Friday, November 26, 2010

In which two lady novelists converse about writing.

If you liked The Sound of Butterflies do go and buy Kelly Ana Morey’s excellent novel Quinine. I am not saying they are the same book, far from it. But the two books share an exotic, steamy and Edwardian setting, pockets of natural history and, admittedly, a fair bit of transgressive behaviour.

It took me a good few weeks to read (not because the book was slow – I am just slow these days), and I looked forward to getting away from everything and getting into bed with Marta, an Austrian who marries a man she doesn’t love in order to take off for more exotic climes, in this case Papua New Guinea, then German East Neuguinea. I’m not going to give you a plot summary, as plenty of overwhelmingly positive reviews have done (here for starters), but will say that Kelly Ana has created a complete world, with some extraordinary, and never overwhelming, descriptions and some vivid, flawed and loveable characters. She has also done what all good historical novelists need to do, which is hold back on throwing in too much research. As Emma Darwin once said to me: “If you’re thinking about my research as you’re reading, I haven’t done my job.”

As a quick aside, I have to mention that the book has been ill-served by bad proofreading. In many places, it looks as though the editor has made changes to a word, but the original word has been left in alongside the new one. And this book deserves a beautiful, lush cover. It doesn’t have one. What a wasted opportunity.

But those are minor negatives. Quinine is an interesting, easy read, written with sly humour and a love of good character. I had a number of questions for Kelly Ana when I finished it, and in keeping with our tradition (see earlier editions of Black magazine for similar conversations for my book The Sound of Butterflies and her book On An Island, With Consequences Dire) she kindly agreed to answer them for me and let me post them on my blog.

RK: Did you feel that Quinine was still the best title for the book once you'd finished, given how much the book had changed (an understatement - I read the first chapter once that was in the first person, narrated by a girl in Samoa waiting for her father...? Kind of magical realism?)

KM: Absolutely, I never considered any other title. It’s just such a great word.

It did change so much, you’re right. I was so ambitious. But by the time editor Anna Rogers took me in hand I was ready to settle for writing a reasonable good book about three people with a beginning, a middle and an end.

RK: Been meaning to ask... did you sign up for word of the day and then set yourself a challenge to use every word in Quinine? There are more than your usual amount of unusual words in there. Spotting them was like part of a game.

KM: Last Christmas I spent five days reading the dictionary and created a Quinine lexicon… Anna took tons of them out. The words I really loved were the animal descriptive words like vulpine, murine, lupine and psittacine ... only a few of which made the cut. And isn't 'a gallimaufry of gimcrackery' the best way ever of saying, a pile of shit?

RK: It is. What do you think of the idea that if someone is thinking about your research while reading (ie 'gosh, this is meticulously researched') then you haven't done your job properly?

KM: Ah yes, we – editor, two readers and me - had many conversations about that. Readers were fans, editor not so much, so in the end I used my research in a way that I would like as a reader which I think is all you can do. And some of the stuff that I made up I presented as researched, like when the Germans are interned at the hospital in Kavieng, which probably did happen, but I don’t know for sure.

There was also an awful lot of research that didn’t make it … I, for example, know rather a lot about how coral atolls are formed. I was really enchanted, editor, again not so much.

RK: Ah yes, the coral! The coral death scene is a masterpiece. I wanted to ask about whether you had swiped that from a real-life event - did they used to have dynamite the coral? - or if you just decided that a gruesome death was necessary and made it up. I love beautifully written gore.

KM: I needed to kill Bernard and I wanted his death to have that element of complete farce about it, and I do love a good explosion. The idea of dynamiting the coral was more practically driven because that eastern coast of Nuemecklenberg is totally locked with coral, which is why Bulominski’s road was built, and I needed Bernard to be able to get the copra of the plantation, and I had read about dynamiting the coral, which they still do. Strangely one of the few memories I do have of my early childhood are of the coral reefs around New Ireland and the extraordinary sea life they contained. That scene was one of the easiest to write, I do like me a good killing.

