tantalising glimpse of lines hitting the outside bar, but it was asking too much for them to bend all the way around and into the bay.


So off I went to Aramoana, where I had it all to myself.  This wasn't entirely surprising - it's not like it was all-time, or even average.  It was crumbly chest-high beach break on a tide that was rising when it needed to be dropping, with the first breaths of a cross-shore beginning to blow.  But it was very user-friendly, in the world of recuperating, recently freaked-out surfers getting used to the cold again.  I left the gloves in the car, preferring cold hands and feelin' it to warm alienation.  I was too slow to my feet the first few, getting caught behind the section.  Then I locked (or lucked) into a punchy left that I could race nearly all the way in, where a little end ramp begged to be hit.  Like a punch-drunk old heavyweight with a speed ball, I kind of remembered what to do.  It doesn't matter that it was probably one of the ugliest turns I've done in years:  I landed it, and the morning was complete.  I got out.  I would have been rude to ask for more.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dangerously close...

The cold water awaits.  My injury is now at the point where I can contemplate getting back in there - in fact, I've tried once.  I paddled out down the coast, thinking here was a nice, if a little junky, two foot day to ease myself into it, when in fact it was probably pushing five and with a strong side-shore sweep. I haven't worn hood and gloves for years, and I don't mind admitting I got totally freaked: way heavier that I was expecting, the eerie silence of a neoprene enclosed head and, in my gloves, feeling too far removed from what was going on around me, and ever conscious of my back.  I lasted about ten minutes, and never caught a wave.  But after a month out you expect the first few to be crap, so I wasn't too fussed.  On the upside, I was pretty snuggly warm in my polypro hoodie - if I pick and choose my days through winter, I should manage to keep the motivation up.  The Osteo has got me doing core exercises for all I'm worth, so hopefully some of the benefits of that carry over into my surfing, if I remember what that is and how to do it.

The bus is almost back together, but I'm none the wiser at the moment as to what exactly is causing that CV noise, because it isn't the CV's.  I took them apart, inspected them minutely, and there's no real discernible wear at all - not bad for joints made in August '72, as these are stamped.  Ah, the days before built-in obsolescence, when they used real metal and real rubber, and built things to last.  I'd be interested to figure out exactly what the bus's carbon footprint will have been over its lifetime - cradle to grave - build costs and recycling costs chucked in.  Even though the fuel economy isn't exactly fabulous, I bet the figure's still better than if I behaved as the auto industry would have me and recycled my car every five years.

The writing is progressing in fits and starts. I can see no finished story at the moment, rather I seem to be putting together discrete, loosely-related sets of chapters that will, eventually, find a common tie - something to bind the whole together in one recognisable story.  It's another way to work amongst this infinite variety of stories.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Something to share...

I should really get this blog back towards my writing and away from my back.  And if I could translate "life" for "blog" too, that would be good.  I thought about heading out for a wave today, but it's just - ooh, 5% away from being there.  Maybe tomorrow - this last bit of waiting seems to be the worst of the lot.

Anyway, enough.  I thought I'd share some writing today,  and actually prove I'm doing some.  Here's a revision of a short story I've been working on off and on for a while - please feel free to download - you can go to Scribd by clicking on the embedded page and take it from there.

Dog and Wife

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Slowing down and waiting

I seem to be waiting a lot this week:  waiting for my back to get better, waiting for bus parts to arrive, and waiting for clearer decks all round so I can get on with some writing, and on a more positive note, waiting for the NZ ski season to really get underway.

My back is improving slowly, although I'm still unsure as to whether the last episode marked a permanent shift in the severity of the spondy - it certainly seems to be more prominent at the moment, but that could also be because the spine's still being pulled out of alignment by muscles in low-grade spasm protecting the injury.  I'm still keeping up the cycling and yoga, though - bizarrely - as I get fitter, the cycling seems to be more a hindrance than a help.  My current theory is that as I get fitter I tend to spin the pedals faster, so using my hamstrings more, which then shorten and place tension on my spine.  Maybe tomorrow I'll just go for a steep uphill grind and see where that gets me.    I still feel a way away from surfing, although I seem to have arrived at a certain level of sanguinity (?) about the whole thing now, as I'm managing to stay fit (ish) in other ways. 

