Friday, October 31, 2008

New banner.

Look at my new banner. Isn't it lovely? It was designed for me by the seriously talented Sarah Laing. I think it shows I'm serious about this blog thing, and that I don't just want my blog to look like everyone else's. But more than that, it captures the aesthetic that drew me to Thomas Edgar as a character in the first place. Before I started The Sound of Butterflies, I was already a collector of antique prints, the very kind that appear above. I never had any butterflies, but I have shells, bugs, birds, flies and plants, many of which I found in a funny out-of-the-way spot at the Portobello markets in London. I wrote about it on the Picador blog a while back (scroll down a fair way to find my post).

So I'm happy. Looking at this banner makes me happy, in the same way that looking at my prints made me want to write about the sort of man who might have done these drawings in the first place. And clearly I keep coming back to this aesthetic - my new novel has a collector as well. Two, in fact. I just can't leave them alone, it seems.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

In which the author wishes she could work a bit more efficiently and then uses a train metaphor.

I had an unexpected visitor this morning: the idea for my next novel. Once again it arose from some outside stimulus, and a serendipitous coming together of several elements to cause the spark. In this case, my husband mentioned that he had stumbled upon a documentary I might be interested in, based on where the research for my current novel is taking me (the research is actually taking me too far from where I need to be). Just after he mentioned that, an interview came on the radio and when the subject mentioned one of his previous jobs (he is now an actor), I could almost hear the cogs connect and the wheel start to spin. The whole next novel flashed before my eyes.

There is no danger that I will abandon my current one to start this new idea. I had the idea for The Sound of Butterflies while I was halfway through the novel I wrote for my MA and I managed to get that finished (though obviously not to the point that it was publishable). TSOB existed in notebooks for a long time before I turned my full attention to it, and I think the beginning was easier because of it. So I'm hoping the same thing will happen here.

That makes five projects I have in mind that I would like to see through to their end: a short story, two novels, a children's novel and a screenplay. I am a serial monogamist when it comes to writing. I am afraid of diluting projects if I work on more than one at once, but the upside of that foible is that I do finish things, eventually. I would rather have two projects finished at the end of (say) three years than four half finished things. I guess that is why, when I embarked on my Wuthering Heights essay, the novel part of my brain shut down until it was finished (although it did turn out to be valuable research; I just couldn't write any of the novel).

Around about now is when I wish I was some kind of writing machine, who could work quickly and efficiently. My residency finishes at the end of February, which is only 4 months away. I would like to think if I sped things up a bit I could have the first novel finished and the children's one nearly done as well.

So why do I work so slowly when these things are all there in my head? When I have the time and the space and the income? I wish I had done some kind of journalism training - the novelists I know who have are very very good at bashing out the words quickly and efficiently, where as I tend to go bash, bash, think, think, get distracted, another bash, go and have a nap. And that is not a typical day I am describing but a typical month, so those periods of not bashing are ridiculously long while I stew things over. I have talked before about the perfect novel in my head; maybe the problem is still that I am worried that when it comes out it won't be so hot. But I'm supposed to be over all of that.

The other thing I have noticed is that my new idea has arisen from the research for the current one. I go wandering along a path and realise that I am too far from the route I am supposed to be taking, so I promise to come back to that path another day on a new project. Just as my current one will be linked to TSOB because of my own personal interests, so too will the next one be linked to that (and probably so on and so forth). An image of train carriages being hitched together comes to mind. Each one will be connected to the last, but by a different link than the one before. I think that's rather a nice way to shape one's publishing career.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bits & pieces.

I am back from a great few days in Melbourne. I love that city so much. I would actually consider moving there. After all, I can work anywhere, usually. It would just be the logistics of moving the family there and finding the right things for everyone to do. I often think about the life that might have been. It's not that I wish I'd lived a different life - far from it - I just wish there was a way to live parallel lives. In one of those lives I would have moved to a foreign country where I didn't speak the language and made an effort to stay there and learn. I know I can still do those things, but it doesn't seem as easy to move around. Of course, I am forgetting I had my own shackles in my 20s too, usually lack of money or useful work experience that would make it possible to uproot for foreign shores.

I worked in London a couple of times - once for a year, then again for six months - but it's not the same as the challenge of going so far outside your comfort zone you don't even know what the local words for 'comfort zone' are. I'm sure the reality wouldn't be as glamorous as I am imagining.