RK: Also, I love that you made up the hospital thing, as well you should. That's why I get annoyed when people praise novels for being well-researched (almost a back-handed compliment) because... well, how do you know? How do you know I didn't just fudge the whole thing convincingly? The work is in creating a believable world, not in doing research. Anyone can do that.

KM: I made most of mine up in the end because all I had was one book of historic photographs with really good captions and the Queen Emma biography. Also I have never been to Vienna and can only assume that the storerooms in the natural history museum were originally in the basement. Sometimes you've just got to temper it all with a bit of commonsense I think. But making stuff up, yeah that’s my job.

RK: It was quite unusual to get flashbacks and backstory for quite a main character (Royal) so near the end of the book when things are usually building up to a climax. What was the thinking behind that?

KM: One of my readers went through one of the very last drafts and marked in the times when she started to get bored, and I wrote all of the back stories, which were originally twice as long in one 10 day marathon, and then broke them up and dropped them into the text at those points. I think the back stories work in themselves, and I think my instincts were sound in that you have to change it up when the reader is starting to get bored, but I definitely needed to write more and incorporate them better into the over all flow of the text. Even I went WTF when I was reading the galley and the lady novelist came up … strangely no one’s given me any grief about this.

RK: I love the lady novelist section, although you're right - it does seem to have been written separately. But I don't mind this as it's as though you've dropped in a pastiche of bad romance novel, and that was consistent with the playful aspects of the novel.

KM: One of my favourite novels is Angel by Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress one) which was first published in 1957, which is loosely based around the life of Edwardian romance novelist Marie Corelli. It’s monstrously funny, and I think every lady novelist should read it as a cautionary tale. So, yes, ripping off the style was all part of it.

RK: I’ve read and loved Angel. I also saw the film of it recently and it was dull in comparison, although I have picked up some good tips on how to dress as an eccentric lady novelist. Of course when reading about your lady novelist and her brother, I couldn't help think of the brother and sister in Byatt's Angels and Insects (or Morpho Eugenia as the novella is called) and that led on to thoughts of the film version, with Patsy Kensit. So your lady novelist became a pouty Patsy in my mind.

KM: Strangely enough I didn’t read Morpho Eugenia until after I finished Q … imagine my surprise. But I do wonder if some of my love affair with Antonia is that she writes about all the things I love, is a relentless post-modernist and she’s quite prurient. I’m reading The Children’s Book at the moment, which is essentially about childhood sexual abuse (they didn’t put THAT on the blurb) but written in this lovely restrained, arts and crafts, literary kind of way. It’s just the quiet tragedy that stalks the book and slowly destroys lives.

RK: Christo Matthews is a wonderful, vile character. Are all your ex-boyfriends going to be immortalised in your books?

KM: Only the ones I really like. Chris [Matthews] still hasn’t read it, but I know he’ll love it.

RK: I was amused when someone called your book 'more authentic' because you had lived in New Guinea as a child, but you have said that you can't actually remember it. I can't remember anything from when I was 3 or 4. Are you going to milk it anyway?

KM: The authentic thing is odd isn’t it? I’m a writer and I think part of my job is to explore worlds beyond my own experience … you know, stretch myself a bit.

It wasn’t until I sat down and actually engaged with the location that I realised that I didn’t remember a thing about the East Neuguinea time because I was so young. Like you with The Sound of Butterflies I found [TV reality show] Survivor, in my case Samoa, really helpful in terms of understanding how the land sits between the sky and the sea, the way the sky looks when there’s an approaching storm, and the way trees grow … all that stuff you have to get right.

I’m not going to milk it, but you think my publishers might have huh?

RK: You chose quite an old-fashioned narrative voice - the omniscient narrator. Was this so you could talk about things the characters couldn't know themselves? Or perhaps because you wanted one over-riding voice to the novel rather than the voices of individual characters? Or was it just one of those things that happened all on its own?

