Sunday, December 30, 2007
The concert was fabulous, and went for over two hours. Her voice is absolutely amazing, and it was great to hear some older songs as well as plenty off her new album (above). I remember in high school that any time we had some kind of talent concert/contest, at least two girls would have a go at a wobbly, out-of-tune version of To Sir, With Love. Tina Arena revives it with her beautiful voice, as with several other classics.
In between songs, she chatted a bit, which was nice, and one of the things she talked about was being at school and singing professionally at the same time. Her mother wouldn't allow her to work in Years 11 and 12, but at the school's last assembly, her friends persuaded her to sing To Sir, With Love - I can imagine what that must have been like! She also talked about teachers who had nurtured and supported her, which made me think about my own high school teachers.
If you haven't heard her sing before, this is a link to a YouTube video of My Heart Will Go On
and another to Sorrento Moon. Anyone in France reading this will be very familiar with her - she is famous there and has released an album in French, although she now lives in London because she said in Paris she can't even go to the supermarket without being recognised. She is now 40 and, she says, has finally got to the point where she doesn't care what anyone thinks anymore. The new album is all her own - she decided what would go on it and how it would sound. She sounded more pleased about that than anything!
Thinking back to seeing her in YTT, and of her career since then, I feel that she epitomises the artist's life, whether it's in music, writing, art, acting, composition - you're in it for the long haul. There's a joke about how overnight success usually takes at least ten years, but it's true. I've been reading recently about writers who achieve success early and how many of them burn out or just fade away. They haven't done the "hard yards" that most people do, being rejected for years but persevering nonetheless, moving one step forward and being shoved back three, developing the thick skin you need to survive things like bad reviews. So here's to perseverance, to finding your place in the writing world and sticking to your dreams, no matter what.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
My reading, however, has been slowed down by a stick, specifically a bamboo stick that took it upon itself to poke me in the eye. OK, so I was holding it at the time, but I'm sure it had a mind of its own and decided to "get" me. Maybe someone slipped some paranoia into my drink over Christmas. Needless to say, I didn't let it stop me too much and finished reading one of my presents, A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. It's a YA novel, described as Gothic, but it's historical crossed with magic stuff. I did like it more than Twilight but that's probably because the main character had a bit more "gumption" and there were no vampires in it!
After sticking to one of my goals for 2007 (which was to only work on one project at a time), I've now decided that that is not working well for me - I feel like too many things are left unrevised or incomplete. So for 2008, I'm going to try to manage my writing projects better, and use my writing time more effectively. Sometimes I feel like half an hour is not enough to work on my novel project so I end up doing nothing. Now I'm going to try to use those smaller bites of time to work on poems or picture books. The forms are different enough that I can keep them separate in my mind.
Other goals are still in the mulling stage. There's no point setting a goal like "Get my novel published" as this is out of my control - it's someone else's decision. But I can say "Send my novel out to X publishers" instead. Mostly I think I want to manage my time more effectively. It seems to just dribble away. Having two new subjects to teach in 08 won't make it easy, but becoming more organised is probably the sensible thing to do.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
At this time of the year, I tend to read so much that I go cross-eyed, but I didn't want to end 2007 without commenting on some of the best of the past few weeks. A big cross-section, starting with Louise Rennison's latest, Luuurve is a Many-Trousered Thing. The cover above is the US one - do they think the American readers won't understand Luuurve? But it is a nicer cover than my plain purple one, I must admit. Although Angus looks very benign. Needless to say, this new addition to the Georgia Nicholson diaries made me laugh out loud. Five stars for readers under 14 (and me).
I also loved Val McDermid's new book featuring Tony Hill, and since I've commented on this before, I won't do so again. It's strange, but Sue Grafton's new one, T is for Trespass, had me yawning for the first four chapters, then I got into the swing of it. She has quite determinedly kept Kinsey, her detective, back in the 80s, so no mobile phones or GPS units or anything very technological. Just plain old detective work. When you read a lot of crime fiction, it's a jolt to discard the CSI expectations and move back in time!
While I loved Meg Rosoff's first book, How I Live Now, I thought the second, Just In Case, had such an annoying main character that I almost didn't finish it. With the third, What I Was, I was blown away by the wonderful writing, and the way in which the quiet plot unfolded. Another main character on the outside, but this time he had enough complexity and self-awareness to create an empathy that grew as I read on. Highly recommended.
I've just finished Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce. He wrote one of my favourite kid's books, Millions, and I was sorry that so many of the character and story bits that made it stand out for me were lost in the movie. Framed is similar, in that there is a narrator/main character who is totally convincing in his naivety and view of the world. Like the character in Millions, Dylan has his own passions and obsessions even though he is only about eleven, and these very subtly drive most of the story.
Anything disappointing? Well, yes. The Alibi Man by Tami Hoag. I guess I never really warmed to the main character, the mystery seemed a bit flat and predictable, and I'll no doubt study this one again to see what it was that didn't work for me, and try to work out why. On my pile or being read now I have The Writer's Book of Hope by Ralph Keyes (am reading a couple of chapters a day) and the latest issue of Blue Dog, which is one of Australia's best poetry mags right now. I'm also dipping into a collection of short stories by Nancy Kincaid, and the Lonely Planet guide to France. And looking forward to reading Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld - nabbed it in a book sale. Will it live up to its hype?
Monday, December 24, 2007
Over on Kristi Holl's new blog, Writer's First Aid, she's been talking about fitting writing into a busy life - how do you manage it when you aren't a full-time writer? How do writers with jobs and kids and family find time to write? I've been reading The Writer's Book of Hope by Ralph Keyes this week, and he devotes several pages to this. What's interesting is the number of writers who say they wrote their first novel by finding half an hour or an hour here and there, and sticking at it until it was finished. When you really want to do something, you'll do it. What was even more interesting was how many of those writers said that now they're writing full-time, they're not getting any more words on the page.
Keyes says, "In addition to having to schedule time effectively, writers with day jobs have access to a rich, ongoing source of material." He also suggests that when you are driven to write and don't have time to squander on too much worrying about what you're writing, you write from the heart, giving it all you've got, and you stop thinking about the censors. By censors, he means all the people who would rather you didn't write, or want you to write something "nice".
