29 April 2007

Writing groups

On Friday evening, I went to a book launch. One of the members of my writing group, Western Women Writers, self-published her second book of poetry. Poetry publishing in Australia is a tough market to crack because it's so small. Margaret didn't seek commercial publication, I think, aware that her book would appeal to a niche market.

There's something inherently satisfying about seeing a project go from inception to published book, to hear the drafts, and to make suggestions, however small, along the way. It's a learning experience. Margaret credited Sherryl, in her talk, for causing a major change in direction in the manuscript along the way. That's one thing I love about writing groups -- hearing someone suggest something and seeing the possibilities.

I also love the support that we give each other. There's a lot to be said for a group where everyone works cooperatively rather in competition, which can happen too. Cooperation leads to everyone celebrating each other's success. In Western Women, the tradition is that when you have a story or poem or whatever accepted, you have to bring cake. Most bring it on acceptance. I tend to wait for publication -- so had to take one recently for a short story that was published in Fantastic Wonder Stories. I'm always circumspect about celebrating too early, because my first story accepted never saw the light of publication. The story, about 1500 words long, was accepted, and I was offered $450, much more than I've had for any similar-length short story I've sold since. Then, a month later, the magazine folded and that was that. I wasn't able to place it anywhere else. Sometimes, I think I should rework it and send it out again, but it's so old now that I look at it and cringe.

We also support each other through taking a plate to something like a launch, and it is lovely holding the finished product in your hand, and catching up with friends who I don't see nearly as much as I should -- some members of another writer's group I used to attend, and past students. The most rewarding part of all though is seeing the look of delight and pride on the writer's face. It's always worth going along just for that!

26 April 2007

What frustrates me

(i) children who won't get up for school and miss buses, then turn up home so that Mum can rescue them (which eats into writing time!) -- Sir Talkalot

(ii) children who have 1 1/2 days off school and insist for 1 1/4 of those that they have no homework, then discover that in fact they have an essay due tomorrow, which they haven't started, plus a major French test on regular and irregular verb conjugations in six different tenses -- Princess Sleepyhead

(iii) children who have parent-teacher interviews and lose their schedule of interview times, so that parents don't know when said interviews are -- Sir Talkalot

(iv) children who throw paint at their siblings when their siblings are in full school uniform -- Princess Sleepyhead

(v) children who turn up after school with unannounced friends (when there is an activity that they have to go to) -- Princess Sleepyhead (who hardly ever has friends home)

That was today. I'm sure tomorrow it will be a different five.

25 April 2007

Anzac Day

Currently reading: The stars, my destination by Alfred Bester. Yes, it's a classic, and I should have read it long ago, but I've got it now, and must say am really hooked into the story...

So, husband, Mr Gadget-Man, asks me last night, "Do you want to go to the dawn service tomorrow?" He's talking about the local service outside the town hall, rather than the big one in the city at the Shrine of Rembrance.

I say no. I'm not a morning person. Too often, I go to bed too between one and two am, trying to get work finished, and his alarm goes off at 6.30. I reckon I average about four hours proper sleep a night, but do a fair bit of dozing around this, and some nights I do go to bed earlier.

Anyway, he asks Princess Sleepyhead if she'll go to the dawn service with him, and she gives a maybe. Sir Talkalot is out at a scout sleepover because they're going to the dawn service. He marched locally with the RSL last Sunday, something the scouts do on the Sunday prior to Anzac Day each year.

So, Mr Gadget-Man's up, trying to rouse the princess, but she's pretending sleep. Because she's a light sleeper, it's easy to tell. So, I think that I'll get up. Drag myself out of bed. Throw on some different clothes. Pull on a jacket and shoes. Hop in the car.

Halfway down to the town hall, I say that it will be nice to see Sir Talkalot, and good for him to see we're interested. Husband looks askance. "He's not there. He's in at the city."


I should know this, of course, but the reality is that, between work and outside writing commitments, sometimes life just flows on by me, and I rely on others to make sure I stay afloat of what I need to. This doesn't always work, but mostly it does.

The ceremony was nice, though shorter than I expected -- it ended well before dawn. Listening to "The last post", I was taken back twenty years to when I made the pilgrimmage to Anzac Cove -- and Gelibolu (as the Turks called it then). Or even Eceabat, which I think was the nearest town. In those days, some Aussies went to Gallipoli, but not as many. We still had the sense, not of being pioneers, but at least of doing something different. The Turks were very friendly, very reverential of the Aussie soldiers -- talked about how well liked they had been, how honourable they were, how respectful and respected. Our guide moved me with his stories. He, as much as the scenery, the atmosphere, contributed to the experience, and brought it home for me. He taught me that it wasn't about doing something different, that through these losses, so long ago, I had a real connection to this place. That this place would remain within me forever. That surprised me. I had never felt more proud to be Australian than standing in the shadow of so many giants. I know they didn't all die well or even bravely, but that doesn't diminish their sacrifice in any way. And whether they fought for a king or a country or a flag or their mates is irrelevant. What they did shaped us all. What all of our soldiers do does -- whether we ask it of them, whether we are pro or anti-war. But I digress...