The bus has decided that 107,000 miles is as far as at least one and possibly two of the original CV joints are going to go.  Driving under load the clanking resembles nothing so much as a knight in armour out for a morning jog.  So I've got that particular delight awaiting for me, just as soon as the parts get here.  Doubtless I'll find something else to do while I'm under there too, although I'm shocked that, just for once at WOF time, I don't have a sidelight bulb out. 

I'm still enjoying working my way through this previous half-finished novel I talked about last time.  It's a nice retreat after the thriller, not least because it doesn't have the same restrictions on prose that the thriller genre does - I can walk round the whole carnival of language and take it all in if I want.  It's fun, challenging, and going well. 

And last, Coronet Peak opened this weekend.  I'm wearing my ski boots of an evening to bed them in, gazing longingly at my K2's in the corner.  The kids are nearly fully equipped - when will they stop growing? - more snow is forecast for this week, and I reckon the back will stand up well to a couple of days skiing as long as I don't push it too hard, and the chances of getting the opportunity to do that with an 8 year old in tow are slim.  Bring it on!

Monday, May 31, 2010

I drink to forget...

The temptation to get absolutely stone-cold skull-fucked every night of the week has never been stronger.  After two rounds (more accurately, two bouts of twelve three minute rounds, Queensbury rules, etc) with the Chiropractor, my back still feels rubbish, although I'm prepared to admit that this may in some small part be contributed to by my insistence of cycling 170k in the last few days.  Cycling's usually an activity that helps the back get better, and I may - just possibly - have erred in my thought that more of the same delivered quicker might supercharge the healing process.  So I still feel at least a week away from being anywhere near ready to get back in the sea; a sea which is cooling all the time.  And of course, once you've had time out during a cooling period, getting back in - and on a regular basis too - becomes that much harder, as if the time out instantly turns you into a giant cold-fearing pussy.

The thriller too, has ground to a halt.  Part of me thinks good thing too, it bloody stinks, although this doesn't in any way diminish the temptation to get wildly pissed on that account.  I've started revisiting another novel that I ran out of steam with a few months ago, and I'm pleasantly surprised by what I find: even if I say so myself, some of it's really rather good.  Having something good to work with might just be the kick up the arse I need to get something constructive done, so I'm now comfortable putting the thriller aside for now and working on this.  Who knows, when I get round to looking at the thriller again, perhaps a few months in the wilderness of my hard drive will have knocked it into shape - is that how these things work?

Now, if only it also worked for my fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It never rains but...

It pours.  An hour before I was due to jump into the bus for some me-time down in the Catlins, I decided it might be a good idea to have a quick play with number one son.  Within five minutes I was flat out - my back decided that eight o'clock in the morning was too early for such shenanigans, and so not only did I not go to the Catlins, but I've also spent the better part of this week walking like a question mark in and out of Chiropractors.  And it's pissed down, all week.

Being flat on my back you'd think I had nothing better to do than write, but uh-huh.  It doesn't work like that.  Misery loves company, so my muse fled out of the window along with my disappearing surf trip.  Only in the last couple of days have I even felt like making progress.  I'm still in a semi-stuck phase, but I can definitely feel an unglueing going on, even if I'm only managing 500 words a day.

At least the surf hasn't done its usual trick of absolutley pumping while I've been out of the game.  A huge rainstorm and howling southerlies have swathed the south island in rain and snow this week and kept the surf utterly forgettable.  The forecast looks good for next week though, and I'm just come from spending an hour on the stationary bike (my road bike on a turbo trainer, a true invention of the devil) and some gentle yoga.  With a bit of luck and some more hard work hopefully I'll be in shape to hit the water again just as it comes good.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A hump in the road

Everything is slowing down.  I haven't posted all week, but worse, the novel is stuttering to a crawl.  700, 900, 500 words in a day: it's a far cry from the good progress of a couple of weeks ago.  I think the slowing down is for two reasons. Firstly, I've reached a crossroads where several things could happen and I can't decide what to do, and the reason I can't decide what to do is because of the second reason, which is that the story in its current form feels waaaayyy too linear for my liking, and this is frustrating because this is always going to happen given the way that I write - chronologically.  The mixing around of time lines and viewpoints etcetera comes in the second draft and is (as far as I'm concerned) an editing job rather than an imaginative one but right now it's interfering and REALLY PISSING ME OFF.