It's true that when I'm not working (i.e. on holiday), I probably don't write a huge amount more than when I am. But what happens is my brain frees up for other things, like coming up with new ideas and new ways of tackling revision. It also allows me headspace for revision - because true revision means seeing the work in a new way that includes those brilliant flashes on how to fix or change things and make them better. Sometimes I get frustrated and feel like I'm writing the same old thing, and having several weeks free often means that suddenly I discover new story ideas.
The free time also means I can read with more effect - a strange thing to say, but I mean that if I'm reading writing books, the information sinks in better. If I'm reading fiction, I'm more aware of reading it as a writer. Somehow, even if it's only for two or three weeks, writing full-time makes me feel more like a writer. I'm making the most of it!
Sunday, December 23, 2007
A friend has given me Don't annoy me. I'm running out of places to hide the bodies. And my other fun one is If you can't be a good example you'll have to be a terrible warning.
For a couple of years, I've had a quote from Clint Eastwood stuck on the front of my work diary: I tried being reasonable. I didn't like it. And another near my desk from Eudora Welty: I'm often asked if universities stifle writers. I don't think they stifle enough of them.
Another favourite was a car sticker: My only domestic quality is that I live in a house. Someone stole that one off my car! And I still have one in my home office that says: It's always darkest just before it goes totally black.
I have to admit I can see a theme here, and no doubt budding psychologists would have a field day with most people's choice of quotes and homilies. But for 2007, this is what I've had stuck on the front of my diary: Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "Press on" has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. (Calvin Coolidge)
I haven't decided what will go on my diary for 2008, but I'm on the look-out for something both funny and inspiring. All suggestions gratefully received!
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
At this time of the year, the desire for silence and solitude is almost overwhelming for me, especially after such a busy year. I planned three days alone - reading, walking, sleeping, daydreaming, meditating. No writing unless I felt like it. No work. No appointments, not even social ones. Except for a trip to Borders first thing where I bought a wonderful book (more on this in a moment). By 2pm yesterday afternoon, I was fully into my little retreat, relaxed and contemplating a massage at my local Chinese massage place. Then my daughter arrived unexpectedly, with her usual dramas going on, and my retreat disappeared.
However, today I am back on it again, daughter dispatched to the outside world, while I take the phone off the hook and retrieve my reading books, preparing to settle down into the silence again. The book I am reading is called A Writer's Paris by Eric Maisel, and I was immediately taken into it when I read about the art of flânerie - strolling. "The flâneur is an observer who wanders the streets of a great city on a mission to notice with childlike enjoyment the smallest events and the obscurist sights he encounters." He calls flânerie "delicious, dreamy strolling" but he also calls it ambling, which is what I love to do in Hong Kong.
In fact, as a writer, I love to do it in any place that intrigues me. I am planning a personal three-week writer's retreat in France next year, and I intend to spend as much time as possible on strolling/ambling and simply being there. Writing will no doubt happen, but I am beginning to feel that a retreat needs to have a different purpose. I am used to having time off work and cramming in as much writing as possible before deadlines descend. This is not a writing retreat. This is a writing frenzy. A retreat restores the imagination, silences the everyday babble in the brain and allows ideas and dreams to emerge.
I haven't yet formulated any goals for 2008. But if you're a writer and feeling out of touch with your writing, maybe you can put a retreat on your list of goals. It may mean you rent a hotel room on the coast for a weekend, or borrow someone's house in the bush. It may mean you send the family away and you stay home with the phone off the hook. The key to a retreat is solitude, and allowing yourself to indulge in it. I'm planning for my next one already.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
So it was no surprise to me to see he'd written his first adult novel, Ocean Road. If you want to write realistic, hard-hitting stuff, you may well turn to adult fiction if the gatekeepers in YA have given you a hard time. However, Parry might well have listened to Garry Disher, who writes adult and children's/YA fiction, who once said that the world of children's/YA publishing was much kinder and supportive, and he preferred it.
In a review of Ocean Road, Richard King has seen fit to make comments such as "The problem with the book is the lack of an interesting voice at its core." This after quite a few nice comments. And "the narrator's internal life seems to be almost non-existent". Somehow, I can't imagine Parry, whose original YA voice got him into such trouble, writing an adult novel that has apparently been deemed dull. I'll have to go and have a look for myself.
In other sections of the Review, Graeme Blundell manages to spend nearly all of his meagre eight column inches rabbiting on about a series of male crime writers' new books, and gives Sue Grafton 16 words. Hello, GB, try having a look on the latest crime writers' display of books in any bookstore and it'll be at least 50/50 male/female. Wake up, lad. I read Val McDermid's latest while in HK (I love Tony Hill - how could you not when VM finally starts to give us some wonderful, intriguing backstory), Grafton's T for Trespass was good but not brilliant, while Tess Gerritsen never gets a mention. Shame!
But the Review did give us a piece on Kathryn Fox, Australia's latest answer (so they say) to Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs. Fox talks about starting her first novel and taking herself off to writers' workshops (presumably to find out more about writing???) where she was "amazed at the outright amateurishness of many would-be novelists, their lack of appreciation of the industry's fundamental conventions." Sorry, Ms Fox, but I take issue with your scorn. Everyone has to start somewhere, just like you, and it's not as if the publishing industry puts out a guide for amateurs.
In fact, the course I teach in takes pride in educating new writers into how the industry works, how to be professional, how to rewrite, take editorial advice, workshop, edit, negotiate, etc. It's part of the learning curve. Expecting beginner writers to understand how it all works from Day One is like expecting aspiring professional tennis players to understand what it's like to play at Wimbledon. You have to learn as you go, work your way up to it, take on board every bit of help and guidance you can as you go along.
The writers that make me cringe are the ones who have been around for a long time and refuse to understand it's a business. They are pining to be discovered, and blame everyone else for the fact that they are not published and famous. Ms Fox may well have come across some of these in her own quest to write and be published. Get used to it! It happens in every industry, and most particularly in the arts. Don't disparage other people's dreams. Get on with your own.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I wonder all of these things because I have no deadline, other than some I set for myself. For the first time in many years, we have no plans for Christmas Day (other than maybe finding somewhere to feed us and then do the dishes, i.e. a restaurant). There are places we could go, places we have been invited, but we might possibly stay home, take the phone off the hook and veg out. I might write. Read. Sleep.