My poppa (my great grandfather) had fought in World War I, and I always thought he had been stationed at Gallipoli, so I felt drawn to the area, bound to it through him. Later, I found out that he hadn't been there at all, and was strangely disappointed. Being there, and having been there, I found something spiritual, almost mystical there. When we walked the beach, we understood why the film Gallipoli hadn't been filmed there. It must be the most beautiful cemetary on the planet. And walking through Lone Pine, row after row of names -- all so young. I couldn't help wondering what life might have held for them, how different the world might have been had they survived. Liaisons that did form wouldn't have; different children would have been born -- and how might they have contributed? What of those who ended up unborn? What would the world have lost?

My diary was filled with my trying to document the experience, but to this day I remember the awe, the horror, the gratitude, the loss that I felt. Naively, I hadn't expected to be so moved. At last, I understood why my mother always cried (and still does) when she hears "The last post". I wrote a really bad rhyming poem in my diary -- no small effort because I never wrote poetry. Several years later, when Western Women Writers had convinced me that poetry wasn't the scary arm of literature I thought it to be, I revisited the experience and wrote another Gallipoli poem. That placed touched me, as I'm sure it has everyone who has visited since. I understand the pilgrimmage and concede that it's a place every young (and older) Australian should visit. We should remember those Australians that died there as brothers: black and white. And the Kiwis who are as much a part of that Anzac tradition. And those we fought against -- the concept of the mini-truces called so that both sides could bury their dead, and the accounts of the camaraderie between both sides at these times amaze me still.

I just wonder, with the great increase in tourism, whether the local Turkish people are still as friendly, as happy to see pilgrims (seems funny calling them that), because these days it must be a constant stream, and tourism, I think, always exacts its price.

21 April 2007

What I'm not watching

"The West Wing" -- the series finale just finished in Australia. Oh, vale.

Vale. Vale. Vale.

Food for the writer's soul

Last night I went out for dinner with a good friend of mine who's a fellow writer. There's nothing better than spending a long, leisurely dinner talking about our novels and how they're going and what our characters are doing and ... Oh, I was in heaven. Nobody understands the passion of writing like a fellow writer. A fellow fantasy writer at that. We talked about books and blogging and other writers and all sorts of things.

We ate in an Italian restaurant that had wide open windows almost to our waist level, so it was almost like eating outside. After a balmy autumn's day the night was cool, too cool to sit outside comfortably in short sleeves, but this was perfect. We talked about the souvenir I had bought in Swan Hill for one of my characters, and how my dog has just half destroyed that, but how that damage has now flowed into the book as well.

She talked about the excitement of nearing the end of her first draft. Like me, this has been a long labour of absolute love, and so we also talked about the published authors we've heard speak at writers' festivals or conventions who say things like, "I don't particularly love writing. If my book hadn't been published I would have moved on and tried something else." That's a devastating statement for a non-published (at a novel level) author to hear. We know how hard the game is. We know that you need talent and dedication and persistance and more than a modicum of luck (especially with the timing!). One publisher spoke to a group of us telling us that she only takes on one new author a year. Doesn't matter if she has three potential blockbuster newbies; she only takes on one. That's another devastating statement. Bad luck for you if you sub just after she's accepted her newbie.

My friend will celebrate the end of her first draft, and so will I, because it's no small achievement. Many people start novels; far fewer finish them.

We talked about a review of a fantasy novel that I'd recently read (the review, not the book) and how I was surprised to see that it said that the book had left out all the boring bits about fantasy, ie the journey. That was something to reflect on because I love the journey. Maybe it's a hankering for my past horse-riding days, but the journey is one of the major attractions for me about fantasy. My friend loves it too. It brings me back to the science fiction versus fantasy divide that is so apparent in Australian writers -- so many science fiction writers are scathing of fantasy.

I like the quote that Sherryl told me that a writer at a conference she'd gone to in the US said: that science fiction is a literature of the mind, and fantasy a literature of the heart. I can't agree more.

Camp Aspire

I've been meaning to blog about this for the last few days...

Last week, in the school holidays, Princess Sleepyhead went off to Camp Aspire, a motivation and life skills camp, for teenagers. Sending her was somewhat of a no-brainer for me. Recently, I was having a whinge about her behaviour to Bren, one of my writer friends, and Bren said that another writer she knows had sent her daughter off to this camp and said it was fantastic, and her daughter had come back a changed girl. Now, I never expect miracles, and am aware that any kind of change, even a small one, requires great motivation, but, hey, what did we have to lose by at least looking into it? So, thinking it would be horrendously expensive, I got onto Google, and was surprised to find that it was reasonably priced. So I emailed for more details and got a very friendly response. The day I sent off the application, Princess Sleepyhead had a special day at school, run by an outsider, and quite fortuitously the person running it was Dobbo, who runs the camp. Princess Sleepyhead came home so excited -- "Oh, Mum, Mum, he was fantastic." I hoped the camp would live up to the hype.