Part of why I'm slowing down is that there's an irresistible urge to meddle creeping up on me - to chuck more spanners into my hero's path.  This may or may not be a good thing, but I'm reluctant to do it if I know part of the reason for me wanting to do so is that I'm - well, essentially getting bored of telling this story in its current form.  It has to be right for the story - I think it is, but I need to clear my head on this - on my reasons for doing what I'm doing.  Authoring is supposed to be an act of giving, after all - not one of getting sidetracked solely for my own entertainment.

So off to the Catlins I shall trip this weekend.  I've fixed a couple of leaky pushrod seals and fitted a new dipstick boot, my loving wife has supplied me with a roast chicken flavour dehydrated sick-in-a-bag, and I've caved in and bought a hooded undervest thing for keeping out the cold water.  The swell forecast looks reasonable, the weather not too horrible.  Hopefully my laptop battery will last through a long evening and I'll break the back of this blockage before the reconstituted roast chicken gives me a blockage of another kind entirely. 


Oddly, given the progress on the writing front, I seem to be much happier down here this week.  I had a wonderful surf the other day at small Murderer's and had a couple of hilly bike rides over towards Blueskin Bay where I felt genuinely contented, for a bit.  The impending arrival of the ski season is starting to give me the odd heart flutter, and this morning I saw a Hector's Dolphin playing in the harbour at the end of the drive. Yes, I'm missing my friends up North, but the urge to run back with my tail between my legs screaming "take me!" has faded.  Give thanks, Taranaki.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Getting ready for roadtripping...again

I had another OK day of writing today.  I'm still at a point where I'm going over what has gone before - no teasers yet - but where I'm laying foundations for what's happening next.  Seeing as how I really haven't mapped this bit out, it's exciting, although slow writing.  The plot as it stands so far is pretty detailed and intricate - there's a lot of historical references, which I hope both add interest and authority.  The need to appear authoritative isn't a vain thing in writing, it's essential - it establishes the trust the reader has in the author; and also, as Flaubert said, God is in the details.

I picked up some oil and bits today for servicing the kombi.  I'm planning a roadie on my own down to the Catlins sometime in the next couple of weeks, should the surf and weather co-operate.  The days are pretty short and the nights long, so it'll probably be a one or two night deal, I think.  I'll take the laptop and write while the battery lasts.  My writing career began travelling: I consciously started pursuing this writing dream when I worked out at sea as an observer on Spanish fishing boats on Newfoundland's Grand Banks.  Over four months I penned the bones of what is probably the world's worst novel.




I vividly remember taking this photograph after a morning's writing; on the morning of the first day of the new millennium, feeling the ache of missing my eighteen-month old daughter and wife. I finished that novel two years later, and it occupies a proud position on my bookshelf from where it never moves.  It sits there taunting me really - I am your work.  As a motivator it's quite powerful:  there's a strong sense that in this awful work is something I have to atone for. Yet I'm equally proud of it: it's the stamp that marks the beginnings of my apprenticeship.

The first sketches of that novel were done a couple of years before, on my own again in a plain pension on the small island of Graciosa, just off Lanzarote. In between picking urchin spines out of my feet and trying to stem the flow of blood from scalp wounds - all marks of honour from tackling a heaving left-hander five miles daily walk away - I started writing out characters.  I would never have thought then that Graciosa would be the birthplace of something that would stick with me and possess me like writing - trying to tell stories - has done ever since.  Funny and powerful things happen on the road.

So when I travel solo I always look for and make room to discover new things in my writing.  Hopefully it'll be the same going down to the Catlins.  I'm timing this because I think that I'll be running into blockages soon, and the trip might just head those off.    But before then, I need to change the oil, adjust the valves, fix a couple of leaking pushrod seals and change the dipstick boot, a task which promises to have me swearing in new and interesting ways.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Slowly goes it...

It's definitely shaping up to have been something of a slow week.  I think I'm going to have averaged about a thousand words a day, which isn't really where I want to be but progress is still progress.  I've been distracted by many things: money worries - which aren't immediate yet but who I know are lurking somewhere over the horizon, my wife's job interview, solo care of the kids for a couple of days, and staying up together with all the things I've been selling off on trademe / ebay - so that the first worry stays less immediate; and also that when we come to move back to Taranaki we take a whole let less crap back with us.

As far as the book goes, it's been a relatively easy last couple of days as I'm at a point where I'm essentially recapping what has already been.  I'm feeling the breadth of choices I have from here spreading away in front of me like an ocean: wide, intimidating, and constantly shifting.  If it's not to labour a point too hard - which it is - my confidence in my literary sextant is wavering somewhat.  Best hurry up and get lost, I think.