The urge to write is always there, but I recognise when the brain is out of action. And that's now. Instead, I am reading, planning to watch some movies, walk, relax, maybe get a massage for that troublesome neck problem my poor computer use created. I know the time will come when I'll have to write because I can't not write any longer. Sometimes it's good to just stop pushing the words out and wait for them to want to emerge on their own. In the meantime, I'm thinking about my two current projects - both novels - and allowing myself to ponder over some new ideas for them.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Earlier this year, the FAW (Fellowship of Australian Writers) asked if we would be interested in reading at Federation Square sometime, so we thought December was a great opportunity to launch Issue 29 of Poetrix. We invited all the contributors who lived in Victoria to be guest readers (and eight of them came along, which was terrific) and several of us read poems by interstate poets.
The venue is quite inspirational, in the Atrium in the area above the BMW Edge theatre. They had a great sound system there that meant outside noise became irrelevant, and people wandered in and out of the space (some even stayed to listen). The photo above is of one of our readers, Helen Cerne, and part of the audience, with the background of the glass walls and ceiling. This triangular web is characteristic of Fed Square, and is also on the walls outside. Thanks to everyone who was involved - it was a very enjoyable afternoon, and ended with an even more enjoyable Western Women Writers' dinner! It's going to be hard to top this with our celebrations for Issue 30.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
These days, we are often expected to read nonfiction if we want "reliable" information, yet I know many fiction writers who research their material just as deeply as nonfiction writers do. I commented recently on a book by William Dietrich about Attilla the Hun. While I was away, I read a crime novel by Barry Maitland - Silvermeadow. It told me a huge amount about modern shopping centres or malls, how and why they are constructed (leading to demise of the high street shops) and the theory behind them.
Silvermeadow is a fictional shopping centre that could be any huge centre near you. There is quite a bit of information about the Gruen transfer theory, and the following is from Wikipedia:
In shopping mall design, the Gruen transfer refers to the moment when consumers respond to "scripted disorientation" cues in the environment. It is named for Austrian architect Victor Gruen (who disavowed such manipulative techniques) and lately popularized by Douglas Rushkoff.
The consumer's decision-making consciousness subsides and he or she is more likely to make an impulse purchase because of unconscious influences of lighting, ambient sound and music, spatial choices, visual detail, mirrored and polished surfaces, climate control, and the sequence and order of interior storefronts, etc.
The effect is marked by a slower walking pace and glazed eyes.
As writers, we have to avoid info dumps and shovelling in huge dollops of the factual material we slaved so hard to discover in order to make our stories "real". But by giving the info through the character, having a character who needs to find out this stuff, it makes the job easier.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Mostly, no. There are always exceptions, and the one that everyone tends to quote is the guy in American Psycho. Because lots of people read that book, or said they did. But did they read it to find out what happened to the main character, whether he came good? Or because it was so violent and disgusting that they were waiting for him to get his come-uppance? Some people read it because it was cool to say you had. I've never heard of anyone, even reviewers, who said they liked it, and liked the main character.
Like is probably a misleading word. What we usually talk about is empathy - we feel something for the mc, perhaps pity or some kind of identification, and we grow to care about them. But that usually only happens if the writer gives us something in the first few pages to latch onto. Something hopeful. Something that suggests this character has another side that we might like if we're let into it a bit more. We keep reading because we hope the character will redeem him/herself, show they aren't so bad, show they can change, show that they will come to understand the world and themselves a little more. (OK, my him/her and them is a bit mixed - please ignore it.)
The most common reaction to an unlikeable main character is to stop reading. Who cares if he/she dies? Wins through? Changes on Page 299? If we're up to Page 20 and the character is awful or stupid or apathetic or depressing, we stop. Plenty more books out there.
The villain, of course, is a different animal altogether that I've talked about here before. This issue came up because of a book I've just read. The Watchman by Robert Crais. If you're a Crais fan, you'll know that his detective is Elvis Cole, whose sidekick is Joe Pike. Inscrutable, iron-faced, unfeeling Pike. Now Pike gets a book all of his own, with Cole as the back-up. If you want to read something where the main character is unemotional, cold-blooded, and acts like a machine, and then see how the writer gradually unpeels him, little by little, to reveal his vulnerable side, this is the book for you.
Crais never overdoes it. All the way through, Pike remains the consummate soldier of fortune, able to kill without compunction when required. Yet every so often, we see a little crack of light, and even though most readers probably won't finish the book "liking" Pike, I think they'll understand him better and feel that empathy I mentioned.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
My friend K has said many good things to me about being overtired, unwell and not eating properly, all of which are sound and excellent reminders. The great thing about HK was eating lots of fresh food and walking miles every day. I have come back feeling physically good, and want to continue. Hence regular drinking of Chinese tea, walking, and buying fresh fruit etc for eating. But the mental tiredness is a big issue. December is a good time to evaluate the year.
I have written around 110,000 new words, rewritten about 50,000, and edited probably another 100,000. For my teaching, both in Melbourne and in HK, I've put in about 100 hours of writing on class materials, manuals and online modules. I've helped to produce two issues of Poetrix magazine, reading around 1000 poems and then proofreading. I can't even begin to calculate how much student writing I've read and graded and given feedback on - probably 80-100,000 words.
Good gracious - no wonder I feel so stuffed!! And no wonder some recent rejections (of various writing kinds, not just manuscripts) have depressed me more than they usually would. A writer has to develop a thick skin to survive, and an ability to say, "OK, how can I make this better?" When you're really deep-down tired, it's much harder to get up off the ground and fight back.
It's also harder to write new words. My friend T, who managed her 50,000 words for NaNo by way of writing 15,000 of them in the last two days, said on her blog that there were times when she was so tired that she was writing absolute nonsense, not even connected with the story. As writers, we tend to think that because we sit all day, we don't need to look after ourselves as well as someone who does labouring work, or who plays top-level sport. That's not true at all. It's the lack of sleep, bad eating habits, coffee/alcohol/ciggies (pick your poison) and lack of exercise that affects our writing more than we realise.
There was an article in the Weekend Australian yesterday about the effect of less sleep on kids - one hour less a night can mean a sixth grader learning at the rate of a fourth grader (just one example). Sleep is vital to writers too - it's where we restore our imagination and creativity, either by dreaming or simply giving our poor brains a rest.