Princess Sleepyhead came home from camp with chocolate mousse in her left ear and happier than I've seen her in years. At first she talked nonstop about it -- though when we reflected on what she'd said, she hadn't actually told us much. But just to see her glowing with happiness was amazing. That real high lasted two days -- longer than I expected -- and now she's settled back into a more regular routine, albeit with a few minor changes. I think she is a bit more self-confident, and happier, more positive overall. She's keen to go again, and it's something we'll have to discuss, because finances are tight, and Rick's contract's about to finish. But I reckon if we can swing it we will.

19 April 2007

Typesetting and bios

Last night and today I've been doing the typesetting for Poetrix. I rather enjoy typing up the poems because it gives me a better feel for the poets' rhythms. I have to say that this issue is a particularly diverse one with lots of scientific words, which almost made me go gooey inside. I would list them all here, but I've done an unusual thing in that I've done the typesetting before we've actually sent out the rejections and acceptance letters. It's just that the mood hit me, strongly, so I asked Sherryl if I could take them home straightaway, and bring them back tomorrow (that was yesterday, so today). So none have been sent yet -- not that I expect any of the Poetrix submitters are likely to be reading this.

I'm less enthused about typing up the bios. Some authors present me with nice succinct bios that I can just put in as is, but many give me none, in which case they get a "So and So is a poet who lives in Such and Such", which I always find a bit bland. However, I totally respect that some poets may prefer to remain anonymous, or may shy about sharing something about themselves, and that's fair enough. Interestingly, when I'm doing the typesetting, they always seem to be together alphabetically, so I'll have four in a row like this, then several full ones, then another four one-liners.

Lots of poets give me too many lines and then it's up to me to craft their bios. How much crafting I do depends on how squeezed I am for space (decided by how many poets we've accepted, and how many of these are one-liners), how long the bios are, how pressed for time I am and, yes, I hate to admit it, but how good a mood I'm in. Many are long lists of magazines the poets have been published in. I have mixed feelings about these. On the one hand, they are as boring as all get-up to read; on the other, they make the newer poet aware of some of the markets out there. I much prefer the more-personal bios that tell me something about the poet as a person.

Good information to include is a list of the poet's books if she (and I can safely say "she" because Poetrix only publishes women's poetry -- as a result of a very real gender imbalance and bias by some of the male editors who were around at the time of Poetrix's inception). Again, titles let newer and more established poets know who's publishing collections, but also it's a chance for the poet to market something they can sell. As a reader and writer, I'm far more impressed by a collection than a list of magazine titles, perhaps because I have the latter myself, but not the former?

What I don't see much of are silly bios -- they seem to be more prevalent in SF magazines, and some of my friends write these. Sometimes they're pretentious. Sometimes they're wacky and amusing. Sometimes they're just nonsensical. I'm ambivalent about these. Occasionally, I think they give me a sense of the writer's personality, but more often I just think they look unprofessional. I've done them myself in the past, but not in the last few years. I must admit I hate writing bios. Mine always seem boring -- a statement of facts, but at least I don't have to worry that some editor might read over it and think me a total nut.

So back to today's. I try to treat all author's the same, ie allot them all the same number of lines. If they don't use their quota, that's fine, and if they exceed it, then snip, snip. I start with maybe five or six lines each, then whittle down. I think that in this issue, bios will run to five lines, but sometimes it's only three. Today I've edited by the newspaper principle -- ie assuming the writer put the most important information first. However, for one author it meant the long list of magazines got in, and the collection didn't, so I cut the list. I'd rather cut the whole list than a few titles in it (though I did leave in some Best of... titles, as they are more impressive). So, tomorrow, I'm returning the poems, which will give me a break so that when I do the first round of proofs my eye is fresh. Then the group will do a second round of proofs later. I'll sit out at that stage, because by then I'm too familiar with the work, and the mistakes will all be my own, so I'm more likely to miss them. Proofreading is a slow and laborious process, but oh what a difference it makes.

18 April 2007

Poetrix meeting

Today, Western Women Writers had our Poetrix meeting. I'm not sure how many other magazines manage their submissions by editorial committee or for those who do how crazy their meetings are, but this one was a doozy. We always have fun -- and this has been heightened by our adapting visual cues to indicate whether or not we like a poem. It's much quicker than having to go around the circle, and everyone saying yes or no. So a vertical arm above the head is a yes, a horizontal arm position in front of the body is a maybe, and a maybe-yes (for those of us fence-sitting) is a diagonal position in between yes and maybe.

