Monday, 23 May 2011

Playing tourist at home

We had a weekend in the city recently. Check out the view from our apartment:

Admittedly the weather could have been better, but we couldn’t complain about the location! In the heart of The Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, we were surrounded by picturesque old sandstone buildings, quaint twisting alleys full of tiny galleries, gorgeous harbour views at every turn … So of course the kids wanted to go see the lego at the Sydney Aquarium.

And the lego was quite impressive, if lego is your thing. Moby Dick here had nearly 400,000 pieces of lego. The aquarium is always fun, if a little pricey. I love the seahorses

and the ugly dugongs. How drunk would a sailor have to be to mistake one of these babies for a beautiful mermaid??

Of course, I would have preferred less aquarium and more galleries – but that’s life with kids in tow. They were pretty patient and put up with a few galleries and a lovely Sunday morning stroll through The Rocks markets. Bribery with ice cream always helps!

We also spent a lovely hour or so browsing a couple of big bookshops. Dinner on Saturday night was at the Summit, a revolving restaurant on top of one of the city’s taller buildings. The views were great, despite the rain, and the kids had a great time stickybeaking at everything. The food wasn’t half bad either.

Even breakfast is an adventure when you’re staying at a swish place. All sorts of yoghurts and juices presented in tiny glasses made a tempting display.

Throw in a bit of time swimming in the hotel pool, and you have a pretty satisfying weekend all round. Sometimes it’s fun to play tourist in your own city.

Now if I could just convince the kids there’s more to Sydney than the aquarium …

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Finding the floor: Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Finding the floor … or tackling the teetering tower of terror, otherwise known as the to-be-read pile. First it was a shelf, then two, then a neat pile stacked against the wall. Now there are tottering piles thirty books high. There must be hundreds of books there, cluttering up my floor and my life.

Hi, my name is Marina and I have a book-buying addiction. I can hear the authors among you yelling hoo-RAH! Bring on the book-buying addicts! And as addictions go it’s fairly innocuous, I admit. But it will take me years to get through that many books. Some have been there years already – some so long I’ve lost all desire to read them, which is crazy. I couldn’t even tell you what was on the bottom of some of those piles. Yes, I love books, but this is getting ridiculous. Time to tackle that monster!

Hence my new project – finding the floor in that scary corner of the room. Whittling down that overblown pile by reading one a week and reporting my progress here. Accountability is such a good motivator!

And to kick off the project, a book that spent barely any time on the pile, Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris. (That’s part of the problem – always reading the latest acquisitions and never getting to the older stuff – but I reserve the right to read in any order that takes my fancy.)

Dead in the Family is the tenth in the Sookie Stackhouse series about a telepathic waitress in small-town America and her continuing adventures with vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures. I’ve mentioned before on the blog how much fun this series is, and I dived into this one with every expectation of my usual huge enjoyment.

Let’s just say that Dead and Gone remains my favourite of the series. This one was very slow to start. Almost half the book passed in small incidents and recapping previous events. Halfway through I was wondering “when is the Big Thing going to happen? Where is the main storyline?” Sookie seemed to be spending a lot of time thinking, sunbaking, going to work, having lunch with friends and family – all the things that make up her regular life – but without any underlying storyline driving the plot along. Something did eventually happen, but it wasn’t really big enough to hang a whole book off. So instead of one main plot and several subplots, it felt like there were just a lot of subplots.

All this sounds as if I didn’t enjoy it, which is not the case. It still had a lot of elements I love about the Sookie novels, particularly Sookie’s pragmatism and the juxtaposition of her nice Southern gal manners against the monstrous misbehaviour of almost everyone around her. That’s the undead for you. No social skills. There’s humour in the way she stands up to the monsters and scolds them into better behaviour, but a serious side too. She forces them to remember their long-lost humanity.

Harris has Sookie in an uncharacteristically sombre mood for most of the book, which affects the overall tone. Bad things happen in most of the books, but usually Sookie retains her innate optimism. This time she’s still recovering from the terrible events of the previous book, and it seems to have changed her character. I guess it’s a good thing for the protagonist of a long-running series to change as the series progresses, otherwise the series can stagnate. But now there’s a manic feeling to her bubbliness, and she’s changed to the point of trying to organise the death of a vampire who’s causing trouble for her boyfriend. A rather different Sookie to the sunny character of the first books. It will be interesting to see how far Harris takes her.

