Thursday, June 29, 2006

Back from Hong Kong and still taking in all the sights and sounds (in retrospect). Between our sessions, I managed two little trips - one up to Victoria Peak in the tram, and the photo above is the view from the lookout. The tram line is so steep that you are jammed against your seat, and the floor has grooves in it so you can stand at an angle! I was lucky to go on a sunny, reasonably clear day. People kept telling us how great the weather was (after 7 weeks of rain) and how clear the haze was. Usually the smog is worse than LA.
The other trip was to Stanley markets on the other side of Hong Kong Island. These markets were much better than the city ones - less crowded and better quality goods. Also there was a lot of clothing, particularly linen jackets and tops, and tons of children's clothes. The bus ride back to Central was all along the beaches, very beautiful with little bays and blue water, and the ever-present high rises dotted along the shoreline.
While we were in HK, we met a number of the members of Women in Publishing, and attended their AGM. The guest speaker was the woman who is in charge of Penguin China, and afterwards I got to talk to lots of writers (not only editors belong to the group). Sue and I bought several of the member's books: 'Sweat and the City', an anthology of poems and stories (I can relate to the sweat bit); 'The Insider's Guide to Shopping in Hong Kong', a very handy title; and 'Thomas Beckham Wang and other stories' which is a collection of short stories for children. This last book I bought on the basis of reading the beginning of one of the stories - 'The boy who could not finish a' by Sam Jam.
There is very little actual publishing going on in Hong Kong. Most of the big publishers bring their books in from the UK or US. Two small presses I heard about were Chameleon Press (whose owner runs, an online bookstore) and Six Finger Press, although I know there are several others as apparently they have all decided to form a kind of co-operative. Macmillan Asia has a very small line of fiction - Picador Asia - but that is about it, apart from school and text books. Not so encouraging for HK writers but they can always send their manuscripts overseas, lke we do here in Australia.
Now I am home, it's back to the renovations, which means lots of painting, and two library sessions with kids today at Werribee. I'll get to wear my fabulous pirate glasses I bought in Hollywood Road (where else) in Hong Kong.

Friday, June 23, 2006

I have three students sitting around me at the moment, learning about blogging and how to set up their own blogs. We are exploring various hosting sites and looking at how to use Help files etc.
It's interesting to see what people like to use blogs for - we have looked at a few examples that included A Dress A Day and someone who has a million different blogs on home security systems.
Stay posted for my students' blog addresses!
Hong Kong. An amazing place indeed. On Hong Kong Island all I do is look up, and up. So many skyscrapers and very tall apartment buildings, rising up the hill everywhere you look. You catch a glimpse of an alleyway and at the end, more tall buildings. Hardly anyone here lives in a house with a garden - they all live in apartments, some up 70 floors or more.
It has been 5 days so far of books, writing, speaking, getting people started on their novels and picture books and short stories. Meeting Hong Kong's Women in Publishing group and the Society of Children's Book Writers, talking to publishers and authors and checking out bookshops.
No time to read except last thing before sleep,and then only for a few minutes. Night after night of midnight bedtimes, crawling out of bed to go to the next class, fitting in sightseeing whenever we can, eating lots of Chinese food (but not beef gristle or beef stomach or ox intestines) and drinking beer. It is way too hot for me to contemplate wine. But gin and tonic is OK.
So many people here, thousands of red taxis whose drivers would do well in a Grand Prix. First time I have been in taxis where the driver controls the rear doors, letting you in and out. In the mini-buses there is a digital sign up the front that tells you how fast the bus is going. I'm not sure what you're supposed to do if he's exceeding the speed limit.
Have mastered the public transport system, using an Octopus card that you swipe over the card reader each time you travel on a train, tram, bus or ferry. The morning ferry ride across the harbour is a wonderfully calming way to start the day.
The down side is the heat and humidity. Both of my cameras have stopped working properly and I had to buy a new digital camera, but the lens keeps fogging up as I move from air conditioning to outside. My mobile phone is also having hissy fits, and my watch strap broke - but I have kind of fixed both of them for now.
The street markets are full of fascinating cheap stuff and a few bargains. And the number of designer clothes shops and branches of Tiffanys, Versace, Gucci etc is amazing. Am keeping a diary but almost too much to take in.

Monday, June 12, 2006

It has been a busy week, finishing training manuals for my Hong Kong sessions and marking final assignments from students (23 picture book texts and 19 short stories, as well as the 75 poems the week before). But I have had a lot of fun taking my exchange writer/teacher, Meg Files, to places around Melbourne. On Saturday I drove her over the Westgate Bridge - a pity that it was so foggy that we couldn't see the bay or the city at all, and then when we were nearly into the city the buildings loomed out of the greyness like ghosts.
Yesterday I took her to Healesville Sanctuary which is out of Melbourne (north-east). A freezing day, since it had started snowing on the mountains, and a little rain but not enough to ruin our fun. The photo above is, of course, a koala, and close inspection reveals its baby underneath its front (somewhere - the baby crawled all over the place while Mum was trying to eat gum leaves).
We saw kangaroos, wallabies, lots of birds, a very speedy Tasmanian Devil that raced around and around its enclosure, dingos, , platypuses, an echidna, and a birds of prey show with falcons and an osprey. And my favourite, a wombat, who was asleep in a hollow. Lots of snakes too but none I was allowed to touch.
I am still reading the memoir - so tired at the moment that two chapters and the eyelids droop.
Wrote a long essay/opinion piece on Saturday about the mid-list author in children's publishing in Australia, but I doubt I will publish it as I think it would make me very unpopular at the moment! Sometimes I think authors are being pushed further and further into the SANH hole as time goes on (that's the Seen And Not Heard hole). Complaints, no matter how justified you feel they might be, are definitely not welcomed.
The reactions to Frank Moorhouse's articles (entitled "What the Hell is Wrong with Australian Writing?", published in the Weekend Australian newspaper recently) have been quite tame. Maybe because after the third part was printed, it became apparent that he wasn't prepared to draw any productive or helpful conclusions, or even make any substantial comments of his own. It was as if he threw in a whole pile of statistics and ideas and observations and said, Here - you work it out.
In the meantime, a children's book publisher at Black Dog Books has started a blog of his own, and has stirred up a few people already. I will follow that one with interest.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