But today Margaret one of our members was sick and couldn't attend the meeting, so I had to be two people -- my left arm was my responses and my right arm was hers. I had trouble enough keeping track of who was doing what, but when we both said yes, I felt like a cricket umpire indicating a six.

I'm not sure why the hilarity level was so high, other than that we had started in high spirits anyway, but I joked that Margaret must be the serious one because we were almost besides ourselves today. Much discussion of the poems followed, and led to some intriguing oneliners. Five of us comprised the committe this time, and a poem needed at least three yeses to get in, and two yeses and two maybes to get on the maybe pile. Once we'd finished going through them all, Sherryl counted the number of poems, and estimated the extent of the mag at this stage, and then we started on the maybe pile, and this was when the fun (and negotiation) really began. Two of us "stood on the table" for poems today -- poems that we felt really strongly about but which didn't have a big enough consensus to get in. We figure if someone feels strongly enough to fight for it, then it's probably a worthwhile inclusion. (Metaphorically standing on the table is a tradition that dates back to the early days of Poetrix when Lissa, one of our members, fought for one that we all didn't like, and we all said no, so she read it out to us, and we said no, so she read it out in a louder voice, and we said no, and so she read it even more forcefully, and we said no, and someone told her she had to get on the table to read it, and she said she would, and we decided then that she felt so strongly we should just accept it or she'd never shut up. Then, lo and behold, we got a letter from someone who said they loved that poem. I think that was a lesson to all of us, one we've learnt well from.

Anyway, we had lots of great poems for this issue, which made the competition fierce -- a problem all editors welcome, I'm sure. By the end of the session, we felt like we'd done a good job. Now comes the worst part: sending out the rejection letters. Depressing, because we're all writers and understand what it's like to receive them. But the reality is that we can't accept everything we receive, and perhaps, in the long run, that makes those acceptence letters so much more worthwhile.

17 April 2007

Becoming a student

Every few years every teacher should have to become a student again to see what life's like on the other side of the teacher's desk. At the moment, Sherryl, Susanna (another fellow teacher) and I have joined our students in a class learning how to use Dreamweaver.

Since the class began, I have swapped computers in the computer lab, and had previously downloaded some files onto that first computer because I didn't have my USB stick with me. So today I started by redownloading the files (that I was already supposed to have) onto my stick. Now my stick is quite old, so quite small by modern standards, and I hadn't realised it was full. So here I was trying to get files that wouldn't load, and meanwhile the teacher had moved on to something else. By the time I realised what my problem was, I was so far behind that I had almost no chance of catching up, and though I had been listening, the amount of information was such that I had no hope of remembering it. And I didn't.

As the class went on I felt I was really floundering, and though I did catch up in the end, with some help from Sherryl, the experience was a timely reminder of how students can struggle -- even those that we might expect to be coping or who might look like they're coping. There are lots of reasons students won't speak out about the troubles that they're having. I'm a fairly open person, and don't mind being honest about things like that. But not all students are. Sometimes they won't speak out for fear of looking silly, or because they're shy. (I used to be like that.) They might think asking questions will make them look like they're sucking up, or might piss off their peers.

I tell my students that there's no such thing as a stupid question in my class -- and I do welcome all questions. I had that lesson driven home to me when I was doing my science degree. I remember a student asking what I thought was a genuine question, and the teacher saying, "Oh, so we have one of those, do we?" And then going on to ridicule this guy for asking what she thought was a ridiculous question. My respect for her plummeted, and ultimately if you haven't got the respect of your students, you haven't got any chance of having a successful and rewarding class.

16 April 2007

New blog

One of the things I love about having my own blog is that I'm reading all my friends blogs a lot more. It's so much easier to keep up with people. One of my friends, Heather, is teaching in Morocco, after doing a stint in Fiji for a few years, and she's just started a blog of her own, which means I'll be better able to catch up with what she's up to. I've put her link in the sidebar -- prettty obvious which one it is.

15 April 2007

Changes: our trip away

In January, when I visited Swan Hill, I didn't imagine I'd be back so soon. I love the Murray River -- my great-grandfather was a paddlesteamer captain at Echuca, so I guess it's in my blood. We get up to Echuca from time to time, but don't really have much family up there anymore. Anyway, Princess Sleepyhead was going away to Camp Aspire, so it seemed like a good chance to take Sir Talkalot away and not have her feeling like she was missing out because I was away with her brother. Plus I'd enjoyed my time away with her -- we don't have long bursts of one-on-one time together like that gave us.

