Monday, 23 November 2009

Should I be worried?

I think I’m in love with my kitchen appliances. Dearest Microwave, I never truly appreciated you till now.

I thought I loved you in the baby days, when you heated those bottles of milk so quickly, before the baby’s screams completely melted my brain. And the hours you saved me in sterilising the bottles! I adored you so!

But it is only now I realise your true beauty.

The other day I was making hot milk. But, with my mind deep in the throes of Nano, I mistakenly put the milk on for two minutes instead of one. I opened the door and the terrible stink of boiled milk assaulted my nostrils. And then I saw it …

Milk goobies!!

Eeeww. I haven’t thought about them in so many years because you don’t get them with microwaves. Back in the old days Mum used to boil the tripe out of the milk on the stove top to make hot chocolate. Although we didn’t even call it that, this was so long ago. We called it kai (not sure how you spell it). The milk got so overheated it formed a skin.

Can I just say again? EEEEWWW.

You’d take a sip and this hideous thing would cling to your lips and slime your mouth, like a slug sneaking into your hot chocolate. Oh, the horror! Just thinking about it makes me want to run around shrieking “ick! ick! ick! Get it off me!”

God, I love my microwave.

And then I find myself talking to my oven.

In my defence I have to say, it started it. It has a beautiful high-tech light-up display, my beloved new oven. It tells you the setting and temperature in spiffy glowing red letters. When the griller is on, instead of the temperature, it says LO or HI.

Small digression: I love having a griller again after years without one. The old oven died by degrees. First the light failed, then the griller would only work sometimes if you bashed the instrument panel just right, then it stopped working altogether and couldn’t be fixed because it was too old to get parts, so we did without a griller for years. Then the timer became temperamental and often jammed about five minutes before the end, so you only knew your cake or whatever was overcooked when a lovely smell of burning wafted through the house. When we still didn’t replace the oven, it finally decided to force our hand by having the element in the top oven catch on fire.

Aaanyway, it’s lovely to have a griller again. I was standing there admiring it … no, really just watching my pizza so it didn’t burn, and I looked at the display panel and the griller said HI. So I said “hi!” back.

Then I thought, hmmm, should I be worried that I’m talking to my kitchen appliances?

Maybe I only have to worry when they start talking back.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Three wells make a river

My grandmother used to say this all the time. Like clockwork, whenever anyone said “well, well, well”, she’d pipe up: “Three wells make a river!”

I introduced Baby Duck to this expression recently and he’s quite taken with it. But I’ve found something better than three wells: how about seven bongs?

No, not those sort of bongs.

Drama Duck has perfected the fine art of wordcount padding. I’m such a proud mother. So young! So gifted!

Her Nano novel is set in a high school. Every time the bell rings she writes “BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG!”

And it rings A LOT. I tell you, the child’s a genius.

Not that she needs the padding. Tonight she’s up to 4648 words out of 5000, and the story’s just getting started. Demon Duck’s on about 1600 words (out of 3500) and starting to wonder if she can change her goal to something smaller. She’s discovered that making up stories is harder than it looks. And also that middles suck.

I thought I wasn’t going to write a word today. Me and my new mate Phil are doing great as far as speed of transcribing goes. The problem is thinking of the damn words in the first place. I was completely dry this morning. Couldn’t think of a single place to take my story, and thrashed around most of the day trying all my usual tricks to jumpstart my creativity. I barely managed the minimum wordcount by introducing a new monster to attack the heroine’s party. When in doubt, bring on the monsters! Now the best friend’s been poisoned by a star spider and they’re stranded in the middle of the Sea of Stars with no ride home. How am I going to get them out of that?

That’s tomorrow’s problem. And, yeah, middles suck.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Delight, despair, delight, despair: lather, rinse, repeat

Or: when it’s good, it’s very very good, and when it’s bad it’s the most torturous way to spend your time ever invented. That’s Nano for you. A real rollercoaster ride.

Things I have learned on this year’s Nanoing adventure:

-- I use the word “stuff” waaaaay too often, even for a novel featuring a pair of thirteen-year-olds. And “that”. My God, if I had a dollar for every “that” in this manuscript, I would be writing this post from a beach in the Bahamas. Or possibly the deck of my new yacht.

-- If Nano isn’t challenging enough, new levels of difficulty can be created by inserting a character into your work who only speaks in rhyme. All I can say is, thank God for online rhyming dictionaries. Sometimes my brain is just too overwhelmed to come up with a decent rhyme.

-- It’s a lot of fun to read each completed chapter to an appreciative eleven-year-old audience. She’s following the story with great interest, and I enjoy listening to her speculate on what’s going to happen next. (By the way, said eleven-year-old has passed 3500 words out of her 5000. Demon Duck is languishing on about 1000 out of 4000.)