KM: It is a very old-fashioned novel definitely. Probably my biggest failure as a novelist is structure. It has to be simple. I also have a tendency to wander within the narrative, which I really like, but because of this too, the narrative has to be quite simple. Also because the reader has to take a lot that is completely foreign on board with Q, as well as the subplots, I couldn’t expect them to work any harder by processing multiple POV’s. And last of all – multiple voices, are you mad? So hard. No, I like being an all seeing judge and jury.

* Quinine by Kelly Ana Morey, published by Huia, $35.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Short stories vs novels.

Well, I'm back to writing. Hooray! Life has been rather busy, what with two children and earthquakes to deal with. My spare time has been taken up over the last few months by a project involving the writings of my father, which has been very exciting, but I am glad that for now my part is over, at least until there are proofs to look at. Watch this space.

For the second time this year, I have been commissioned to write a short story. People wrongly assume that short stories are easier than novels. They often think shorts are what you write while you're 'learning' to write a novel. Certainly my novelist apprenticeship involved a lot of short story writing, but the reason I don't write them very often is that they are hard. Much harder than novels in my opinion.

Of course, the main reason I don't write shorts is the same reason I don't really like reading them these days: I prefer to really lose myself in a story, over a long period of time. But at least with a novel, you only have to come up with a good idea every few years, which is about how often I come up with good ideas for short stories. I realised yesterday why I find them difficult, too: it's because the most important part of writing a novel for me is finding the voice or voices of the narrators. Once you have established them, the writing often takes care of itself. So with a novel, it might take me months to get the voice right, a slow process of writing and rewriting the first few chapters. I also get hundreds of pages to explore an idea, or many ideas, to follow it to all its possible conclusions.

But when you're asked to write a short story, and given a few weeks to do it, you think - oh, a few weeks, that's a few hundred words a week, that's easy. But that doesn't take into account the time it takes to establish that voice, not to mention that single, powerful idea that is central to the story. It's worth mentioning at this point that I am compelled to write short stories about once every three years, when a voice pops into my head. So, as you can imagine, trying to find that voice can be quite frustrating when there is a time limit and when you have a few precious hours a week away from family commitments.

As an example, earlier this year I was commissioned to write a story for the Scape biennial at the Christchurch City Gallery. It was to go into the programme, and I was given the theme of the exhibition - Christchurch in the future - and asked to come up with whatever I wanted. Scape was to have taken place in September but a certain seismic event not only meant that it couldn't go ahead to plan, it also meant that many of the works were, well, a little obsolete, since they were dealing with cityscapes and where Christchurch as a city might be headed. In fact, the house I imagined my character living in, on Madras St, now has yellow tape around it and a red sticker on the door, and in reality, all her preoccupations would have heavily shifted after the quake.

But back to the writing of the story: I had very little time to myself at that point, but I really wanted to be involved as it was such an exciting project, and I was actually quite flattered to be asked. So it wasn't just a matter of handing the kids over to hubby for a couple of hours in the weekend and sitting down at my desk to let the words flow dutifully from my fingers: I had to actually come up with an idea. And that took weeks. It took a lot of walking around the city, listening to music, picking up books to read - basically everything except writing. I had a couple of false starts too. I was getting quite desperate. Then, after the deadline had passed and I as starting to feel quite queasy - boom! - up jumped the idea and the voice followed soon after. I was saved. It was a breeze after that.

What I'm getting at though, is that the initial work that went into massaging that idea out of my head was as arduous as it is for any novel. So I prefer to write novels because by the time I have finished one, the next idea has already come along - well, you'd hope so, wouldn't you, when it's usually three years between novels? But those shorts... to write them, to write them well, is a damn sight harder. Maybe if I went back to reading shorts I would get more into the swing of them, take pleasure in the crafting of something so small. But I do love novels. And anyone who thinks the short story is the poorer, littler cousin of the novel... think again.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


That was when it happened. My hand rested on the glass and the window began to hum. I felt it pass through my fingertips, up my arm and down to my toes. The rest of the room began to gently rock, as if the house were a giant that I had disturbed from its sleep; it shrugged its body from side to side and my heart pumped so hard I could feel blood pulsing in my face. It was the sound that disturbed me the most, as it travelled across the plains towards me, was all around me for a second, then travelled on through, a low throbbing.