There's a great recipe for better writing - sleep more! I'll be in that.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
However, there was one thing that struck me as something to remember as a writer - the gold temple above is called the Temple of Absolute Perfection. Never a state I'm likely to achieve in my writing, so no point stressing about it. We always just write the best story we can, and maybe perfection is over-rated! We finished our visit with a cup of tea in a restaurant behind a waterfall.
This is my memo to myself about concentration and focus. This man paints pictures on bottles and domes - but he is painting on the inside. He uses a long, thin paintbrush and does it very, very carefully. Again, however hard I work on my writing, he puts my level of concentration to shame, but maybe it's something to aspire to.
In the last few days of my Hong Kong trip, I read the latest Louise Rennison/Georgia Nicholson book Luuurve is a many-trousered thing... and, true to form, she made me laugh. All of the books in this series look deceptively simple to write, yet she manages to create the point of view of a self-obsessed teenage girl while being funny and portraying really effectively what it's like. There's not much around in YA that's humorous so I'm not surprised these are so popular with both teens and their mums!
Friday, November 30, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
I have no idea what this huge bell is all about - something historical, I imagine. The streets were full of people, mostly strolling and looking in shops. Hardly any signs with English so even in the railway station we had to ask for help. Lots of interesting people to watch and listen to. Sue took a photo of a noodle shop that had about thirty people outside, all eating bowls of noodles with their chopsticks.
Lo Wu was less overwhelming this time because we knew what to expect. Hundreds of shops but mostly selling the same things. I was looking for a new wallet but there were only about 6 different kinds (all copies) and when none of them were what I wanted, that was it. No point looking further. I did buy a Tshirt and jewellery, but that was it. Very restrained!
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Friday, November 16, 2007
Hong Kong is the same as always - busy, busy - and the streets are more packed with people at night than during the day, even rush hour. Everyone loves being out and about, and the shops stay open till midnight usually. Although we are staying further towards Central on the Island, we are still in Wanchai and found ourselves yesterday going back to familiar places for photocopying and eating out. But we will venture further afield once things slow down a little.
Sue has lined up a cooking class (she really wants to learn how to make dumplings) and on Friday we plan to try early morning tai chi in the park and learn the art of Chinese teamaking. We are near Lockhart Road which has a large number of bars along it - a lesson in names and titles. Try Devil's Advocate, Old Chinese Hand, Wild Coyote, Typhoon and Agate. Most of them are full of tourists. We think we will avoid the Kangaroo Bar.
I am hoping to write while here - NaNo is hanging over me and my word count has come to a grinding halt. But there's not much I can do about it when I am totally brain dead by the end of the day. Maybe tomorrow...
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Deitrich did a great job of depicting both the cultures and life of the time, as well as the geography. Jonas begins in Constantinople, and then travels north into what is now probably Romania, then west into France where the huge final battle between Aetius and Attila takes place. His description of that battle, which some estimates put at over half a million soldiers on each side, is terrific, both in the single viewpoint of hand-to-hand combat and the overall fighting of hundreds of thousands. Some say three hundred thousand died in one day.
At the back of the book, there is a chapter on how he researched the story, and how little evidence there was of what really happened. The Huns didn't believe in reading and writing, so there are no written accounts from them. What there is came mostly from Romans. Deitrich talks about how he visited a number of museums and sites, trying to gather as much material as he could, but there isn't even a reliable picture of Attila, just a portrait made many years after his death with no evidence it was created by someone who knew him. Still, the level of detail in the book shows that Deitrich found enough to enrich the book immensely.
We are so used to having everything at our fingertips these days - TV, 24 hour news, internet, research libraries - that to write about a whole race of people who had no interest in recording their 'doings' is a real challenge. Which brings me to my research. I've been struggling for a while with a story, thinking it was fantasy but gradually realising that somewhere in my subconscious I've dragged the story up from a historical base. But what? I didn't do ancient history at school, and while I've read historical fiction over the years, I couldn't figure out why I could 'see' this story but had no idea where it was set. The word barbarians kept coming up, though.
Then I did some research on weapons, and immediately found that the ones I had in mind were used around 400-500AD, which led me to Goths, Vandals, Visigoths and Huns. Aha! I had my era at last, and my location - southern France. Now, this is a very weird way to go about researching a story - write a third of it before you know where and when it's taking place! But that's the way it happens sometimes. As for reading novels as a form of research - I can highly recommend it. You gain a 'feel' for the place and time in a way that normal historical reading rarely gives you, and you can then move on into more factual stuff as you need it.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
In the US, it's only the almost-end of their first semester. No exams, just that funny celebration called Thanksgiving. My best memory of Thanksgiving is working at the American Club in Sydney (much younger days, thank you) and carrying out massive turkeys on platters, then watching various men with their knives, both electric and manual, hatcheting said turkeys into lumps. Their dads taught them many things, but obviously not how to carve a roast properly.
So I imagine all those US writers beavering away (because of course there are no beavers in Australia), free of student encumbrances. What about the UK? It hasn't snowed there yet. Are they all still drowning their sorrows over their World Cup loss? Or do they not bother with NaNo? Are they instead off to the soccer, I mean, football? Are any writers in Asia or Africa doing NaNo? If you care, check the regions on the site, I guess. I'm just wondering...
And of course trying to excuse the fact that I am sadly behind in my word count. At Day 11, I should have racked up a tidy 18,000 words or so, but I think I'm up to around 8,000. Today, I had oodles of writing time, but I was in the bush (literally) and, having worked out, miraculously (or not so miraculously, if you are one of those people who reads your instruction manuals all the time) how to do ultra-macro photos on my camera. And the first results are up on my Bush Notes blog. What a beautiful day it was. And to top it all, I came across two fox cubs. Do not say the words vermin or extermination, please. Not yet. Let me just marvel at the experience.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
How do I read so much? If I'm working at home, I read at the breakfast and lunch table. I read at night instead of watching TV (or as well as - most TV shows don't require 100% concentration!). And I always read for at least half an hour when I go to bed. On the weekends, if I'm not working, I read as relaxation. When we go up to the bush for the day, I spend a lot of time sitting under the trees, reading. I always take at least three books in case I run out. I am a fast reader, I guess, but only through practice.