Anyway, back to Melbourne: I shopped, I drank, I ate, I danced, and best of all I caught up with very missed friends. You see, with friends like those I feel as though moving to another country with a small child might just be tolerable - there would be willing babysitters and lots of fun things to do with friends that don't involve finding a babysitter in the first place.

I had no literary activity whatsoever, except I did read some of the stories, as promised, in Paula Morris's Forbidden Cities. It was the perfect book to take with me (this from someone who regularly confesses to preferring novels over stories any day). I urge anyone to check out this book - there really is something for all moods, especially when travelling. My favourite stories so far are the ones with a satirical touch - I guess they are more like the Paula I know in person. But the one I loved best will come as no surprise to anyone who knows my own short stories: it was called Bright and it was quite short and finished from a dog's point of view. I like a good dose of whimsy and melancholy in my stories, and this one has just the right amount of both. I've still got a few stories to go and they are now my perfect travelling companion on short journeys too - the bus to work.

I have decided not to write about seeing Goran Bregovic in concert. Let's just say it was love. I am far too daunted at the thought of putting the powerful feelings the show generated into words. I'm sure you can imagine the awe of seeing "a 15-piece all-male choir; a 12-piece string orchestra, a six-piece brass 'Wedding and Funeral' band; two female singers from Bulgaria; a guest vocalist Alen Ademovic and, of course, Goran Bregovic!" I will leave you with this image though: I wondered as I looked at everyone sitting so politely in the four-tiered-seating State Theatre when we arrived just how we could experience the promised overwhelming urge to dance. I wondered if an arts festival crowd is the ideal crowd and a theatre the appropriate venue. I needed have worried. By the end they were dancing in the aisles, clapping and singing. Two middle-aged women at the very front finally got up the courage to dance at the very end and were so pleased with themselves they high-fived.

Maybe I will write about it another day.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Forbidden Cities.

I was going to call this post 'Foreign Cities' and say how appropriate it was that when I go to Melbourne this week my book of choice is called Foreign Cities. But it's not; it's Forbidden Cities by Paula Morris (see Bookman Beattie's recent interview with Paula here). I was getting it mixed up (again - sorry Paula!) with Charlotte Grimshaw's novel Foreign City.

So. I am going to Melbourne this week to visit friends and have a small holiday, and I shall be taking Paula's new book of short stories, which I'm very much looking forward to reading. Even though I'll be in a foreign city with much to do, I will also be in a nice quiet hotel with all the time in the world, and if there's one thing that I don't get much of these days, it's lolling around reading.

I love Melbourne. I've only been once before but if I was going to move to Australia I wouldn't have much trouble settling there I think. It certainly isn't what I would class as a forbidden city; at least, nobody has forbidden me to go there. It might be forbidden in as much as I'm a bit worried about shopping temptations and perhaps drinking too much with my lovely friends. Ah, the decadence!

The Melbourne Arts festival is on and I'm going to see Goran Bregovic's Tales and Songs for Weddings and Funerals on Saturday night. Bregovic made the music for Emir Kusterica's films Time of the Gypsies and Underground, both films I loved, with the music contributing significantly to that love. Here's the blurb:

"The maestro of this timeless new sound, Goran Bregovic, melds a 37-piece ensemble from the best of the Balkans: a 15-piece all-male choir; a 12-piece string orchestra, a six-piece brass 'Wedding and Funeral' band; two female singers from Bulgaria; a guest vocalist Alen Ademovic and, of course, Goran Bregovic! The result is a recipe for riotous fun, passionate performance and exhilarating energy – featuring Bregovic’s much-loved film scores, hot-wired revivals of traditional tunes and new fusions of flavours from Gypsy to rock."

I can't wait. Perhaps afterwards I'll try and give another stumbling music review, where I try and put into words things that I only feel with my gut.

I'm also going to see if I can't get a bit of dancing in, since Melbourne supposedly has one of the most vibrant swing dancing scenes in the world. And speaking of early-20th-century-dance-styles, Melbourne is also home to one of my literary guilty pleasures: Phryne Fisher, the can-do 1920s flapper detective gal, the creation of Kerry Greenwood. If you want maximum escapism with fabulous frocks and mint juleps, you need look no further than Phryne.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The joy of tutu-ing.

(Pronounced first 'tu' like 'foot', second like 'too'.)

I've been writing an academic English essay for the first time in years. This morning I spent about half an hour on two sentences. If I was doing that with my novel at the moment I would never get it written, so I just give things more a cursory stroking and move on, and then only if something is truly awful at the sentence level.

