Monday, July 31, 2006

Bitty Booties

bitty booties
bitty booties,
originally uploaded by nellup.
Look what I made. These are a present for my new niece or nephew to be, who will be born this week - hooray!! I've never sewn anything before (I'm pretty sure I didn't even complete anything in home ec at school) so I very proud of myself.
Truly super excellent pattern available here:

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Then Want Must Be Your DARK Master
This is what we say to Fred, and now she says it too, want must be your daaark master. We shake it up occasionally: your black prince, the overlord of your heart.
Speaking of dark masters (what a segueway), I am now in training to be one. Ah, not really. But I am freshly enrolled in a Masters of Creative Writing at the hallowed University of Melbourne. I am not used to my universities having ambience. (Uni of Tas, nope. Monash? Well, I remember a Melbourne University guest lecturer really pissing off my Monash lecturer by saying 'Every time I come out to Clayton I can see another ugly building has been built.' Ah Monash, you were ugly but interesting. Ditto Flinders. Ditto RMIT. Actually RMIT has groovy art deco bits but I never went into any of them, they were strictly reserved for the university section, I was in the functional utilitarian Tafe building instead. Uni of Adelaide had ambience...walking down the main staircase from the Classics department was like being Scarlett O'Hara, but it almost doesn't count because I only attended about three classes and therefore didn't walk down the staircase very often. Gosh. I've been to a lot of universities.) But Uni of Melbourne has ambience up the wazoo. It is also already the most chaotic institution I have attended which says a lot, considering I once got a letter in the mail from RMIT to tell me I wouldn't be getting my results because they didn't have enough stationery.
So I had my first class on Tuesdays, after wading my way through a particularly difficult essay on Time and Narrative by Paul Ricoeur. The course seems very removed to me from the practice of being a writer and from the publishing industry, it's not about craft, it's about something else, kind of about situating yourself in a wider critical context as a writer (a potentially paralysing and angst-ridden exercise if you ask me). Academia is it's own country, with a language of its own. I've been living outside it long enough to find it absurd (I sniggered internally when someone said, in all seriousness, 'so if there's no text, does that mean there is no time?', which I hasten to add was a perfectly valid observation in the context of the paper), but hopefully the absurdity will wear off.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

We went to Queensland a family of four...
No! I'm not pregnant. But we have acquired another child. Her name is Bella. We can't see her, but she's definitely there. She appeared on Tuesday, a natural progression from Fred's team of imaginary guinea pigs. It's a classic imaginary friend, if we lift Fred up to sit somewhere then Bella has to be lifted up too. Martin had to cook Bella pancakes this morning. Bella and Fred both had to have a special plate. They both had to have pancakes with vegemite (I know!) In the end, Fred and Martin 'helped' Bella to eat hers. Bella has a brother. Bella is usually a girl, but sometimes she is a boy. So far she is no trouble, but when Martin suggested we employ Bella as a babysitter, I said we needed to wait and see if she is good or bad.

On a similar note we have acquired a useful new word. If Fred doesn't want to eat something and she hasn't got a good reason why, then she will tell us it's too 'spund'. It's a difficult vowel sound to spell, but the closest I can come is the German 'u'. She is hoping it will be as effective a word as spicy, which is a very powerful word, if something is spicy, Fred knows she doesn't have to eat it. She is actually a very good eater (adventurous, likes veggies, will try most things, though not keen on chilli or black pepper) but her recent bout of illness plummetted her back into the dark period of her life where, for about 18 months she would only eat apples, yoghurt and bananas and then only on odd numbered days when the moon was in the fifth quadrant. Or whatever. Still good on her for inventing a new word to describe that feeling of ennui one gets as a child when one is not quite hungry and is faced with tedious foods like dry crackers and broccoli and chips. (Also a new development. Chips are spund. Carrots, however, are not.)

Friday, July 21, 2006

I'm back

I'm back teeming with fresh ideas, filled with nourishing novels and a sun-bathed soul, ready to finish Rise.
I highly recommend paradise, the girls loved it.