I've finally accepted that I won't ever build another darkroom and put all my film stuff up for auction, so I've been playing around with black and white conversions in Photoshop to see if I can get anywhere near what I can do with my hands.  Not yet, but I'm excited by the potential.






I've also been trying to evaluate freelance web writing opportunities like suite101.com.  Some people seem to say OK things about this sort of thing, but it seems to be a second income strand rather than the main one which I know I'm going to need before long.  Still, I won't get anything if I don't try, so they're on the to-do list for once this first draft is done.

And finally, the surf's crapped out.  I had a fun wave down the coast yesterday, all to myself.  That little right point is, I think, going to be my salvation while I'm here.  The work I've been doing on my core strength seems to be paying off - I feel like I'm moving lighter and quicker than I've done in - well, years really.  I've frightened myself too, with just how quickly I'm losing pounds now I've decided to watch what I'm eating.  I think I may have more to come off than I thought, although judging by the way it took me ten minutes to get my claw-like hands to cooperate in taking my contacts out when I got out of the water, I'll be burning a few extra calories staying warm real soon...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Flying along...

I rediscovered my writing mojo today.   I sat down at nine and got up at quarter past eleven having written a whole chapter - it felt almost like a stream-of-conciousness style vomiting of words onto the page.  It came as a surprise because I was reluctant to settle, kept on finding other things to do to avoid starting - usually the precursor to a bad day.  After two slow days it was nice to get something feeling like rhythm going again.  I've hit 30,000 words now, which is kind of a milestone in that it marks the end of the beginning, and the starting point for where other projects of mine have run into trouble.  I think I'm clear for the next week at least on where I'm going - after that I guess we'll just have to sit down and grind it out.

Didn't surf today, even though there were good waves on offer.  It felt more important to crack on.  I got out in the afternoon for a "relaxing" cycle, which took the form of a 500m climb (over about 6 k), followed by a descent that bordered on the terrifying, given the cold and greasy roads, then a half-hour bash into a howling headwind.  Yes, I reckon I lost weight today, fo' sure...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Perfect waves...

The great run of surf has continued - more waves out down towards Brighton today.  The peaks were shifting a bit, so I got a good workout out of it, as well as a couple of lil' bombs.  My backhand still feels like it's permanently in panic / survival mode, and I'm waiting for it to loosen up miraculously of its own accord.  What might help is that I've resolved to lose some weight - I'm probably carrying 5kg more than I really could do - so I've decided I'm going to cut bread from my diet and not eat anything between meals except fruit.  I've been trying to avoid empty calories at mealtimes too.  Basically, I'm trying to do all the things I kid myself that I do do, but don't.  I'm trying to cycle more  - I know from past experience it's great for losing a couple of the pounds that are hardest to shift, also fantastic cardio-vascular training for being in the water.  I did 50k on Sunday morning in 1h40, the fastest I've been over that kind of distance in a little while, so I'm not riding too shabbily.  I've also been quite good about keeping up with my core exercises and yoga regimen - the prospect of coming on here and confessing I've dropped the ball is a great motivator.

So hopefully that works for tomorrow as far as the writing's concerned, because I had a slow day today.  I got a little bit done at the weekend, but the overall feeling was one of swimming through treacle. For one reason or another I've been feeling low, and maybe that's why I've been so focused on exercise, as a way of fighting it.  Not getting my words in for the day doesn't help, so tomorrow I'd better fight a bit harder for them.

Peace,

Simon

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A New Day...

I was full of trepidation this morning, after the scare of finding myself so blocked yesterday.  I sat down at 9 am this morning wondering what the hell I was going to write about.  When I looked up an hour later, I'd done a thousand words. Another half-hour and I'd added another four hundred.  Amazed, is the word. 

And yet something's changed:  I know full well from past experience that nothing is guaranteed in writing, certainly not that a stories' end will ever be told.  Yet I'd begun to imagine that this one was so different.  So yesterday was a wake-up call - never to take another day's writing for granted. 

I'm telling myself too, that I can't go back to Taranaki until this book is written, trying to use my homesickness positively.  The temperatures are dropping outside, down around the freezing point at night.  The ski season can't be far off now: once that's started it'll feel like only a matter of weeks before we're getting ready to head north again. 