-- I’m beginning to suspect I don’t have a good enough imagination to be a fantasy writer. This in spite of apparent evidence to the contrary: I have space-going whales, a tree as big as a planet and flesh-eating pirates whose ship is made of organic balloons. Sounds like a good imagination, doesn’t it?

The trouble is, I find those parts difficult to write, and it seems to me they come out kind of flat. Whereas the “real world” sections have voice and personality and I zip through them with (comparative) ease.

The writers among you are now probably chanting “that’s what revision’s for!” and sure, I know this stuff is fixable (ten points if you spotted that “stuff” – I swear that word is following me around). But surely a fantasy writer shouldn’t have so much trouble with the “making stuf things up” part?

But still, in spite of these quibbles, things are going well (touch wood). Wordcount today is up to 29,528 words, which means I’m a little ahead of schedule for the month. Story-wise I think I’m about halfway through, though it’s hard to tell when you’re writing by the seat of your pants. My attitude to outlining is a little like my attitude to dieting. I can see it’s a good idea, but I never quite get around to doing it.

But probably the biggest news is my new technological best friend – a Philips Voice Tracer, purchased for me at great expense by the Carnivore, bless his little cotton socks. In the old days this would have been called a dictaphone; I’m not sure what the proper terminology is these days.

Regardless of its name, it’s made a big difference. I’m a very slow writer. It can take me five or six hours (or even more with bouts of procrastinating thrown in) to write the required number of words every day. I’m not sure why, but even trying as hard as I can I can’t write much more than 500 words in an hour.

Desperate for a way to reduce the hours I spend slogging away at the computer, I decided to try speaking the story and typing it later. I tried this once before, years ago, and found it unsatisfactory – I was too selfconscious. But, longing for some free time and a bedtime before midnight, I decided to give it another go. We only bought it on Saturday, so the jury’s still out on it as a long-term strategy, but so far I’m very pleased.

Last night, for instance, I couldn’t start writing till 9:30 – kind of late if it’s going to take five hours to get the wordcount. But with my new mate Phil’s help I knocked out 2000 words in two hours. True, the prose is a little uninspiring – a lot more “she went here, he said this” than when I’m typing directly, but that can be fixed, and if it gets the story out quicker I’m all for it.

Because after you’ve found out what the story is, you get the fun of revising it till it gleams. Maybe with Phil’s help I can finish the whole story, not just the first 50,000 words, by the end of November. That would really be something to celebrate. I could face Christmas with a clear conscience.

Aaarrgh! The dreaded C word! Just don’t ask me if I’ve started my shopping yet …

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The travelling drought-breakers, Part 2

Bendigo welcomed us with open arms.

“We haven’t had rain like this in three years. Stay longer!” they begged.

“No, no, Bendigo,” we chided. “You mustn’t be selfish. We only have one day to spend here. We are on a tight schedule and must take our rain-making circus to Ballarat post-haste. You wouldn’t want to deny Ballarat its rain, would you?”

Bendigo conceded, rather sulkily, that we had a point, so we threw ourselves into enjoying the day. And what a full day it was!

We spent a couple of (dry) hours underground, enjoying a fine tour of the Central Deborah Gold Mine. I highly recommend it if you are ever in Bendigo. Four of us enjoyed it immensely and learned lots of interesting and amazing facts. The fifth member of our party spent most of his time sobbing. When will we ever learn about dark places?

We all had to wear miners’ hats with lamps on the front. Very cool, except they were powered by an extremely heavy battery you had to strap around your waist. I tried to pick Baby Duck up to comfort him at one point and found it almost impossible to get him off the ground. So the poor old Carnivore had to lump his extremely heavy, extremely miserable son around instead.

When we resurfaced we panned for gold (no luck) and climbed the poppet head (the big tower thing above the shaft with all the winches and pulleys and stuff – yeah, I’m good at this technical talk). Not sure why we did that, actually, since all of us are afraid of heights, and there were predictable results.

Then it was off on the historic Talking Tram for a tour of Bendigo’s wide streets full of lovely old buildings, trees and gardens. It’s a really pretty city. Probably even more so when it’s not raining.

After lunch we visited the Discovery Museum, where there was a very interesting presentation at the planetarium. We were the only people there, so Demon Duck enjoyed showing off her knowledge (they’ve just been studying the planets at school). In brief gaps between the rain we saw the Chinese Gardens and temple and visited the Dragon Museum, which houses both the longest and the oldest Chinese dragons in Australia.