“Letting off steam,” I reminded myself and lay back down on the bed. Even though I knew it was an earthquake, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that the house had caused it somehow.
No, this isn't one of my diary entries from the last few weeks but an excerpt from Magpie Hall. Rosemary is dogged by earthquakes, a (rather obvious perhaps) metaphor for her own sense of instability.

Then Dora, the wife of Rosemary's great-great-grandfather Henry, experiences firsthand the Canterbury earthquake of 1888:
Dora is startled awake by her bed shuddering across the room. In the fog of sleep she thinks she is back on board the ship that she and her father took from England last year, but within moments she knows this is not so. The earth, which had been shrugging and sighing the evening before, has finally given in to its anger and heaves the house from side to side. Its wooden structure creaks and groans; her washbasin falls from its stand and smashes. She curls into a ball and clutches her knees until it subsides.
The house she lives in survives the quake, but part of the house that is to become Magpie Hall falls on its owner, killing him, thereby freeing it up for Henry Summers to buy and repair it. I couldn't help think of Magpie Hall as I looked at pictures of the beautiful Homebush Station, brought to its knees. Magpie Hall would not have survived.

It's now October 28th, and I have been unable to bring myself to finish this post. Lack of time certainly, but also the enormity of writing about the experience. Here's what I wrote a few days after the quake: "It's taken a few days for my nerves to calm down enough to sit still and write some thoughts about the Christchurch earthquake that hit us at 4.35 am on Saturday. I am still in shock to be honest. We came out of it unharmed, with moderate damage to the house, but going through a 7.1 earthquake messes with you. It's hard to explain, but physically and mentally I have been feeling the way I felt in the days after my father and step-mother were killed in a car accident, and I put it down to the physiological effect of unexpected trauma. Long term, who knows? I will probably recover more quickly from this as there isn't grief on top of shock."

Well, I have recovered. I left town for a week with with my kids to calm my nerves, and it helped enormously. Now that the promised 6 point something aftershock is a distant possibility, I ride them with more excitement than terror. Last week, I was at the gym when the big 5.0 aftershock hit, and the plate glass windows flexed while the rest of the building jiggled around as though it was made of cardboard. The noise was nearly drowned out by women screaming but I felt oddly calm. I called my son's creche to be told they had all been sitting down to lunch and had dived under the table. There were no tears, thanks to the calming influence of his teachers. When I picked him up and asked him what had happened that day, he told me he'd had yoghurt for lunch. When I said "what else?" he said "oh, there was an earthquake." I am proud and thankful that my kids are not living in fear.

Elsewhere in Christchurch, people aren't so lucky. The houses in my neighbourhood have mostly just lost chimneys, but one of the things I mourn in all of this is the loss of the character shops, not just in St Albans, but all over Christchurch. You know, the little brick shops that in the old days would have been the butcher, the fish shop, the green grocer. Now, the shops that are gone are the dairy, the hairdresser, the shoe shop, the Thai restaurant. Around one corner from us is the the cafe I used to stop in on my way to the bus when I was writer in residence at Canterbury; next to that, the tattoo shop, Ink Grave, where I did my research for Magpie Hall. After the quake they looked like this:

Now they are gone. Thank god it didn't happen when all those lovely folk were at work. How could they have survived? This is the scene all over Christchurch, shops that for some reason seem to mostly be local fish and chip shops and Chinese takeaways, probably because the rent was cheap. I shudder to think what will be put up in their place.

Plenty of people have written about the earthquake, so I'm going to finish up and finally post this. It will make way for my blog to open up now that I'm writing again. I can stop thinking about it and turn my mind to book and writing related things. But first, I just want to mention the people who still can't flush their toilets, who still have to wash their dishes in a bucket because there is no wastewater, and those who can't return to their homes at all. I actually cried the other day when I walked past a beautiful two-storey brick villa in my neighbourhood. When I first saw it months ago, I thought, what lucky people, to live in such a beautiful house. That house now has yellow tape around it; one upstairs wall has fallen off, the others are cracked beyond repair.