Being a fast reader means that books I don't like so much get read pretty quickly, but if they really don't appeal, I toss them. Once upon a time, I'd persevere but not any more. Too many other good books out there to read.
I've just finished The Day the Gypsies Came by Linzi Glass. It's set in Johannesburg in the 60s, and has an awful cast of characters, nearly all of whom are very unlikeable. The main character is weak and doesn't act until the end, when it's too late. I struggled to finish this, but in the end I was glad I did for one reason - the relationship between the main character and the Zulu gateman, Buza. It was wonderfully written, and made the ending, despite all the other horrible things that happened, worthwhile.
Monday, November 05, 2007
But I have managed around 6,000 words so far (not all of them in NaNo time - I started early), and have come up against a small wall - the one called research. I'm at a point in the novel where I am about to make some things happen to the main character, but I'm not sure of the details of the situation, and I need to know them accurately, so the outcome works (otherwise what follows on will be "wrong"). It's a bit like in a crime novel, where you want someone's arm to be crushed in a certain machine, but if that machine doesn't operate in such a way for that crushing to happen, you can't write the scene. Sorry if I'm being confusing. I'm one of those paranoid writers who can't bear to talk about exactly what they're writing about.
So do I stop and go away and do research? A bit hard right now as it will probably mean interviewing an expert, and I don't have time. I could resort to books - I've already tried the internet and it doesn't have what I need (amazing but true!). I might just have to fudge it and hope that what I guess to be the correct situation is pretty close to accurate. And race off to the library as soon as I can.
My other option is to stop working on this novel and go back to the YA novel I was working on last month. Except I have no idea what happens next in that one either. This really is the biggest problem, I think, for many writers who can't do it full-time. The physical writing is not the issue - I type fast enough to do 1000 words an hour. It's the place inside my head where I plot and experiment and go what if? It's too full of other mush. Patience, I think, patience. NaNo is not a stick, it's a carrot!
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Everyone has their most-loathed manufacturers, both in printers and computers. Many years ago I had a Compaq laptop and the service provided when it broke down was so abominable that I swore I'd never buy anything with Compaq on it again. (Try, for example, being told that the power unit had to be sent to Scotland to be fixed! It'd only take 4-5 months.) And the fact that HP bought Compaq didn't improve things. I and my friends have a long history with HP's inkjet printers that defies all logic.
A printer that will print page numbers only at the top of the page, not the bottom? A printer that ignores all page settings and always gives you 1cm margin at the top? A printer that sucks up extra pages whenever it feels like it? And we all know that the reason printers are so darned cheap these days is because the manufacturers are making billions out of charging us megabucks for the ink refills. And most of the time, the ink hasn't actually run out, it's just down to about 20%, which is "below operating capability".
But a recent purchase by friends really wins first prize for manufacturer sneakiness. They bought a fairly expensive model so they could print photos and things for school projects. As the supplied ink cartridge ran out not long after purchase (because of course you never get a full one with a new printer), they took it up the street and had it professionally refilled. Before they knew it, the computer screen started showing messages warning them that since they hadn't used a manufacturer's cartridge, their warranty was now voided. (Same cartridge, mind you, just new ink.)
You might say, fair enough, because there are people who use ultra-cheap replacements and then claim there's something wrong with the printer. But hang on a minute, even HP produce a slightly cheaper version of their own cartridges. What is so bad about using a different brand of replacement anyway? Aren't we entitled to find a cheaper brand?
However, the final straw has been that now the printer won't print at all. It keeps telling them there is a paper jam, when there isn't. There is nothing wrong with this printer, other than the fact that somehow HP have found a way to make it shut down if you use the "wrong" ink. Bad move, HP. You have finally, irrevocably, joined my list of manufacturers whose products will never grace my office again.
And if all the people who have been badly treated by BigPond ever get together and boycott them, they'll be out of business in a second. We need effective complaining campaigns, we need to make manufacturers get their act together and we need to stop buying plastic crap that doesn't last the distance. OK, I'll get off the soapbox now.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
One of my favourite quotes is "All the colleges in the world cannot turn a bad writer into a good one. But good teaching can teach you how not to write." Alistair Cooke. I've seen quite a few students over the years who have started out as fairly ordinary writers, but worked hard and eventually found their own voice and style, and then surged ahead in terms of producing very good writing. I've also seen students who have talent and can write terrific pieces, but don't have the persistence and stamina to complete a whole novel, or even rewrite a short story to a publishable standard.
It's as if they thought it would happen like magic - that they'd come into the course, write a few gems that would gain instant acclaim, and then a novel would appear. Without having to actually sit down for hours and days and weeks and write the darned thing, of course, or (heaven forbid) rewrite it several or a dozen times. I've also seen one or two talented poets who have written some great poems that everyone has raved about, they've had a couple published in magazines, and then decided they don't need to rewrite anymore, or even take much notice of comments. And their poetry has started to die on the page and become messy or unfocused.
After a whole year of working with three classes (an average of 40-50 students usually), it's interesting to sit back at the end and think about each student and where they might be heading and what they'll do next. There are some who never surprise me - a couple of years later I meet up with them and they're often doing some job like shop assistant or takeaway cook. Nothing wrong with that, but they're not writing either.
So it's this time of year also where I ask them - how are you going to keep writing after you graduate? Who is going to make you write? No one. No one except you. If you want to be a writer or a poet, now you have to set your own goals and deadlines, practise your craft, read widely, and continue to feed your inner writer with words and images and writing. Self-discipline and perserverance are the hardest skills to acquire and, in the long run, may well be the most valuable. Your writing will continue to improve, forever and ever, if you feed it regularly and write on a regular basis.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Another tactic was to make the reviewer a character in your next book and kill him/her off. It's easy to understand why famous writers who get dozens of reviews simply stop reading them. It can become a form of self-torture. Reviewers have all sorts of agendas, hidden and open. Sometimes an editor will select a reviewer because they are known to have differing views on a topic (especially any kind of political book). It might be that in the past, the reviewer has been slighted or insulted in some way by the author, so it's revenge time.
The hardest thing is not to respond. Occasionally people do, especially when a review is patently unfair or biased, or just plain wrong in its assertions. But I've been in the position of being reviewed by someone I'd got on the wrong side of in the past, and when I saw that person's name on the review, my heart plummeted. With good reason. Friends commiserated with me, but to complain would have made me look petty. You have to take it on the chin, and move on.