Bridge over the Murray, looking back at Swan Hill

As with Princess Sleepyhead, most of the time Sir Talkalot and I spent up there was at the Pioneer Settlement Village, a great place to amble around. There's so much to see and do -- including a paddlesteamer to ride, and a sound-and-light show. Both children spent a lot of time in the pottery, painting ceramic figures that we purchased. Both times I've done one as well, so that I'm not sitting around getting impatient. (This time I've done one for a fellow writer who is having a birthday shortly, so that was kind of nice!) Princess Sleepyhead wanted to dress up to have photos done, but Sir Talkalot wasn't as keen to do this. Both wanted to ride in the horse and cart, and vintage car -- both of which were free. Princess Sleepyhead and I were fascinated by the spectroscopic theatre, Sir Talkalot not so much. Both kids participated in the kids' activity -- a treasure hunt for Princess Sleepyhead, which I thought was particularly clever because part of the "treasure" they had to find was three pieces of litter, and a mystery with clues for Sir Talkalot to solve. Both wanted Wanted Posters done at the offset printers, which was run by a Dutchman who came from near where my dad grew up. My only gripe the whole time was that it was hot. Hot, hot, hot. But the beauty is that they have a two-day pass, so when it gets too hot you just go home and chill off by the pool.

Bridge from the Pioneer Settlement to Pental Island

My first visit to Swan Hill and the Pioneer Settlement was when I was in Grade 5 or 6, and we went on a school visit. The only part I remember -- and I remember this vividly -- was going onto the paddlesteamer (non working) they have on display, the Gem, and somehow, with a group of friends, getting locked in a bathroom with a bath filled with a black, foul-smelling liquid that made me feel ill. Very ill. The room was hot and airless and the smell overpowering; soon I was dry-retching. I thought I was going to die. I think we were in there for an hour all up, though this time factor may have been exaggerated by how bad I found the experience. I couldn't quite serve out my nostalgia now, because you can walk onto the Gem, but most of it is roped off while they're doing restorative work.

I'm amazed and yet not at the number of volunteers who give their time to work there. They really add to the experience. And of course much of what they do is not in the public eye.

Typical street view in the Pioneer Settlement

Perhaps the biggest difference between this trip and the one a few months ago was that Princess Sleepyhead wouldn't get up and get going, which is always frustrating. But I was determined not to be frustrated -- we were on holiday after all, so I took a book and read and read and read. I love reading -- what writer doesn't? -- but I find that betweeen reading students' work, reading for Poetrix and reading for work, and just the daily life stuff, I don't get nearly as much time for reading for pleasure as I should. So holidays are a great chance to catch up on some books -- in that case it was finishing off Philip Pullman's Northern Lights series, which I found very interesting. This time, I took a Mary Gentle tome away, but spent my spare time editing the chapters I've recently rewritten on my novel. Working on a novel is such an obsessive thing -- I lie in bed thinking about it, I walk around thinking about it. My characters are my constant companions. I drove Sir Talkalot mad because I bought a souvenir -- a small stuffed frog -- for one of my characters, and he couldn't understand that at all. Writers! We're all a mad lot.

14 April 2007

Today on the road between Bendigo and Kerang

In January, I took child no. 1 (daughter) to Echuca and Swan Hill for a few days, while child no. 2 (son) was on a scout jamboree in Elmore. Child no. 2 went to Echuca as part of his jamboree activities, and we caught up with him there, but never made it as far as Swan Hill. Child 1 and I had a great time, largely spent at the Pioneer Settlement Village, and I decided to take Child 2 along these holidays because no. 1 was going to a motivational camp. I'll blog about all of this later -- not tonight as I want to go and do some "real" writing (ie work on my novel).

But today, driving home, I saw this (see below picture) on the road on our way back to Bendigo. Not just one, but several.

I pulled over to take some photos, watching the one above disappear into the distance, when whammo another came across and swamped me in dirt. I could feel it on my skin, as grit in my nose, smell it, taste it. The clean smell of dirt. Sounds funny, but clean in a microbiological sense.

It reminded me of the dust storm in Melbourne in the 80s. I was working in a pathology lab at the time, and we saw Melbourne disappearing before our eyes. No-one knew what it was. I remember the pathologist's daughter, ringing up, hysterical. The other scientists were talking about the end of the world. Overly dramatic perhaps, but the unknown tapped into some primeval fear in all of us -- we just didn't know what was happening. I thought it was a fire, some huge one like the Great Fire of London, destroying the city as we watched. But then before it seemed quite upon us, we could smell it, feel it, taste it. All that quality topsoil blowing through the city streets. Such a waste. And here it was again, in minature -- without the hysteria, not as spectacular, just another reminder of the drought that seems so much part of our lives.

10 April 2007


Well, today I've officially passed the halfway mark with the rewrite of my novel, which is exciting. This is the last rewrite I'll do (unless some editor signs me on and wants me to do more, of course!). I love rewriting. I love fleshing things out, tightening up phrasing, making the dialogue more oblique, honing images, adding texture. But I'm conscious with this draft that I have to cut words. This draft started at about 193,000 words, which is too long for a first novel. Too big a risk for a publisher to take. So I'm aiming to finish with 170,000. I'm down to 188,000 so far so have got a fair bit of cutting to do yet.