I also want to mention the people whose businesses have suffered, either because their buildings are unsafe, or because their shops are right next to those that are being demolished. Because it must seem to all those people that to the rest of the country, and the rest of Christchurch, life goes on, while their's are still hanging in limbo. And I want them to know that I am thinking of them and hoping that things will get better soon.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On.

In true 'Keep calm and carry on' fashion, I am pleased to say that The Press Christchurch Writers Festival will continue this week despite the huge earthquake in Christchurch on Saturday morning. Please come if you are able - it will need your support and we all need cheering up.

And it was huge. I know because I was there. I am composing a post about it, but it may take a few days. In the meantime I leave you with a picture of our favourite chair, which we bought from one of our favourite shops in Christchurch, The Painted Room. Which unfortunately now looks like this. Get well soon, Painted Room and all those other places and people badly affected.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Roll Up, Roll Up.

Sorry for the late notice, but The Press Christchurch Writers Festival kicks off next week and I should probably let you know that I will be appearing. The session is entitled Good Stories and I'll be sharing the stage with one of my lifelong favourite authors, Barbara Trapido.

Trapido first came to my attention when I read a book called Juggling in the mid-90s, given to me by my late father. He showed me her picture and said something along the lines of "Isn't she lovely? Don't you just want to read everything she's written?" And so I did. After Juggling (which I managed to sell to everyone who walked in the door of the London bookshop I was working in at the time) I moved on to her first and perhaps best known book (or so I have been told) Brother of the More Famous Jack, which I can't remember much about now except that it featured her trademark warm, interesting and vibrant characters and complicated relationships. From there I worked my way through her oeuvre and loved them all (although Temples of Delight perhaps a little less then the others).

So imagine my delight at being put next to her and asked to converse while people watch.

The other author joining us is Kirsten Reed, and I have just started her book Ice Age, which is very short with large type, and has captured me with its writing style. Looking forward to meeting her as well.

Now, if the thought of me and Barbara and Kirsten banging on about the power of stories "in this challenging and uncertain post-911 world" (what???) doesn't excite you, there is plenty of good stuff at the festival to push all your buttons. And of course, lots of parties. Have I mentioned I like parties? Really, they're the only reason I go to these festivals.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Talented Ms Laing.

I have been conspicuously absent from the blogosphere, I know. My life has been taken up with selling and buying houses, packing, moving, unpacking, child-minding etc etc ad nauseum. And even some writing! And mentoring. So not much spare time. I am compelled to break the silence, however, to celebrate Sarah Laing. Last night she won the award for best cover design at the PANZ Book Design Awards, for none other than Magpie Hall!

It is very well deserved. I LOVE this cover, front and back, and it was just one of many clever designs she came up with. Sarah is not only a talented designer, but also an award-winning writer herself. Check out her books (both also with gorgeous covers designed by hers truly): her short story collection Coming Up Roses, and her novel Dead People's Music, one of my favourite reads of last year.

She has her own website - visit to see her diverse talents. And just lately she has started a graphic blog of her time as the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellow. Such talent, and all this achieved as a mother of three. I take my hat off to her and thank her for doing such a wonderful job on Magpie Hall and for (hee hee) bringing attention to it again!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oh what fun we had - Auckland Writers and Readers Festival.

At least, Paula and I had fun; so did Dorothy. But I think the audience enjoyed it too, as reported by Christchurch City Libraries and Bookman Beattie. As for the question about being 'Team Bronte' or 'Team Austen', what I should have said (and only thought of it afterwards, as is usually the case with these things), is that despite Magpie Hall seeming to be an homage to all things Bronte, it also owes an awful lot to that wonderful Jane Austen novel Northanger Abbey. Not only did I name the book after the house in which it is set, Magpie Hall also features a young woman who is so immersed in the world of gothic novels they start to colour her vision of the real world around her. If you haven't read Northanger Abbey, please do.