So yes, I’m still looking forward to the next one, even though this one felt more like the characters getting their breath back from the last one than a whole new story. I think there’s still plenty of places Harris could take this series – I just wouldn’t recommend starting with this one.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Wednesday WIP for really truly

Hooray! I finally have some progress to report on the writing front. Not just a quilting WIP but a really truly one. Yes folks, it took months of procrastination and a prolonged sojourn in the Depths of Self-loathing, but I finally got my butt back into the chair and started working on Verity again.

It’s been so long I had to read through it first because I’d forgotten what the story was about. Oh, yes – now I remember! Pirate ships powered by sails made of human skin, krakens and star spiders, and a bitter war between merfolk and selkies in a magical universe beyond our own called the Sea of Stars. Well, that’s not really what it’s about. That’s just the bits that make it fun. It’s about a girl’s search for her lost sister, and the family secret that could destroy them both.

Hey, say that last sentence in a movie trailer voice – sounds corny, doesn’t it! Okay, so my summary needs work. So does the story, unfortunately. Still, one job at a time. I have to finish writing the first draft first, so I can pin down exactly what happens in the story, before I can fix it all up.

You might think that, with only a couple of chapters left to write, I’d have a pretty good idea already of how it all ends. Well, and so I do, but stories have a way of surprising you – at least they surprise me sometimes! Only yesterday another tempting glimmer of an idea peeked up at me from a perfectly innocuous sentence I’d just written. And I still haven’t decided whether or not to kill off a major character in the climax. I don’t want to, because I really like him, and yet … it would be so cool for the story.

Anyway, my little wordcount widget is gradually creeping along again towards The End, which makes me feel like a real person again. A Contributing Member of Society. Bizarre, I know. Society is certainly not hanging on my deathless prose. Though I do know one little duckling who will be delighted to find out at last what happens (even though she will probably rend me limb from limb if I do wipe out this character).

Still, We Novelists cannot pander to the desires of our adoring fans, but must remain true to the prompting of our Muses. A Novelist is not a democracy, to be swayed by the opinions of others, but an almighty God in a universe of our own creation!

And right now this God’s finger is hovering over the Smite button. Hovering, I tell you! Which way will the dice fall? Only time will tell …

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Fancy a magic carpet ride?

Because if you do, I know where you can find one. Yes, I’m still here. Haven’t won the lottery and escaped to the Bahamas after all. I’ve just been horrendously busy with a combination of school holidays and costume making for a production of Aladdin the ducklings were starring in.

Talk about typecasting! Beautiful Drama Duck played the beautiful but melodramatic princess. Demon Duck lived up to her demonic name by making a splendidly evil bad guy. And crazy little Baby Duck played the evil sidekick – a wisecracking parrot. Not a bad match for a little guy with a big sense of humour who never stops talking.

The show was last Saturday night, and I spent several weeks sewing in the lead-up. Yes, I volunteered, and I’d do it again, so I shouldn’t complain, but wow, that was a lot of work. I made about 20 costumes, and let me tell you, I am so not a clothes maker. Straight lines I can do. Give me a quilt any day. But mention sleeves or fastenings or waistbands and I want to run screaming in the other direction. I guess it was a learning experience! Thankfully there was another lady – a very experienced, much more competent lady! – who made all the really hard costumes and did tricky stuff like working out sizes and fabrics. I just did what she told me, and I must say they certainly looked very professional on the night.

So the costumes were a slog (though I am such an expert at elastic waist pants now!). But I really enjoyed making the magic carpet. Look at that perfect border fabric I had in my stash. Doesn’t it just scream Persian opulence? I don’t even remember buying it, but I had just enough, with barely six inches left over. It was obviously meant to be! Oh, and while you’re looking, please admire the tassels, made by Drama Duck. She could see I was under pressure so she wanted to help out, bless her.

What about turbans? If you need those, I’m your woman. I made ten, and they looked awesome on stage, if I do say so myself. They were kind of fun too.

And the ducklings, of course, were wonderful, and had the best time. Their excitement made it all worthwhile, cliched though that sounds. I’m still very glad it’s over, though! Now I can get back to sewing my quilts. Not to mention getting to bed before one o’clock in the morning.

“You seem happy today,” the Carnivore said yesterday, in a tone of mild surprise. Guess I have been a little stressed and grouchy lately.

“That’s because I’m sewing and it’s something I actually want to make,” I said.

What a lovely time I had, cutting gorgeous fabrics and sewing them back together into even more gorgeous arrangements. I’ll show you what I’m working on soon – but in the meantime:

Sorry …

I can’t resist …

Just look at that date!

May the fourth be with you!!

Happy Star Wars day everyone!