What worries me is I've removed whole chapters from the first half and cut a few POV characters, and all I've lost is 5,000 words. Still, when I've finished I'll do a final editing pass -- in the past I've done the cut-ten-words-out-of-every-page approach, and that's helpful too. With the novel at well over 600 pages, that's 6000 words straightaway. And really, I've reworked the beginning more recently than the end -- I abandoned an earlier draft that was a tightening draft because I decided the whole thing needed rewriting, which is what I'm doing now. So, the words should come out of the second half more easily than the first. At least that's what I'm hoping. If not it will be tighten, tighten, tighten.

Many of my students come into Novel 2 having done short story writing as well. They all know that in a short story every word has to count. But I tell them that every word has to count in a novel as well. There's no room for padding, for flab. We all want to write the best novels we can -- novels that make the readers stay up well past when they want to go to bed, and flabbiness is a surefire way to put them right off. So I'm going to relish my cutting -- that's what editing is about: taking a rough stone and polishing it until it becomes a gem.

09 April 2007


One of the big changes to our household over the past six months has been getting a dog. I haven't had a dog for years. When I was very small we had a black Labrador, and then when I was a teenager we got a Golden Retriever that we named Lapper. She was a lovely dog, and we had her for fifteen years, and it broke my heart when she died.

When Rick and I married, we got two cats: Minou and Tess. Tess went missing when she was about eight months old -- we think she was killed by a dog. Minou suffered eosinophilic granulomas, which meant she was on long-term steroids and then chemotherapy for a long time. We had her for about twelve years till she got cancer. The kids were heartbroken.

Then we got Beth. She's black and tabby (as opposed to Minou's tabby and white). We inherited Beth from someone who lived in a bedsit at the back of my parents' old place. He was moving out and couldn't take the cat with him, so we interited her. He got her as a grown-up cat from the RSPCA, so we don't know how old she is. She's lovely, but typically aloof.

Rick and I talked for a while about getting a dog. I've always wanted another Golden, so Georgia seemed a natural addition to the family. Rick wanted a Toller, but they're a bit harder to come by. The kids are really enjoying having a dog, and can't get over how different it is to having a cat. Mind you, they're supposed to feed and walk her, and of course we know who always ends up doing that. Anyway, it's good exercise for me, so I'm happy.

Anyway, here's a photo I've taken of Georgia. It's the first photo taken on my new camera. It's so nice to have a camera again, even if it's not yet an SLR!

Pearls before breakfast

You must read this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html?hpid=topnews

Spoilers ahead. Read the article first!

I found this link on Miss Snark's blog, and it sounded interesting -- a virtuoso violinist playing his Stradivarius as a busker on a metro station -- and, wow! It was long, and only the first video loaded for me, but -- wow! By the end, my eyes had welled up, the article moved me so much. And that's unusual for me. It's a fascinating read, and to say what it was that moved me would be to give too much away, but suffice to say what moved me was not the amazing number of people who didn't react, but those who did. Ah, and I've probably given too much away (hence I've added the spoiler alert). On the other hand, perhaps it isn't that unusual for me -- in movies etc it's often the "noble" things people do that move me. In this case, I was moved by those who did appreciate the beauty of the music, of the performance.

Human behaviour is a funny thing. This article has given me something to think about -- and really what more can any writer ask? To me, human behaviour, why we do what we do -- it's my quest to understand this that leads me to write fiction.

08 April 2007


Currently reading: Amazing facts about Australian landforms by Allan Fox, with photos by Steve Parish (Steve Parish publishing)

Well, we went shopping yesterday, and two of the three cameras we'd been looking at aren't available yet, so we ended up buying a cheap point-and-shoot-type camera to tide us over. Which means I can take photos again. Yay!

Then today we went to visit our son at scout camp. My husband wanted to go early, but our daughter wouldn't get out of bed, and I wasn't being very cooperative -- because I was writing! Which not only meant that I wasn't getting ready, but it also meant I wasn't doing my share of nagging Sleepyhead to get up.

The camp was a one-and-a-half hour drive away, and we didn't get there till well after 2.30 pm. Ahem. Yes. Well, at least this year said son wasn't worrying that we weren't coming, the way he did last year when we didn't turn up at about 10 am.