We seem to have come home to a cold snap, 3 degrees in Melbourne this morning. Brrrr.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Eglantine at Rest
We are emerging from a week long fug of lergy and revoltingness just in time to disappear for 8 (hopefully) glorious nights to paradise.
See you when we get back, full of the zen.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Here it is!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Kaitangata Twitch by Margaret Mahy
I just read this book (you can read an excerpt here), which is being promoted as a supernatural eco-thriller - what a genre! It is a beautiful book though. Margaret Mahy has such fun with language, but is graceful too - she molds it both as a gifted sculptor might, smoothing a perfectly even surface, but also like a child joyfully squishing bright pink playdoh through her fingers. She creates an astonishing sense of internal logic with her magic and executes it apparently effortlessly though I am sure it's not.
This is not her strongest novel, it didn't make my mind spin like The Changeover or Tricksters, nor did it have the sophisiticated and complex characters of The Catalogue of the Universe (my favourite) or the oh-so-light, deft structure of The Haunting. But it does have her trademark happy, messy family relationships; likably clever and thoughtful child characters; a strong sense of place and a rich vein of magic which rings true in the context of the novel. It was lovely to be absorbed in a Margaret Mahy book again. I'll be interested to read her Maddigan series some time, it looks quite a departure from her other books.
I am taking Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith on holidays with me next week. I have been saving them up since Christmas...
I saw the US cover of Breathe today (only in B&W unfortunately) in Greenwillow's winter 2007 catalogue. Looks great! I have asked them to send me a colour copy, so I might be able to share it soon.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Online Resources for Writers; Tips for Plotting and Planning a Novel
I don't know if I've mentioned this much but I am an editor as well as a writer. More specifically, I'm a reader. I read manuscripts. These days mostly contracted ones - which means ones that are almost certainly going to be published - but for a few years I read all of Allen & Unwin's unsolicited manuscripts, the thousands of manuscripts sent in each year by writers (some of them who have been published previously but most of them newbies). I'm kind of like a novel doctor, I poke around in the guts and diagnose problems and suggest ways to fix them. When I'm working on a manuscript I'm as close to it as I am to my own novels. I get pulled into the world and I think about the logic of it, I live there for a while, I walk around in the characters' skins (lucky real doctors don't do THAT, eh?). Anyway, I think one of the main things writers struggle with is STRUCTURING a novel and creating a plot (which aren't actually the same thing but they kind of are too).
The snowflake method for writing a novel is a planning technique which I am currently using for Rise. I wouldn't use this as a complete starting point, because I think it's more important to capture the voice first - the most elusive and most important ingredient of any writing...capturing it is the closest thing to true magic any writer does. In fact, I would say what separates writers from non-writers is voice, I know a page in if a manuscript is going to be completely unpublishable and that's because of the lack of distinctive voice - I'd say this is true for 99/100 manuscripts that land on an editor's desk. Distinctive voice isn't everything, but if you've got it, youll probably be a writer, if you've got the work ethic and the drive and you're not better at being an accountant which pays a great deal more money and has better hours. But once you have the voice (maybe you've written a few chapters, in my case I'd written seventeen but ten of them weren't working - groan), then this is a great way to unblock yourself, to cure yourself of a bad case of the meandering nowheres.
This book is great if you're stuck: 20 Master Plots. It gives you twenty basic plot structures, such as Quest (classic LOTR type stuff, and actually most stories fit into this category to a degree, because most stories are based around characters who develop and learn from their experiences), Pursuit, Rescue etc. Actually you can read some of the book here, but you really need the book to follow it properly.
This website which is dedicated to this book called The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler is a great resource - if you own one book about plot and structure this would be a good one. Like I said before, most stories follow to some degree at least one major character who grows and learns as the result of his or her experiences (in my books Undine does this in both, but Breathe is really more Trout's journey than Undine's).
I don't use any of these as a hard formula for writing (I like to trust my intuition, to write organically). But it can be a useful way to unstick, and with the small amounts of time available to me for thinking I need to be as efficient as possible! I love that in The Writer's Journey, Vogler gives case studies of how several well-known films (blockbusters like Titanic, independent films lke The Full Monty, and a more fractured post modern narrative form in Pulp Fiction) follow the structure he outlines, so that you can see how although it might seem formulaic it actually produces an infinite variety of stories.