Small waves again at Blackhead this morning - weak, clear and cold.  I felt cold for the first time in my 4/3, and questioned whether I'd really be able to keep the motivation to keep surfing through the depths of winter.  Fielded phone calls from friends up north last night, stoked that the drought up there has finally broken: surfing good sized waves, warm in their summer suits, well into the twilight.  It's enough to turn anyone into a wuss.  One of the benefits of taking a camera with me is that I can sit and look again at the waves I'm surfing now, in this life, in the warm.  And I really mustn't grumble, must I?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ice cream headaches and stumbling blocks



It was a beautiful, clear morning, so I fired up the bus and headed down the coast, laden down with all the crap I need for a day out: laptop to write, camera, surfboard, wetsuit (and gloves and boots and hood and surf wax and comb etc...), thermos full of coffee, fruitcake, dog, lead, bags for the dog's shit.  It's a wonder the thing moves.


There used to be a rule I lived my life by, when I lived in the UK.  Never, ever wait for the surf to improve, because 95% of the time it'll crap out instead.  Maybe it's something about facing east instead of west, but today I preminisced (is that a word?  Should be, dammit!) that not only would the day warm up if I waited, but the unruly , dropping swell would clean up.  So I found myself a nice place to park and write, walked the dog, took a few pictures.

Writers read, don't they?  I started rereading Robert Harris's wonderful Archangel last night, and in doing so I made at least two fatal errors: One - when creating, never read anyone who writes that bloody well!  Every sentence screams think you're this good? Still think you can do this?  And in Robert Harris's case in particular: So how are you going to research this well?

So I struggled today, toiling long and hard for a measly 700 words that seem thoroughly unsatisfying, but now, in the evening, reading them again, I can see that's thanks to the other error I made:  I let reading someone else influence how I was writing.   

So Robert's gone back on the shelf for now.  I picked it up because his knowledge and depiction of modern Russia is unrivaled, within my reading, and I wanted to bravely steal some of his detail, some of his approach.  I probably wanted to steal too much, so it's going into the after-the-first-draft research pile. 

As for the surf, it was OK. The water definitely seems to be cooling down apace - my fingers felt almost arthritic after being out for a while.  I could tell that I've had three big days of writing when I haven't made time for yoga or exercise, but made plenty for cake and biscuits.  I'm going to have to pull my focus together, on lots of different fronts to stay positive. One thing, I'm learning, does not come without at least one other...or two...or three...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Biorhythyms and back-stories

The last couple of days have got me thinking about the way I write. 

The thing that's really got me thinking about this is word count, that dreaded measure of how well (or otherwise) a story's going.  I seem to be flowing along quite well at the moment by that one metric, but like all statistics, within lies another story.  My usual writing day goes something like this:

0830 - pack the kids off to school, fire up the laptop, and make a cup of tea.  Open the current file, wonder about where to start today.  Check my email, then the weather, then the news.  Then my email again.

0900 - finally get down to actually working.  The first hour always feels like swimming though concrete, until at:

1000 (ish) - review what I've done so far.  This is usually pathetic.  Get depressed, eat biscuits, drink more tea.  Go away and do something else for twenty minutes.

1030 - Come back and sit down, telling myself not to worry about it, and that what I'm looking for is just over there, somewhere - and I'll find it if I keep looking.  This is usually - 75% of the time - my most productive hour of the day.  AT about 1130 my body starts telling me it's time for lunch, time to walk the dog, time to leave it alone for an hour - after which I'll come back to it with renewed vigour.

1300 - come back to it, have another great 30 minutes, and then quickly tire.

After that I usually wind up doing my writerly housekeeping - backing up files, checking email, thinking about blogging. 

What's strange is that these rhythms seem to be set in stone.  Occasionally I manage to break the cycle, but it usually involves more coffee than I'm entirely comfortable drinking in one hit, and is subsequently disrupted by my needing to piss every five minutes and / or my bouncing off the ceiling.  I'm wondering if by challenging myself in the times that I write - I might find myself producing something different to what I would have done otherwise.  What might I produce, for example, if I got up at three in the morning?  Next time I see that on the clock, I just might find out.

                                  *           *          *          *          *

Another thing I've been thinking about today is back-stories, and specifically within the thriller genre, how we introduce and develop them.  The primary duty of a thriller writer, I reckon, is to keep the pages turning, the suspense high.  That precludes long, languishing expository passages, so we've got to fill in the detail in other ways.  This poses problems.