Scout camp

Sleepyhead, who has reached that age where she doesn't really want to do stuff with the family anymore, got to have a go on the flying fox and on the crate stack -- an exercise where the scouts wear harnesses and have to stake milk crates, vertically, and climb up onto them. It looks difficult as the crates sway and come unstuck pretty easily. They were told they'd get extra points for doing a song or dance on top, but neither of my kids made it. They both fell with about one crate to go. Never mind. I think in the end Sleepyhead was glad she'd made the effort and gone because she had a lot of fun -- plus gave us both a heart attack by crawling upside-down like a sloth across a climbing apparatus. Giving us a heart attack is always a bonus for her. She has ADD, and a history of doing dangerous things. Lack-of-fear is her middle name, and, boy, don't I have the grey hairs to prove it!

Crate stacking

Anyway, back to the camp: we saw a large mob of kangaroos bound past for the almost empty dam, and a couple of kookaburras.

I sprained my ankle about two months ago, and it's still quite dodgy, so had to be careful walking around, especially on the "road", which was really dust about five centimetres deep. Last year the road was hard ground. Not anymore. Sometimes you see the effects of the drought in unexpected ways. The scout leader told us that the local vintners are all draining the table water out of the land through their bores. I wonder what happens when it's all gone, when the salt rises. Sometimes I think we haven't learnt anything about living in this land.

06 April 2007

Old hobbies never die

I used to be a keen photographer. Very keen. I studied medical photography for six months as an elective as part of my science degree and contemplated moving in that direction but didn't. I learnt the delights of an SLR -- when they said as part of the course we would have to buy an expensive camera, I thought we were talking forty bucks, not several hundred. I ended up with an Olympus OM-1, the last of the mechanical SLRs -- I was tossing up between the OM-1 and OM-10, but opted for mechanical over electronic as I thought it would be more robust. I remember going to one shop, and they espoused the virtues of electronic over mechanical; the next shop did the opposite, leaving me quite bamboozled. But I made my choice, and was happy when my teacher said that yes I'd done the right thing. After the course, I considered setting up my own darkroom -- something I've always intended to do and never managed.

Anyway, I ended up taking that camera travelling, and shot around 99 x 36-exposure films in 18 months. I even had one paid photography gig while I was away, photographing a 21st birthday party for people who I'd been working for in Surrey, England.

I loved that OM-1, but eventually it broke down and went to the big camera heaven in the sky -- after several hundred dollars of repairs that didn't fix the problems. I despaired. That camera had gone everywhere with me. It had captured landscapes, the first steps of my children and a host of things inbetween. My husband had an OM-40, which I inherited because he didn't use it, but it never worked properly, I think mainly because it had spent too long not being used, so various seals and things had degraded.

Anyway, for a while I was camera-less and bereft. I wandered through family events not knowing what to do with myself, but did learn to appreciate that adage about people behind the camera being too busy trying to capture life on film to actually experience it. Always, when I travelled, the photo was my ultimate consideration. What was the best angle to catch that shot? Did I need to over or underexpose?

I always intended to get another SLR. Couldn't imagine living without one. But our budget was limited, and my husband wanted to go digital, so we ended up with a cheap point-and-click type camera, which took quite good photos. My son, who would lose his head and all his toes if they weren't glued on, borrowed the camera to take to a scout jamboree earlier this year, and of course the camera was stolen. Now I'm camera-less again, which gives me a good excuse to think about buying one. Even better, I'm going to be team teaching Photography for Writers later this year, and all the students are expected to have a digital SLR, so to teach it I'm going to have to have one too.

So, now I'm busy researching cameras that really are beyond my budget. And I find that I was so in love with my OM-1, that my heart tells me I can't look beyond Olympus. My head tells me the same thing since between us, Rick, my husband and I have an assortment of Olympus-compatible (Zuiko and Tamron) lenses, and you can buy converters to attach these to your digital SLR.

In the meantime, I'm busy looking into the differences between digital and film SLRs, which includes things like focal-length conversion factors because the image captured is smaller on a digital SLR than the 35 mm negative of an SLR. It's all so exciting. I can't wait to share my knowledge of things like colour temperature with the class, mainly because I think if they have a good grounding in such things, they'll understand not just what white balance is but how it works. So I'm burying myself in the internet and in magazines, and itching to go shopping, though a couple of the cameras I'm considering don't seem to be on the market yet, and I'm not sure I'll be able to wait long enough for their release. I just wonder whether I'll return to my earlier obsession with photography once I have an SLR again. I suspect I will. Nothing like a good obsession to keep you happy really. That's what writing is too -- it's obsessive, compulsive, and I just love doing it.

05 April 2007

The business of writing

One thing I hate is how much time the business side of things takes up -- the looking up of guidelines, the preparing of a story, keeping track of it, all that sort of stuff. I suppose, if I'm honest, it's the preparation that's time consuming, and it's because I've always got to have a final read over it before I send it out to the wide unsuspecting world. And inevitably I find it needs tweaking. There's an awkward sentence here, a word that could be improved there, a weak verb coupled with an adverb there. Today, I've had the extra fun of getting something ready for the US market, which means thinking about all the spelling and punctuation.