It is a horrible misfortune that the one year I get a free pass to everything, I could only stay in Auckland for 24 hours, and I had a sick baby with me, so caught very little. Alison Wong and Graham Beattie had a lovely soothing chat to an appreciative crowd (with the prize for the most bizarre and possibly inane question I've heard at a festival: 'Is it customary for Chinese New Zealanders to refer to Europeans as "Pakeha"' - wtf?). And the highlight of the Saturday evening session with William Dalrymple was the kind lady who leaned over and asked me, probably because I was sitting alone near the front, if William Dalrymple was my husband.

From what I saw of it, I have to congratulate the team at the festival once again for another great one, and also for making their authors feel extremely well prepared and cared for, even with such outrageous demands as my own. Next time I have a book out there will be no more babies and I will go to every session and every party and wear lipstick and high heels every day.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Off to the Auckland festival!

It's fair to say that real life has thoroughly got in the way of the writing life of late, hence my absence from the blogosphere and all things writing-related. However, I am happy to say the drought will be broken this weekend when I appear at the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival.

I love the Auckland festival. I attend every year, whether I'm participating or not (the last time I appeared was 2007). It's a chance to see some great local and international authors and it's also a great social time, where I can catch up with many friends from all over the country without having to make any appointments at all - we just bump into each other at the Aotea Centre or one of the associated parties. I usually fly up alone and stay at a nearby hotel and get to have some 'me' time.

This year, despite being there in my author capacity, it'll be a more subdued affair for me - in on Friday, out on Saturday - with too much of the aforementioned real life preventing me from hanging out and relaxing. But I am very much looking forward to my session: Saturday at 11.30 am in the Upper NZI Room at the Aotea Centre, alongside my good friend Paula Morris and a very able chairperson, Dorothy Vinnicombe, who always reads the books carefully and asks great questions. Come along - and guess what? It's FREE! So what have you got to lose? Paula is always excellent value - sharp and very funny. I'll try my best to match her.

More details can be found here. See you there!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Bad blogger!

I have been a bad blogger in so many ways, the most obvious being that I hardly ever post anymore. When I was in the thick of writing Magpie Hall, I posted far too often, probably, although I still maintain that it helped me with my writing rather than took me away from it. I am grateful that, according to my statcounter, readers continue to visit despite there not being much new to look at.

The second way I am a bad blogger is that this blog set out to be about writing and books and my thoughts thereof, and lately has turned into plugs for Magpie Hall and events I do around it. But, dear reader, don't despair and abandon me just yet. It's just that along with less time to blog now that I have twice as many children as I had a year ago, I have a fraction of the headspace to devote to thinking about the craft of writing and reading. This will not always be so. I repeat: this will not always be so. And in the meantime, while it is so, I will continue to post when I can, even if it's just to tell you about an event I'm doing, or have done, and eventually I will get back into writing poignant and witty posts about writing.

The third way I am a bad blogger is that even though I only seem to post about events I am doing or have done, I can't even get that right. I had planned to blog all about the Hamilton Gardens Festival event I did and look, two weeks have gone by and I haven't. Not only that - I intended to take photos and all I took was a picture of my aunt holding my baby and one of some fish.

So please engage your imagination and look at these pictures that don't exist:

1. The Hamilton Gardens in full festival flight with happy people everywhere and characters from Alice in Wonderland wandering around directing people to where they woule like to go, including a Duchess holding a real live baby.

2. Alexa Johnston entertaining people with tales of where the recipes for Ladies a Plate came from.

3. The beautiful spread offered on tiered plates: little round cucumber sandwiches and salmon sandwiches; tiny scones topped with jam and cream; other cakes, biscuits and deliciousness. Not to mention delicious fruit punch and bubbly.

4. The items up for raffle: Ladies a Plate along with a lovely tea setting; The Swimmer's Rope along with free swimming lessons; Magpie Hall, perched in a cage with a bottle of red and some chocolates.