I'm trying another image post. This is the cover of my new children's fantasy novel in the Quentaris series ( - "Pirates of Quentaris".
New update/post below as separate entry.
My exchange teacher, Meg Files, has landed, safe and sound. I arrived at the airport to discover that four international flights had all come in within 20 minutes of each other. The trouble with Melbourne Airport arrivals is that there are four doors that people can emerge from, and they are spaced about 12 feet apart. And of course, I didn't have my glasses with me so the strategy of standing down one end and scanning all four doors at once wasn't going to work (I save my glasses for night time and TV when I'm tired, refusing to give in!). After 40 minutes I was starting to get worried that I'd missed her but she did emerge five minutes later. Phew!
I took her to the staff house and after much fiddling with heating units and her new laptop, and taking her to the supermarket for food (the house has a kitchen and all the requirements to be self-contained), I left her to sleep, if she could.
Dinner Saturday night was Indian (local restaurant that has maintained its quality - yummy food and not too expensive) and great conversations about writing, teaching, books, US politics and Australian politics (known around these suburbs as sucking up to Bush) and a whole lot of other stuff - three other teachers came along to welcome Meg, which was great.
Today it seemed like my whole day was going to be swallowed yet again by chores, such as cleaning the new oven, testing the new oven (which proceeded to burn my cookies), preparing for class, and thinking about how I should finish scrubbing the kitchen ceiling and clean the fridge.
Instead, I spat the housework dummy around 2pm and sat down to write the first draft of the children's book (emergent reader chapter book) that has been growing in my head for the past three weeks. It's times like these that I bless the internet. Twice I got stuck in plot details and both times the internet gave me enough information to get past the blockage and keep writing. Sometimes not knowing some factual details can really hold you up. Will the story go this way or that? Well ... it depends on this piece of information that I don't know yet.
So I quickly researched both magician's tricks and clown's tricks (just enough to keep me going on the draft) and by 5.30pm the draft was finished. I'll do further research later to make sure I've got my facts correct, but it was great to be able to just keep the words coming.
If it sounds like that was a draft that came way too easy, these days it's how I write. Sometimes I have lots of full days to focus on novels, which is what I need. But this was supposed to be around 2000 words, and I had been plotting and devising and revising in my head for several weeks. It's a skill I learned a few years ago when I realised that actual hard writing time was going to be limited so, by golly, when I sat down at the keyboard, I'd better have something ready to go.
A small chapter book or short story can work itself up in my brain over a few weeks, bubble and ferment, and when the hours are available, away it goes.
Reading has been fevered. I started the new Mark Billingham last week and after about 50 pages I thought, This is pretty slow. But it did pick up and became a book I kept having to read at every opportunity (over breakfast cereal, over a sandwich, in bed when the eyes were drooping), so I finally finished it at 11.30pm one night, not being able to leave the last three chapters for the next day. Title? "Buried". Not the best of his books, but a good read!
Have just started "All the Fishes Come Home to Roost", which is a memoir by Rachel Manija Brown. Meg brought it from Tucson for me as I couldn't get it here. I'm not overly keen on memoirs (the depressing dreariness of "Angela's Ashes" got too much for me) but she was a student of Meg's at Pima College and I love to see what students achieve.
By the way, for those in Australia, Frank Moorhouse has published a 3-part article in the Weekend Australian newspaper discussing "What the hell is wrong with Australian fiction writing?" or something like that. Parts 1 and 2 seemed to be leading towards him blaming writing courses for all the terrible fiction writing around, but in Part 3 he kind of backed off. What is wrong with Australian fiction writing? (this is literary fiction here, not genre fiction which is doing very well, thank you). Well, dare I say it but it's just too safe. And nice. And meaningless.
I have found two novels in the last 4 years have been worth reading - "The Dressmaker" by Rosalie Ham (her second novel was safe and boring) and "Everyman's Guide to Scientific Living" by Carrie Tiffany.
I'm probably extremely biased though. I don't read enough of it. I did a radio show on writers and books for 7 years, and I read more boring fiction then than I care to remember. It put me off in a big way. That's probably a shame, and I should make more use of my public library. But let's be honest - if you had a choice between a rather boring, stylised, no-plot literary novel and a cracking good crime novel that kept you on the edge of your seat - what would you choose?
I'm over force-feeding myself fiction that's supposed to be "good for me". Probably why I read so much YA and middle grade fiction too. They are usually really good reads!