In this morning's newspapers, there are two reviews of Alice Sebold's new novel The Almost Moon. You would think the reviewers had read two different books. One reviewer called it the worst second novel she'd ever read. She also said "this story is one hell of a sorry mess". Ouch! The other reviewer liked it. She didn't rave over it (so reading between the lines, you could think maybe it wasn't as good as she'd hoped) but she did say "a powerful study in the sadder, madder forms of love". After The Lovely Bones, I imagine any novel Sebold published next was going to suffer in comparison. Let's hope she ignores the reviews - by now she's probably half-way through her next novel, and just as well.
Friday, October 26, 2007
I often talk to students about competitions because they ask questions like, "Why do you have to pay an entry fee?" or "How can you be sure it's genuine?" Good questions. For a reputable competition, the entry fee usually goes towards funding the prize money and paying the judge. (Any competition with a goodly number of entries to read that doesn't pay the judge isn't playing fair.) But you will see some competitions where the first prize is $100 or $200, and the entry fee is $10. Whoa! Someone is making a nice profit. Those are the ones I tell students to avoid - and $10 is a lot for a student anyway.
Some competitions aren't competitions. The International Library of Poetry is one (there are several like this, including one that targets schoolkids) - they often don't charge an entry fee so they look genuine, and the $1000 first prize - sometimes bigger than this - is enticing. But what they do is publish the "winners" in a book. And everyone is a winner. The catch is you have to pay for the book. It's usually around $70+. It's cheaply printed, they cram as many poems in as possible (hundreds and hundreds) and sell it to the people whose poems are in it.
Now for many poets who haven't been published before, and may not even know of the many poetry magazines around, this is a thrill. They will say they don't mind paying the $70. Some buy more than one copy. But if you take a minute to do the sums, you'll see the problem. These books cost around $5 to print overseas somewhere, and even if only 70% of the people in the book buy one copy, that's a $65 profit per book. Sell 500 copies and you just made $32,500. And trust me, from what I've heard from people who've been caught out, this is a conservative estimate.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Everything is happening at once. I will have tons of marking to do - signalling the end of classes - but at the same time I'm writing course materials for our classes in Hong Kong. I'll be teaching How to Write Picture Books again at the YWCA, plus other sessions on poetry and fiction writing. Then at the Women in Publishing seminars, I'll be talking about websites and marketing, and how to sell your writing internationally. Phew! And spending two whole days at schools, which I'm looking forward to.
My friend T says, "How can you finish a year of teaching in our course and then go off and do two more weeks of it?" But it's different. Short courses are full of energy and enthusiasm. You don't have to plan for 30 weeks, just several hours. You can throw yourself into it and you know that everyone who comes along is truly keen and wants to know every single thing you can tell them. I find in 30 weeks of classes that students struggle, their personal stuff gets in the way, their commitment (in some cases, not all) wanes and they often don't put in 100%. It can get dispiriting as a teacher.
In short courses, everyone does 100% - teachers and students. We all want to make as much great stuff happen in our allotted time as possible. And Hong Kong itself is such an energetic place - people out in the streets, enjoying themselves, eating, talking, walking until after midnight. The lights, the busy-ness, the combination of ancient and modern culture all serve to re-energise us.
This time I am going on a short trip into China (as well as the big shopping trip to Shenzhen!) and also hope to hop on a ferry to Macau for the day. It is such a different place to be, both mentally and physically, that at the end of the school year, it's a total pleasure for us.
Our YWCA classes are here (look for our Write Start! week classes under Language and Communications), and our WiPs sessions are here (our sessions will be up any day under Events). If you're in Hong Kong, come along!
(And the photo is of one of the great skinny trams in Wanchai - complete with Christmas paint!)
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
This time of year is hopeless for writing - usually. But it also coincides with NaNoWriMo, which is the thing you sign up for where you write 50,000 words in a month. For writers in the US, it probably works out fine. For me, with end of year marking, it's not good at all. One year I signed up, and used it to finish the last 40,000 words of a draft. I did try to start something new to reach the big 5-0 but the brain died on me.
This year, I am determined to do something! I feel like I have spent months of my life recently doing nothing but rewriting. Nothing new, nothing exciting (because I love the first draft, this is a terrible state to be in). So my friend K, who has signed up for NaNo, is going to work hard on her new novel, and I'm signing up with her (my personal NaNo - K, do I call you NaNNy?) and I'm going to be trying very hard to work on a new novel of my own. I may not get far, but it might just save my sanity while everything else is crowding in.
The other thing that saves my sanity on a constant basis is our bit of bushland about an hour out of Melbourne. I've been taking hundreds of photos over the past few years, and now we have applied for a Trust for Nature covenant. So I've decided to create a kind of photo record of what I see there. It'll be mostly plants, because I don't have a decent zoom on my camera to catch the birds and butterflies well enough. But one day... In the meantime, if you're interested, my first amateur naturalist post is up.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
How do you write a whole new ending? It's not just a matter of chopping off the last chapter and dolloping in a new surprise. It means re-reading the whole manuscript again, with the idea firmly in your mind that you are now heading for a different kind of resolution, so what might it be? The best way is to chop off the bit that has to go, so when you reach that point, all you have are blank pages, ready for the new words. One of my worries was that it's been a while since I wrote this novel so could I find that character's voice again? Another was that I did still want to leave the characters with an open door, a possibility of good things coming again. We'll see how I go with all that.
The other ending to be rewritten is, to me, more problematic. I do tend to agree with this editor that it needs a bit more, for several reasons. I just don't want to end up with an ending that drags out. Again, all I can do is write a draft and see what happens.
Funnily enough, I opened the latest issue of Writer's Digest and there was an article on endings, but it wasn't much use to me. I wondered if it would be much use to anyone really, as it was mainly about someone who was reluctant to write the ending of their novel. Nothing about endings and what they do and don't do. I find students agonise over endings - they're not easy to write, I agree. But in Short Story, where we do get to workshop a whole piece, often it's not the ending that is the problem. It's the build-up or set-up that's at fault. It's an architectural problem, where you have to look at the whole thing in order to see where you went wrong. Was it Hemingway who rewrote the ending to one of his novels 39 times? I believe that, even if it isn't true!