If you're moving the action on, chances are that before sooner or later, some twist in the plot is going to depend on where your character's coming from.  Where are you going to put that in?

You could drip-drip it in.  But then, your reader finds out in chapter ten that Merv has a mustache like a walrus, when all along they've imagined him to be a clean-shaven silky boy.  If they're having to re-imagine - every time they do that, you lose them a little. 

Is there an answer?  I don't know.  Personally, I'd say that it's just "music" - you have to listen again, to your writerly inner ear, and recognise when you need a cup of tea, a walk with the dog, a struggle with a rusty bolt: whatever cures tone-deafness for you...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Unsatisfying interior adventures

Yes, that title's just one of the many reasons I should never try writing erotica.  Went for a spin on Sunday looking for inspiration.  Drove through a beautiful landscape, so different from what's outside the door, only an hour from home.



Gravel roads, beautiful hills, almost no traffic - it was old volkswagen heaven.


Except you can't go near any of it.  We drove for nearly a hundred miles through stunning scenery and saw not a fence, not a lay-by, not one foot-track - just mile after mile of barbed wire.  Finally got to a place called Middlemarch and found a footpath, but couldn't take the dog on it.  Maybe the Taeri council - if there is one - might like to put up a giant sign that says simply: Fuck Off.  It's in the subtext anyway.  If I had an ounce of her talent I'd be doing a kiwi version of Fay Godwin's Our Forbidden Land - someone needs to, before it's too late.


On a happier note, the book's been going very well.  I haven't felt any of the symptoms of running out of steam: I still know where I'm going tomorrow.  I'm annotating my first draft with comments in Word, highlighting all the little things I'm spotting as I'm going that I need to do better or find out:  do Royal Jordanian Airways, for example, serve Alcohol?  (I doubt it.)  Is all their in-flight food halal?  Have I shown my hero's back-story enough - shown that he's made of the right stuff?  (Not yet...) As it is, I'm currently confining my research to establishing the points without which I can't move the story on.  It feels like the right thing to do - to keep the flow going...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cold winds, yoga, and writing by the fire


The run of good surf has continued over the last couple of days, although I managed to ruin one of them by getting myself caught in an offshore drift and having a thirty minute paddle back in.  My routine of core exercises and yoga's paying dividends - I'm feeling much sharper this week than the same time last.

The water continues to cool, and the weather is - well, getting colder than I'm entirely happy about, and it's really only mid-autumn.  God knows what mid-winter and spring are going to be like.  I'm staying happy by planning our return to the 'naki, thinking about the skiing, and ploughing into the book.

Usually, me and deadlines are unhappy bedfellows, especially if they're deadlines I've set myself.  For once, though, I'm keeping up with the work-rate I planned. (When I plan a work-rate, I'm usually drunk, or in a wildly optimistic mood.)  I'm not having any difficulty at all in sitting down for three or four hours straight and knocking out the words, and when I start again, the story is still coming to me easily.  This will change, for sure - every story I write has a sticky patch that becomes an elephant in the room - something I know has to be dealt with, but just can't.

So elephant-free, on I go.  Sometimes I struggle to understand why we do certain things.  For example, when I worked in IT I had a kind of epiphany, a real on-the-road-to-Damascus thing where I realised that I just didn't give a shit, and that I would have to, inevitably, change career.  I couldn't see what good I was doing in the world.  Well, I found a reason for copywriting today.  If you're a copywriter, you could stop things like this appearing.  You could stop my breaking out into giggles like a fourteen year old whenever I see them.  You would make my wife much happier...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Head down...

I had a long day the other day - I did a good day on the novel, took my time over a blog posting, and investigated various stuff on the internet around with the business of being a writer - by which I mean other outlets for writing that I might or might not pursue at some point in the future.  By the end of the day I was almost depressed:  there's so many opportunities that one could pursue that it's almost impossible to sift out the good from the dross.

It did do me a favour, though - I realised just how long I could spend attempting to get a handle on what other people do or don't do, the whole web content thing.  The novel will have to come first, second and last until it's completed.

So I've been cracking on at a reasonable, though not startling rate.  A horrible storm helped keep me indoors and focused, then I got frustrated.  M wife and I have also realised just how much we're missing Taranaki.  After a childhood as an army brat and having been on the move most of my life, it's quite odd to find there yes, there is a place I'd like to call home.  We've been plotting and planning how we're going to go back, and importantly, how to have the most fantastic time we can while we're in the South Island.