5. Stephanie Johnson reading and taking questions before she had to race off back to Auckland.

6. The ladies from Poppies Books, the SPCA and the Hamilton Hospice, who organised a delightful event.

7. Me, reading and talking with Karen from Poppies.

Depending on how good your imagination is, you'll see that a lovely time was had by all.

On another note, I have a booky week lined up next week, starting on Sunday for the Richard King Memorial Cricket Match in Christchurch: authors vs publishers - I may even have a bat and a bowl myself in memory of a fine fellow.

On Monday night I'm off to see Elizabeth Kostova, hosted by Women On Air, and on Tuesday I'm flying up to Wellington to catch Sarah Waters, Audrey Niffenegger, Emily Perkins, Geoff Dyer and more at the Writers and Readers Week. I may even attempt to report back, depending on whether I have become a better blogger between now and then.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hamilton Gardens Festival.

If you're in Hamilton this weekend come along to the Ladies' Literatea for high tea and bubbles at 3pm on Saturday. I will be appearing alongside Stephanie Johnson and Alexa Johnston and luckily I am not being made to change my name to fit in. I think it'll be a lovely occasion, and the proceeds are going to the SPCA.

The Hamilton Gardens is a simply stunning venue for a literary event. I did an event, a wonderful relaxed chat, with Jenny Pattrick in 2007, on a balmy summer's evening. I was completely enchanted by the place. With themed gardens from all over the world it is hard to believe you are in Hamilton. I particularly loved the Italian Renaissance Garden and sitting beside the ambling Waikato River I could have imagined myself on the Arno in Florence. It was a particularly blinding hot day the day after the event, and my family and I took in as much as we could before it just got too hot to be outside.

Even if you're not there this weekend, next time you're passing through Hamilton, spend a couple of hours at the Gardens: you won't be disappointed. One of NZ's Best Kept Secrets in my opinion. I'll try and remember to take photos and post them here; in the meantime, here's one of me, looking extremely casual, on that hot hot day:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

New year, new work.

The inevitable has happened. My thoughts have turned to what I am going to write next. I have been asked so many times, 'so, what are you working on now?' At which point I usually look at my baby and back to the person asking the question. Alas, he is now five months old and I can no longer use him as an excuse. Even though motherhood is a full time job, there comes a time when your brain starts coming back and you start thinking about what to apply it to.

In some ways it's a lovely feeling - a clean slate, an empty page. Anything is possible. At the same time it is daunting. What if I don't have any good ideas? Actually, I have a notebook full of good ideas for my next grown-up novel, but none of them is calling to me louder than the others. Each one would require exploration to see if it's any good. It is worrying to me, because the last time I was at this stage I spent months on something that just never took flight. I don't want that to happen again but know it inevitably will.

There is pressure, too. Your second novel has its own syndrome, but your third has no excuse. Your third should be perfect. It should have all the strengths of your first two and none of the weaknesses; it should have new and unique properties that demonstrate that you have kept on getting better at this writing lark. It should be deeper and more profound, more controlled and yet more exuberant. Not too much to ask.

In among the new ideas scribbled in my notebook, there is one that has been there the longest. An idea that come to me after my first son was born as I walked around Wellington's wild south coast with a pushchair. At the moment that is the idea that is calling to me the loudest, the one that feels less daunting (and certainly shorter): a children's novel. In some ways pushing everything aside to work on it (I have written the synopsis and the first chapter already) is a delaying tactic, but I also feel that this is a story that can be wonderful in its own right, to sit alongside my adult novels. I also feel that while I work this out of my system, my next adult novel will present itself and can slowly percolate while I write about a 12-year-old boy called Jake.

Whatever happens, I will be happy to be writing again.

As an aside, my dear friend Mary has started a very knowledgeable blog on good things to listen to and read while commuting - Beaut Commute (love the title!). A fabulous idea. Sometimes I wish I was a commuter, instead of working from home.