I still remember an editor friend of mine who got an abusive letter from someone in the States because there were so many spelling mistakes on her website. Only they weren't spelling mistakes -- they were words that are spelt differently.

Now, for me, it should've been as easy as changing the PCs dictionary from Aus-English to US, which I did, but it still flagged the Americanisms as wrong. So I had to do a read through, and noticed that while I had changed "travellers" to "travelers" most of the time, I had missed one -- perhaps one I'd added after a global search and replace? Then I came across "armour" and "organise" -- all of which I thought I'd fixed. But I wonder about the words I might have missed, the ones I never suspect, like "ax" for "axe", the ones that just look completely wrong. Sometimes I got out my old trusty Webster's dictionary, a behemoth of a book if ever there was one. Then I started trawling, which hopefully picks up any I'm suspicious of, but not those I'm not, of course. Anyway, the sub's done, and I've posted another off to a competition, so I feel I've been successful, even if I haven't done any writing yet. Hopefully, tonight...

04 April 2007

Writing group at the movies!

Every Wednesday, my writing group, Western Women Writers meets. Generally, we alternate what we do: one week it's writing and the next workshopping. Occasionally, we have Poetrix editorial meetings or other "business" type activities. Very occasionally we do something different. Today, being school holidays and all, we went to the movies to see Becoming Jane, a movie about Jane Austen's life and a possible romance that she had.

I love the movies at the best of times. I'll go at the drop of a hat -- pardon the cliche -- if time allows it. Often it doesn't. I'm too busy marking or caught up with kids' stuff or whatever. But movies about writing are a double bonus. And there seems to be a few of them out at the moment. Last week, Sherryl and I saw Freedom Writers, which I loved and would like to take my kids to. And there's Miss Potter, which I haven't made it to yet. I'd better hurry for that one or I'll miss out.

So, a small group of us went, had lunch, workshopped a story and then went back to Jane Austen's time. I must say I enjoyed this movie, but I'm a bit of a sucker for a historical romance. And for green landscapes, which seem to be a foreign thing in much of drought-stricken Australia. Even when it is green here, it's not that green. The first time I was struck by that was when I went to New Zealand in my early twenties. I couldn't get over the colours. Ditto when I went to England a couple of years later.

My daughter, who tagged along to the movie, thought it was too mushy and boring. I didn't think it was either of these things, but that's teenagers. She just wants the latest violent horror story, and knows I'm going to say no to it. While I don't mind a bit of movie violence myself (like Helm's Deep for example), I try to restrict what they see, which isn't to say that they're not allowed any -- they have seen the Lord of the Rings films for example -- but I am mindful about how much exposure (and whether it's gratuitous or not). I think all parents have lines, but we all draw them in different places, and each of us must decide what's right for our own families.

03 April 2007


It's mid-semester break and I've got two weeks leave. Technically, this means I should be doing lots of writing, because I'm not at work, and I'm not preparing classes. Well, that's the theory anyway. I'm not totally free of work as I have written a two-page grammar test for my first year editing class, and I've got novel chapters to workshop.

I have done some writing, but not as much as I'd like. The trouble is that my kids are home too, so there's the obligatory let's-go-on-a-few-more-outings kind of stuff, which is fun, but there's also more time spent breaking up fights and running them here and there. Yesterday, for example, I had to go to my son's high school, and get him the winter school uniform. And I had to pick up my daughter from a friend's house, so then I had three of them and that meant more fighting too. In a way, it's easier to write in non-holiday time, even though I'm trying to get more stuff done for work. On the other hand, I do get more time to read for pleasure, which is always something to relish.

Anyway, I've flagged this afternoon as good writing time, so I'd better get off and get onto it!

02 April 2007


I'm currently in the middle of a major rewrite of my first novel. I call it a major rewrite because I am retyping the text -- it's not just an edit where I fiddle with the language or add a bit more setting here or sharpen an image there. I talk to my students about the importance of re-vision, as opposed to just revision, the act of re-seeing the novel, reimagining it.

The way I approach this is to have a quick reread over what I've already written, and then think about what I was trying to achieve in that scene, and whether the scene is as effective as it can be. Then I have to put the old scene aside and have another go at it, without looking at what I've written. I can't look over it again, or I find I'm just copying the same sentences, perhaps with a few minor changes. Totally pointless.

It's easy to re-vision a scene that feels flabby or that isn't working as hard as it can. It's the scenes I'm really happy with that I find the hardest, because there's always that temptation to go with what's already down. But the rewritten scenes are invariably stronger than the original, so I have to resist that urge. When I'm finished, I can always compare the two and take back anything that seems absolutely fabulous that has now been omitted. Occasionally, I do take a sentence or two, but often these are moved to someplace new.

The draft is chugging along nicely, and it's the first draft I've been really happy with, so now I just have to make sure I keep my bum on my seat and keep at it.