And I had a fantastic time today:  Murderers finally turned on, for the first time since we've been here.  Right now I have noodle arms and pumped up thighs, and I'm still seeing that little triangular section in front of me as I raced that last wave.  My backhand's still mostly missing in action after nearly four years with my pick of lefts, but it was nice to get it together and have a magic moment.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Trying not to get fat(ter)

It's a cold, grey day in Dunedin.  The rain is gently falling, the fire is lit, and the dog's absorbing as much of the output as possible.  I think she's half-lizard, but that's by the way.  It's definitely a day for writing, and I've had quite a productive morning.  What it isn't, yet, is a day where I've tied up lots of loose ends - where I've done all those nagging bits of research that are hanging over me, waiting to be done.  Things like studying street maps of Jerusalem, investigating Israeli laws on firearm ownership, which of Israel's borders are open and to what...and that's just what's been thrown up in the last two days!

No, I'm firmly resisting getting on with that, telling myself that it's all detail, to be added and verified in the next draft, that I don't want anything to interfere with the gestation of this - certainly nothing as mundane as facts!  I'll do anything to keep this flow going, and that includes consuming tea, biscuits and chocolate as and when required.  'Ze muse, she only dance when I feed 'er.

So I'm having to be a bit rigorous about finding time in my writing schedule every day to exercise.  I've discovered before that I write - well, utter shite, really - when I'm depressed, or under the weather, so maintaining a healthier body is also maintaining my writing.  Also, the waves down here jack up a whole lot quicker than the ones I came from in Taranaki.  That means I've been doing a whole lot of core exercises and stretching, trying to be quicker to my feet and into it.

For the core stuff, I've been doing some of the exercises in Surf Flex
, a manual of how to ruin your afternoon.  It's bloody good value, though, if only because it will remind you again and again that there's absolutely no point in going to a proper gym until you can do the basics - push-ups, sit-ups etc - properly at home, and then proceeds to demonstrate that you can't.  It'll save you a fortune.

As for stretching, I've been muddling around with yoga for years.  I've never been to a class, as such - I'm far too much of an egotist to go and grunt and struggle in front of a room full of impossibly flexible and serene women, and deep down, I know I'm probably - definitely - enough of a pervert to spend most of the class checking out the scenery.  One day I'll get it together to go - but not yet.  It's the mantra for the last ten years, by which you could correctly assume that I'm not terribly serious about it.

Wii Yoga is just about perfect for me, then.  It keeps me safely away from those that need protecting, has a top score thing for me to fulfill my ego thing by beating the kids,  and on days like today I can stoke up the fire and call it Bikram, just about.   I've been doing it most days for the last two weeks:  my back pain is down, my sleep is better, my balance is slowly improving, and the rest of the family have been happily ripping the piss out of me, safe in the knowledge that the bloody TV will tell me off if I put a foot down to chase 'em...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Quarantine Island...

A few weeks ago I went to Quarantine Island for a writer's workshop - in fact, I went there to lost my writer's workshop virginity.  It's a faintly bizarre place, to be honest.  It's run by the St. Martin's Community, modelled on the Iona community and with strong links to them.  I didn't twig the faith connection until after I went there, and although it wasn't rammed down my throat or even mentioned, I was still surprised at how uncomfortable I am with the whole organised religion thing, maybe after years of living in Cornwall and Wales, where - in my admittedly somewhat biased view of the world - the Wesleyans and Presbyterians have managed to make hard lives worse for generations. 

Anyway, it's a fascinating place, and I got a couple of good pictures out of it, as well as a reminder of how fucked up I probably am when being surrounded by a room full of thoroughly nice people sworn to eternal gentleness makes me break out in a cold sweat.







5 reasons that old school thrillers rule!

I had a mild moment of panic today, thinking through my plot:  It's all very old-fashioned.  By this, I mean that there's bangs and car-chases, phone-calls and dossiers.  Not much goes on in cyber-space, which is where I would, personally, take great care to commit most of any crime I might happen to get involved.

I wondered why this is, and pondered for a minute if it would make an agent throw it back at me, it all being having done so many times before.  Then I decided that no, it wouldn't, for the following reasons.