But I needed those two essay sentences to work hard for me - they were in the conclusion. (Snippet of memory from my BA days: I hate writing introductions and conclusions.) And I loved it. I loved pinpointing and refining and rewriting until I'd chosen just the right words to say just what I wanted to say with a lovely cadence.

Which made me realise how much I love rewriting sometimes (and at those times I would say, as others have said before, "writing is re-writing"). Today anyway, most definitely. And now I can't wait to get to the third draft stage of my novel, because by then I will have sorted out most of the big structural hiccups, captured the plot and the character and the voice and all those big picture things and I will be able to blissfully roll around amongst the minutae of the sentences for a while until they say exactly what I want them to. And I will enjoy just fiddling and wearing away at those words, turning them inside out and breaking them down.

But I'm still only on the first draft, which of course has its own charms. I just thought I'd stop work for a bit and sing my little ode to tutu-ing. Carry on.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

24 more sleeps.

As the Wordstock festival in Portland, Oregon is my first international literary festival (let me rephrase: my first overseas international literary festival) I think it's only fair that I am feeling ridiculously excited about the whole thing. According to the schedule, I will be giving a presentation along with another debut historical novel author, David Boling, at 3pm on Saturday November 8th, and I will also be appearing on a panel about first time novels at 3pm on Sunday the 9th. It's an auspicious time: I fly in on the preceding Wednesday (the 5th), the day after the US general elections, so Portland will either be rejoicing or commiserating; I guess by the time I stand up on Saturday I will know whether or not Helen Clark is still Prime Minister; and on the Sunday my son will turn two without me. I am fairly certain at this point he doesn't even know what a birthday is, but I plan to burn up the credit card to make up for my absence and yay, he gets to have two birthdays. Such are the sacrifices we make.

I was reminded by the election situation that I was in the States last time a Bush left the White House. I found myself in New York on the day that Clinton was elected in 1992, at an Act Up (Aids activist group) party, and when the results were in the whole place was jumpin' with the sound of 'ding dong the wicked witch is dead!'. It was exhilirating; as I stood there I realised I was experiencing a very important part of history first-hand and would remember it forever (although I have to admit that in my old age the details are somewhat hazy).

How strange then, on my fourth visit to the States, to potentially witness my second Republican/Democrat changeover. I will report back with glee.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Life outside of writing.


Little Tweeters Necklace from mammaslittlebabies at

Wishing I was wearing:

Ashley dress from Trashy Diva

Listening to:




Lindy hop!

Playing with:

A ball - a lot! With my son.


A crazy mix of blogs by women who are heavily into clothes. Blame a cat of impossible colour for introducing me. These aren't shallow blogs by fashionistas wanting the latest Prada handbag; they are usually about creative things to do with home-made and thrift store clothes. I am rediscovering my 20 year obsession with vintage clothes.

Sometimes there is life outside of writing, we just don't talk about it on blogs about writing.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Real-life conversations.

I went to Wellington last week and came to this realisation: the reason I have been so prolific on this blog since moving to Christchurch is that I don't have any writer friends down here. You may have noticed that I haven't posted for more than a week, and that even that post was hardly a deeply thought-out essay on the pleasures and agonies of writing a novel.

It's because I met up, separately, with two of my writer friends in Wellington and we talked about writing. How I miss those conversations! They are so vital, so important in the life of trying to write a novel, or simply leading 'the writing life'. I'm sure some people would disagree, that they need solitude above all else; well, this is true when you are doing the actual writing, but when you're not, it is so great to have others to discuss things with. It doesn't even need to be the work itself that is being discussed, although this can help too. I have a Wellington writing group that is wonderful for critiquing, egging each other on, and even just sitting around for a wine (and a whine) and a gossip. But then it's great to have a quick fix, where you meet one person for coffee and you don't pull each other's work to pieces but just talk about how things are going. Sometimes it can be intimidating, when one's own work is going badly and your friend is so focused you can see lasers coming out of her eyes. But mostly it is just plain inspiring and can give you the boost you need. Writers can offer each other advice when they hit a wall, or even just a sympathetic ear.

So that is why I blog - to try and recreate the feeling I get from those cosy chats in cafes with my writer friends, and which is why I love it when people leave comments and it becomes a discussion. The downside of keeping a blog about writing is when you do have a real-life conversation and your friend says "I know, I read it on your blog", and you can no longer remember what you've written and what you haven't and whether you are boring the person who is too polite to tell you they've heard it all before.

But as far as not having posted for a while, I blame my trip to Wellington. I am sated. For now.