Some things to think about when plotting:
1. Does your main character grow and change as a result of their experiences? Do other significant characters also develop? What do they know about themselves at the end of the novel that they didn't at the beginning? (Some writers get stroppy about this "golden rule" of fiction writing, but really, why do I want to read a 200 page novel about a whingy self-indulgent teen only to get to the end and find they're still whingy and self-indulgent? In this big ole place called the universe it's nice to think things happen, if not for a reason then with at least with an outcome.)
2. What's at stake? Not just for your main character but for all your characters? What do they have to lose? To gain? To propel action it has to be something substantial and meaningful, even if it's just to your main character (for Lost fans think about the lengths Kate goes to just to get a small model plane)
3. Where does the tension come from? Tension is very important, it's the thing that keeps us turning the pages, that keeps us engaged. A number of television series make the mistake (in my opinion) of relying far too heavily on sexual tension between two characters. Unfortunately it's ultimately unsustainable - you have to bring your characters in increasingly tighter circles until inevitably they kiss (thus deflating the sexual tension), pull away (quick, get that tension back), sleep together (deflate), pull away (oh dear our once very tense rubber band is now a big loose and floppy and dragging on the ground) and suddenly you just don't care anymore - they're your boring friends who you wish would just break up because you're sick of analysing their relationship. She's pregnant? Good grief. He's leaving? Hurrah! Let him go. In a good story the tension will come from more than one place. It will come from the conflicting goals of different characters, from the relationships they forge, from external factors (such as a bomb ticking or an imminent factory foreclosure or an island forming consciousness and eating its inhabitants) and from the characters own self-doubts or past experiences.
4. For me it's important to think about the physicality of the climax. Where does it take place? Who is there? In Undine the climax, which was the height of Undine's magical ability, was in the Bay. In Breathe, there were two climaxes - a physical one that brought all the threads of the story together, and this took place under the sea, a very alien landscape to me. The emotional climax though takes place in the very impersonal though highly charged, compartmentalised space of a hospital. In both books the main magical events happened outside, in expansive, forgiving landscapes. In Rise I am thinking about setting the climax (again, a magical one) in a tight, almost claustrophobic city-bound space because it will lend a different kind of tension to the magic and I'm interested to see how that will work.

Writing is like any artform, there are many established techniques, styles, modes of thinking and narrative forms. Though stories reflect and relate to each other, there will always be fresh ways of writing about the world we live in (or worlds, if you believe that the multiplicity of experience means that each of us perceive our own world, unique to us). But there is a universal, collectively conscious quality to the practice of storytelling, and it's always useful to see how others communicate their ideas in order to hone your own skills.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

1.Eglantine Sauce

2.An email that arrived in my inbox from my good friend dwxfebotc:
Fight Wednesday January
Wasted Sky Insurance
Motorbike Cross
past decades. Choking Victim
Guardian GameWay Exploding Zombie Storm Find People
slightly confirm relying Software
Order yours
Racer Tattoo
swap /home nearthe
ROCK STEADY Cmon it...a document
Brain Splatters
may purchased
waive punitive
incorrect matches
Playtime Various
Reverb Million
songs coolest bands
Delibeery Drift Battle Stickman
Use Privacy Notice
football well adult
available features Victims first
Defence Dusty
Shotgun OrcTank

I think it's gangsta rap. But seriously, apart from the the appallingly violent imagery, it kinda reads like beat poetry - very zeitgheisty. The email's subject was Party and it DOES remind me of some of the parties I went to as a yoof. I reckon you could get some great band names/novel titles/pet names out of this list. I like Wasted Sky Insurance for a band name, Racer Tattoo for a pet tortoise and of course my next blood and gore movie will be called Brain Splatters. Or Exploding Zombie Storm.

3. We're off to the movies this afternoon - what a rare treat. Zoe and her man (who doesn't have a blog these days?) are babysitting for us. We thought we might see Superman Returns if it's not insanely busy. We made out own popcorn to take (because we got free tickets but it's not free if you spend $20 on very overpriced popcorn) and sprinkled it liberally with bush dust which is also tasty on fish.

4. Last week, barely noticed by us Una turned 9 months but I thought it was worth mentioning. She still has no teeth, little hair, can't crawl and she likes poking herself in the forehead.
We love her.