Friday, October 19, 2007
How do I know? Well, the obvious sign is that they never say who they're from. Genuine e-cards say "You have a received a card from Joe Bloggs", and as this Joe is someone you know, you will go take a look. Spam e-cards never say who they're from. And the one I got today is a real giveaway. Can you tell how I knew it wasn't genuine?
You have recieved A Hallmark E-Card
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The dull bronze creek water shivers
at the mites and evening flies
that dip and carouse in the sudden
stillness before dusk. A magpie peers
imperiously from the bridge rail.
Green finches snap and bicker
in the weeping willow; its trailing
fingers tremble and pollen drifts
like snuff spilt from a box.
High in the ironbark gum, galahs,
dark grey now, squabble and settle
then launch into the deepening sky
like ash blown onto water.
Ripples spread from under the broken tree
lodged tight against the bank.
A plump water rat, wet-sleeked fur
gleaming in the last light, glides out
and over the small dam of branches
and sodden leaves; his long white-streaked
tail rules a line at the end.
This poem of mine was published last year in Divan, an online poetry journal published by Box Hill TAFE. Not so many years ago, journals and magazines (ezines) were considered "not real publishing" by many writers - after all, if you can't hold the magazine in your hand, show it around to friends etc, what was the point? Direct them to a website? No way. But times have changed, and there are many ezines now with terrific reputations, starting with Slate (as a biggie) and covering a broad range of styles and poetry.
There are haiku journals, online versions of print journals, and even journals where you can hear audio of the poets reading. What has turned the tide, I think, is that poets are realising that with a print journal, you've maybe got an audience of a few hundred at most, whereas with online journals, you have a potential audience of thousands. Also anyone can Google your name and find your poems that way.
Divan 7 has accepted three of my poems, and will be launched early in 2008. I've also had two poems accepted by Mascara. I'm very excited about both. And what is even better, for both journals I was able to email my submissions, thus saving on postage and paper. Now all I have to do is buy a special notebook and when my poems are published, I'll print them out in full colour and paste them into it. Because, really, I still like to hold something in my hand.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
On Friday, I attended a day for teachers of Professional Writing & Editing in Victoria (well, actually I organised the darned thing too, which is why I have more grey hairs this week). These days are always wonderful, and we always say "Why don't we do it more often?" but it does take a lot to organise because people are teaching or committed to other work things. This time we had teachers from several hundred kilometres away who made the effort to attend, which was terrific.
Our guest speaker was a supervising editor from Lonely Planet (who, if you haven't heard of them, are one of the largest publishers of travel guides in the world, and they happen to have their head office quite close by). She was a great speaker, and talked all about what they look for in editors, what the application process is - it includes a very hard editing test - and how the company works. She also told us how to become a LP author, which sounded very enticing! But the two skills she emphasised for their editors were project management abilities and being able to have a good working relationship with the authors.
Our students are learning excellent project management skills - this year, they are publishing two collections of writing (Lizard magazine and the student anthology) and in my class, ten of them are creating their own book, magazine or website. They've had to work out a production plan and timeline, and they have deadlines that I give them big nudges about, to check they're up to speed. We're having a multi-launch in 3 weeks.
Working with authors is another skill that we work on with them, but are about to do a lot more in this area. There's a tendency to think the author-editor relationship is adversarial - the editor says Do this and the author has to defend herself. In some cases, it can be exactly like that, which is a great pity, because it often leads to a bad book. A too-defensive author can dig his heels in and become extremely difficult, and foster a reputation for it so that editors actively avoid working with him. On the other hand, an overly-pedantic editor can also be detrimental to a book, forcing changes that might adversely affect voice and style, if nothing else.
The same is true of an agent - many agents these days are expected to act as first editors for their clients, but I've heard of one agent who persuaded a client to rewrite, and then the publisher preferred the original version! It's tricky, there's no doubt about it. As authors, we spend hours and days and weeks and months and years on a book, and having someone pull it apart and tell us which bits aren't working can feel like they're ripping out our guts. But the bottom line is - once it leaves the cosy safety of your home and goes on a journey out into the real world of readers, editors and critics, it has to become the best book it can possibly be before it gets glued irrevocably into a glossy cover, ready for sale. If it's not your best, it won't survive. And maybe neither will you (bad reviews make people want to open veins).
Your editor should be your working buddy, the person who is on your side, the person who wants to help you make your book fantastic, and is probably the best person to see its weak spots. It's very likely you won't be able to! So cultivate your editor, work on the relationship from your side as well, and hopefully it will be constructive and inspiring. And if you have an editor you hate? Don't diss them in public. Don't even diss them to friends unless you trust them. Work on that book, and move on.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
My writing group has been working on a novella together. It started as maybe a long short story, is now sitting on around 33,000 words and will probably end up about 50,000 words, the rate we're going. Or more. We originally thought we'd do it as a different way to create a group anthology (the Victorian FAW has a yearly award for writing group anthology), but the characters and story have kind of taken off, and we are having a load of fun.
First step was to come up with a situation that could involve a number of characters, and put them in conflict with each other. We settled on a family funeral (like weddings and Christmas, these occasions bring out the worst in some people). Each of us writes one of the characters, in first person, and there are some other characters who appear in the story too but don't have their own voices.
The best part is the plotting. We sit around the table and throw ideas around about what might happen next. What will X do? Why is Y behaving like that? What will happen when Z finds out the truth about ...? Having plotted out the next few scenes and decided from whose point of view each scene will be shown, we go away and write, then bring back our bits and read them out. Often our characters will throw in something new (that just came out of nowhere in the writing!) which makes everyone else say, "Wow, that's great, that takes it in another direction. Now, how about ..." And we start the next round of plotting.
Some characters are behaving badly and so the feedback might be, "You need to show why he's doing that", or "Your character has been observing - now she needs to act and stir up trouble". We've introduced an unexpected romance, and someone else who thought they were in love is about to realise they were wrong. Other characters are getting desperate, or looking for reconciliation. It's all inspiring and energising, and feeds into our other writing as well.
What will we do with it? Well, we are over the word limit for the award so we'll rethink that, but probably we'll make it into a book and print enough copies so we can all have one each and some for interested friends and family. We're not expecting it to be published commercially - it's going to be too short, for one thing. But mostly we're going to continue having lots of fun!