Then it was on to Ballarat. We stayed at the lodge attached to Sovereign Hill. Our accommodation had a queen-sized bed in the main room, with a double bunk on each side, plus two more double bunks in a separate bedroom. Very handy for all those families with eight children, I’m sure, but it seemed a bit of overkill on the beds to me! Plus they took up so much space there was nowhere really to put the small breakfast table (which only seated four – were the eight children supposed to eat in shifts?). When you wanted to use it you had to pull it out from the wall and block access to the bathroom. Very strange.

Sovereign Hill is a fascinating place. It’s a historically accurate gold-rush town, complete with goldfields, a mine and a river to pan for gold in. The main street has all the businesses such a town would have had, all working, plus schools, churches, soldiers’ quarters and government houses. There’s a working foundry, a wheelwright, clothes and sweet shops. People in costume are everywhere, going about their daily business.

More on that in another post. It was shut by the time we arrived, but they have an outdoor sound and light show there at night, which retells the story of the Eureka Stockade (an uprising by miners protesting the burden of miners’ licences, which ended in a brief battle with government soldiers in which several people were killed). We decided to brave the weather and got away with it. It didn’t rain, but we nearly froze our buns off. Man, it was cold! I had my warmest clothes on, plus a blanket from our room wrapped around me, and I was still cold.

Thankfully this time the dark was somehow not scary, and Baby Duck enjoyed the show, though all the ducklings were pretty pooped by the time we got back to our abundance of beds.

Holiday statistics for our second day in Victoria:

Rainfall: drought-breaking.
Other waterworks: one child reduced to sobbing wreck, others scared witless by extreme height.
Accommodation and food: average.
Are we having fun yet? yes, but we’re f-f-f-freezing.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The universe conspires

Whenever I start a new book I find the universe starts throwing all sorts of useful things my way. Sceptics would suggest that it’s just that I’m more receptive to noticing related things when my mind is working on a subject, but I prefer to believe in the beauty of serendipity.

For instance: remember there was a lighthouse in my story? Guess what we visited on our holiday. There’s nothing like a location visit to get you in the mood. Then last Saturday there was a feature article about a very similar lighthouse with a gorgeous photo, so that got torn out and pasted into my novel notebook.

In my story the characters travel to other worlds on the sea of stars through a magical gate. I knew it was all dependent on tides and moon phases, so I had a great time researching those. I discovered tide clocks – too cool! Who knew such things existed? I know, probably everyone else but me.

Then I found a photo of a really beautiful tide clock and a few more pieces of story clicked into place.

I decided to use Fingal Bay, which I know well, as a basis for my imaginary setting. In looking up information about the lighthouse there I discovered that the present day sandspit used to be a permanent part of the headland till a big storm destroyed it.

Click click click. More ideas.

A photo of an actor in the paper – perfect for my villain.

In the travel section, a photo of a Japanese torii gate standing alone in the middle of the sea – wow. Gates, sea, lighthouses everywhere I turn.

On Tuesday I attended an author visit at the local children’s bookshop. The author was Martin Chatterton, who was very entertaining. No gates or lighthouses, but a very useful piece of advice – when he’s thinking about what he will write he likes to imagine scenes he’d like to see in a movie.

I don’t know why that struck me so much; it’s not a new thought. Lots of authors, including me, say that writing is like watching their characters act out a movie in their heads. I think it was more the “imagining what he’d like” angle, as if he were encouraging me to dream up the most colourful fantastical thing I could – and then stick it in my novel.

Which is what fantasy authors are supposed to do, I suppose, but I’d never thought of it quite like that. Maybe I get too bogged down in plot and motivation and mechanical-type things, and forget the whole “sense of wonder” part.

Whatever. My mind is open to all and any delights the universe wishes to throw my way. Bring it on, universe. I’ve written 10,000 words and I’m ready. At this stage of the game anything can happen.

And probably will.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

3 ... 2 ... 1 ... Nano!

And they’re off and writing! I achieved a respectable 2401 for the first day of Nano. Drama Duck managed a whopping 1010 (she’s only committed to writing 5000) and Demon Duck also did well with 300 (for a target of 3500).

Elsewhere in the household, the Carnivore did some actual paying work and cooked a lovely baked dinner, bless his little cotton socks. Baby Duck mooched around complaining he was bored. To which my reply was “well, go and be bored somewhere else – I’m writing!”.

He also explained to his father this morning how chocolate milk is made. His theory is that you take a bowl of Coco Pops and add milk. You then end up with chocolate milk plus a by-product of Rice Bubbles. Thinking all the time, that boy.

I’m reasonably happy with what I’ve written so far. You can read the first scene over on my page at Nano (under "Novel Info"), if you’re interested. I read the first chapter to Drama Duck tonight and she was eager to hear more – a good sign, I hope.

Anyway, I’m off to bed. I have a big day ahead, with plots to thicken and cryptic utterances to … um … utter. Wish me luck!