1) Things that go bang are inherently more exciting than things with keyboards and USB ports. And things with keyboards and USB ports that go bang after someone's put a bomb in them just plain aren't as exciting as a red convertible blowing up, or an evil henchman's black limo.  It's true.

2) Computers are dull.  I know this, because I made my living working in IT for quite a while. By extension, the internet, while a great extension of our social tentacles, is mostly unexciting too, in the thriller sense. The knowledge it contains, the people who inhabit it - they - you - are exciting, but as a fabric or an entity - it's dull. 

3) Thrillers inhabiting computer-world are shit.  Read Digital Fortress by Dan Brown, if you can bear it.  Case closed.

4) The Conspiracy theory has never been more relevant.  After all, never before in the history of man have the workings of commerce done more to try to prove that maybe, Marx was right, as demonstrated by the last two years of banking crises, and the associated amoral bleating of the super-rich.

5) James Bond, Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher - battle scars - yes, RSI in their mouse-finger - no.

I could add to this another personal reason, too - I grew up in Germany during the last days of the Cold War.  I remember school trips to the East German border, massive Allied exercises that took in most of North Germany, and just what a proper enemy the Soviets were:  they goose-stepped, had big parades of missiles, and their leaders were ugly and had no dress sense.  Mrs Thatcher almost looked good in comparison, for christ's sake.  No school like the old school, I say...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Jelly-shouldered and running out of steam

More waves today. I felt tired as soon as I woke up this morning: I think I must have - quite uncharacteristically - caught so many waves yesterday that my arms and shoulders did their week's quota of paddling in one hit. In situations like this I can usually expect the sympathy from the rest of the family to manifest itself as an evening of being called upon to change light-bulbs, fetch things off high shelves, or serve tea with my feet while doing a handstand - anything for the thrill of watching me cry, in fact. I'm not the world's fastest paddler - in fact it's safe to say that if you ever find yourself being out-paddled by me, you need to get your fat arse in a swimming pool, pronto. As for me, I'm not fat. Just insulated.

I don't feel as if I'm running out of steam with the novel, exactly - more that I'm hitting the technical bits which have got to be got right, inevitably making the going somewhat slower. So my word count for the day is pretty modest and I'm going to have to find some time this weekend to ensure that the momentum that I have is conserved. I'm not working to any hard and fast deadline for the first draft, but I want to have the luxuries of putting it away between drafts, of taking breaks when it gets a bit much. If I'm going to get to the final finish line of a finished article within the year, hitting walls is a luxury I can't afford.

I can afford to run the bus, though. For some reason, after having the rear suspension set, it's decided that not only does it enjoy keeping up with the other traffic really, but that it'll do so while doing 23 to the gallon. For an old VW bus, that's almost the height of parsimony. Of course, it's made up for this by springing another oil leak, but with a sheet of newspaper and a squint I can be in denial for months - not a strategy that works for premature ejaculation. Apparently...

On a lighter note, the main highway in and out of Dunedin is closed by the city's second bomb scare in 24 hours. I wonder if it's anything to do with the latitude - do Dunedinites have the same kind of pull that leads Swedes to kill themselves like lemmings, or Finns to drink more meths than water? Well, there'll be plenty of material for another book, anyway...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not the day I expected...

There I was expecting a beautiful, sunny day - like yesterday. I had visions of hiding from the sun in the van after a nice, sunburney-face kind of a surf, willing myself to get something done before I reluctantly trudged home.

Instead it was grey and cold, and I had the heater running at full blast in the van, which is to say that I had a faint trickle of warmth on the downhills and a blast of the good stuff on the ups. I found a little right point down the coast with one guy there, getting out pretty much as soon as I arrived. The pictures are from later on once it got a bit of wind on it, and you can't really tell that it was nicely overhead. But when I arrived it was sheet glass perfection, zipping down the sandbar. My backhand's usually left on the beach, so it was a double pleasure to actually have it in the water with me today.



Then afterwards, I drove down towards Taeri and found a beautiful place to park up and write. I poured myself a cup of coffee and that was that - next thing I knew I'd knocked out a thousand good words and left it right where I knew I could pick it up. How's this for a view from the office?



I thought today was going to be a good day, but it was better. It was one of those that'll have an index card all of it's own in the surfing ledger, to be pulled out and enjoyed again and again. Suddenly, the homesickness for Taranaki and warmer waves I was feeling seems to have dimmed. How much are those electric suits again?