Thursday, October 11, 2007
There are other things I won't go into - suffice to say that the movie felt insubstantial, and tried to make up for it with special effects and scary music. Instead of recreating the feel of ancient England's steady encroachment on the present, the movie seems to try to stay in 2007 and then jump suddenly into sets that look like leftovers from a 1950s horror movie. I remember the books as having depth and real creepy suspense. In the book The Dark is Rising, for example, there is another character called the Walker, who appears as a dirty old tramp. He creates tension for Will right from the beginning. He's not in the movie. I'm now going to go back and read the books again - I'd resisted until I'd seen the movie - and am starting with the first one, Over Sea, Under Stone, which has entirely different characters.
It's strange how a book can affect you so strongly, and then the movie is so shallow. I thought the same about The Bridge to Terabithia, that the fantasy element they introduced wasn't necessary. Maybe there are just some books that will never translate to the screen and evoke the same emotion that you have when you read them. It's something I talk about with writer friends now and then - is it better to have read the book first or seen the movie first? Because I hate knowing the ending, I prefer to read the book because then all the anticipation is still there. If I see the movie later, it doesn't bother me so much to know how it ends if the journey is interesting.
I only re-read books when I've forgotten how they end! Or if I am looking at something in particular, such as dialogue or setting. I rarely watch a movie more than once, unless I've forgotten how that ends too. But I know a couple of people who, once they've read the first few chapters of a book, will read the ending before they continue. Maybe that's why I love poetry - it's not about the ending. And I can read a poem many times and see more things in it each time. My husband says that's why he watches movies several times, because he sees new things. Just as we all like different kinds of books and movies, we also seem to get different experiences from them.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Writers who are gaily writing pages and pages of stuff heap scorn (even if only privately) on writers who say they are suffering writer's block. "Just write anything" is common advice. "Free writing works" is another, because if you're free writing, even if it's awful, you are at least writing. There's a belief among some people that there is no such thing as writer's block. If you are a writer, then you write. If you have a book due on 31 December, then you write. If you have two articles due next week, then you write. Writer's block? Rubbish!
To some extent, this is true. If you are a writer, then you write. Do you hear of plumbers having plumber's block? "No, I'm sorry, Mrs J, I can't fix your toilet today. I have plumber's block. Can't tell you when I'll get over it. You know how it is." My own theory is that it often has to do with confidence. Writer's block is not about not being able to write - after all, you only need to pick up the pen and start scribbling and technically you are writing. Writer's block is about believing you can't write. And that's a whole different issue.
What does can't mean? It may mean "I can't write anything good so I might as well not try." It may mean "Everyone rejects what I write so I may as well give up." Plus some of these: "I never have any original ideas", "My husband/mother/teacher says I'm not a good writer", "I sit down to write and my mind goes blank", "I try to write but only garbage comes out". None of these are actually about writing, they're about what the writer thinks their writing should be.
It should be (pick one or any): brilliant, publishable, approved of by everyone I know, inspired, full of wonderful language, totally original, perfect, prize-winning, exhilarating. The truth is that none of these things occur in a first draft. On rare occasions, you might get close. Those almost-perfect first drafts are a gift to be treasured, but not to be constantly emulated. It's not possible. The more you expect that your writing will be wonderful and perfect and amazing in the first draft, the more you are setting yourself up for disappointment and disillusionment, and yes, probably a case of block at some point.
The one thing I've learned over the years is to keep writing. It's why I often do the writing exercises that I set for my classes. This year, along with my Poetry 2 students, I've written about 100 poems. Many in class, more outside of class because I'm "in the habit". But I have to admit that over the mid-semester break, apart from poems, I did very little writing. And I realised that the reason was I was waiting to start a new novel. I'm not quite ready yet, so I wrote nothing else, despite the fact that I have other projects to work on, or rewriting to do. I just plain avoided it because I was waiting for the perfect moment to begin.
There is no perfect moment, except for right now.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
But I have recently noticed a physical tag that is absolutely being done to death. It's in everything I read, not just YA, and it's starting to annoy me big-time. It's the eye rolling thing. OK, it can be hard to show emotion, especially sarcasm or exasperation, rather than telling - it's the rule we have hammered into us, over and over. Show, don't tell. But I'm here to tell you - stop the eye rolling!
I've just finished Kathy Reichs' new book Bones to Ashes, and if Tempe Brennan rolls her eyes one more time, they'll pop right out of her head and disappear under the bone table. Next day, I'm reading a feature article in the weekend newspaper and someone starts eye rolling in that too. Is nothing free of the eye rolling phenomena? Is this a new disease that no one told us about? Or have writers everywhere slipped into using it without realising it's about to become a huge, fat, horrible CLICHE?
Friday, October 05, 2007
I've talked to several writers about what drives us to write. Or more usually, what drives us to write for publication. Anyone can write journals or diaries or poems to amuse themselves, but there comes a point where you step over the line and start sending your work out. For many, the first few rejections are enough to stop them. For some, it proves to them that it was "only a silly idea" and they go off and do something else. I often warn students that once they graduate from the course, they are on their own, and that's a hard thing to come to terms with. No more deadlines, no more feedback or workshopping - quite a few now form their own writing groups.
Sometimes writers say they want to be published to be validated in some way, and it's amazing how much of that "validation" is about family - whether it's mother, father, sister, or someone along the way (often a teacher at school) who has poured scorn on the desire or the dream. Getting published is a great way to say "Now you can go and get ***". Sometimes the validation is simply about self-worth, and with publishing being the way it is these days, that's a rocky path to tread.
Lots of new writers that I meet have trouble with the idea that publishing is a business. They point to people like Raymond Carver, who had an editor who helped to shape his early work, or someone like Frank McCourt, who wrote about his terrible childhood and made a million from it. But Carver and McCourt aren't famous because a publisher thought their book was "worthy". They're famous because they wrote something so good that people would pay money to own a copy and read it.
When I was a kid, I was, of course, extremely well-behaved and quiet (not). My mother's favourite saying, when I got too much for her, was, "Stop creating!". (Mother translation: stop carrying on or you'll get a thick ear.) My mother is no longer around to tell me to stop anything, but she was a voracious reader, and a writer of diaries, and I can't help wondering sometimes if she was still alive, what she'd think of me now. Stop creating? Not likely, Mum.