Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Road Trip Wednesday: what do I do when I'm not writing?


If I'm not writing, I'm probably curled up on the couch with a book and at least one cat. Or I am curled up on the couch with my laptop, engaging in my Epic Struggle To Keep Up With The Internet. There are so many people I love, so many well written things, so many laughs to be had. And I'm never quite on top of it all, no matter how hard I try. It is a lifelong saga. And as I am following the internet and marvelling at internet things, both my cats usually arrive and walk all over my legs and meow at me because I didn't feed them enough the first time this evening and they want to be fed again.

And, dammit, this is all making me sound very boring. I kind of have a sinking suspicion that my main interesting thing is the writing thing.

So yeah. I like cooking. I am very much the No Recipe Let's Just Wing it With Random Things From the Pantry school of cooking. Also, when no one else is in the room, I love singing. I love singing so much that I eventually want to get lessons, if I can track down a teacher. I like wandering around taking photos, especially of random suburbia, and I'll happily do that almost anywhere if the light is good enough. The whole thing is very amateurish though. If I manage to take a good photo, it is probably luck and then photoshop.

Um um um.

Oh! I sometimes go to political things. This evening I listened to a talk from Phil Goff, leader of the NZ Labour Party. And I sometimes join in with Josh's transport campaigning, because Auckland needs transport that does not involve people driving everywhere all the time.

You know that advice people give writers? Where they tell them to live wild and interesting lives and do lots of exciting things so they can be good writers with lots to write about? I'm kind of hoping that advice is wrong. Writing is my exciting thing. And the rest of my life is mostly just me procrastinating writing.

One day, I will work out how to surgically attach more hours to the day. Then I will have proper hobbies.

First Teaser Tuesday ever ever ever

This is by popular demand.

I always wanted to say something was by popular demand. Anyway.

This is from my prologue. (I am one of those uncool writers who has prologues.) My main character has snuck into the cellar in the middle of the night because knows that her father has a prisoner there. And yeah. I've cleaned it up somewhat but it is still very much a work in progress, as always.

Update: I've taken the teaser down now.

Thanks for all your lovely comments. More teasers to come!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What I read (excluding YA)

This week's topic for Roadtrip Wednesday at YA highway (or Roadtrip Thursday, if you're on NZ time) is what we read outside of YA fiction. The real question: what don't I read?

To be honest I've even been known to find the phonebook interesting. No kidding. I like names.

When I have the energy I read literary fiction. At the moment I'm reading The River Wife by Heather Rose and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (she also wrote The Time Traveller's Wife, which is one of my favouritest books in the whole entire world ever ever ever). Also I have The Road by Cormac McCarthy sitting around waiting, and Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame, and quite a few others. When I have even more energy, I read classics. I read masses of them while I was at university but since I finished my degree I haven't had as much time, and I need to rectify that. I loved Jane Eyre and Great Expectations and Persuasion and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and at some point I need to get around to reading my lovely secondhand copy of Bleak House. And to get even older, I have Ovid's Metamorphoses somewhere, I think, but I haven't seen it since several houses ago. Possibly it has itself metamorphosed into something mysterious but I'm hoping it will metamorphose back so I can find it and read it. I love stories about transformation.

And poetry. I love lots of poetry, but I love it especially when it's by Pablo Neruda. And especially when he was going through his depressed surrealist phase and writing about nightmares and sad guitars and ghosts and despair. Good poetry it makes me feel like I'm flying. It's language at its most pure and undiluted and lovely; I think that all writers should read poetry regardless of what they write.

I read a decent number of children's books, picture books and middle grade especially. I have a good excuse in that I sell them, so I have to know them. But also because there are so many out there which are stunning.

I adore grown up fantasy but I'm horribly fussy about it. It's like I have an overly acute sense of smell when it comes to fantasy and too much of it smells like adverbs and horses. But when it smells like magic and rings true, it is very possibly the best thing ever.

And, um, other stuff. I love reading blogs. I subscribe to the NZ Listener, so I often read that, and the odd newspaper. I especially like book reviews. I will even read book reviews of books that I haven't read and am never likely to read in my life, just because I like book reviews so much.

Other than how-to-write books, I don't read as much non-fiction as I think I should. When I do I like memoirs of people's messed up childhoods, and psychology. Especially abnormal psychology, and especially multiple personality disorder. No idea why on that one. And Josh has been on at me to read Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything for ages, and I keep not getting round to it, but I will eventually. Every now and then I'll attempt one of Josh's planning related books, because I swear no one hears more about dream versions of Auckland's future railway system than me, or about planning cities around public transport and pedestrians versus planning cities around cars. To live with Josh is to learn about these things, so I might as well read about them.

Also. This is a nerdy confession, but one day when I am very rich, I'm going to buy myself a big fat Oxford dictionary. Not a normal sized one, but one of the monstrous ones that look like spell books. Preferably the monstrous ones that look like spell books that come in multiple volumes. And then I am going to sit around for ages reading it and marvelling at all the words and definitions and all the examples of sentences where a writer has used a word particularly well. And, seriously, to my demented brain it will be blissful. I sometimes used to hang out in the library at my high school so I could do exactly this. (Um, yeah. I was not one of the cool people at school, not by any stretch. I was a nerdy library person who didn't go outside enough.)

The truth is, like a lot of writers, I live off books. Without them my brain ends up starving hungry and I get depressed. When I'm sad, I shove a couple of books that I love into my bag so they keep me company throughout the day and cheer me up. Beloved books are like portable friends.

And yeah. I seriously hate to think how long this post would have been if I'd been writing about YA too.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Grandad Barclay

I found out about a week ago that my grandfather died.

My parents moved from England to New Zealand before I was born, and I've only ever seen my grandparents once every few years, if that. Basically, whenever one end of the family felt brave enough to spend a heap of money and take on a 24 hour flight, which is hard if you're elderly, and also hard if you're trailing three kids. So he's not a relative I ever knew very well.

What I remember about Grandad Barclay is that his first name was John and his middle name was Barclay, but he was always so much a Barclay that I don't know whether many people ever called him by his first name. He was a creature of habit. He had a schedule of things that he did in a week, like adding to his enormous firewood pile and going into town to have tea at a particular tearoom on Tuesdays. (I think it was Tuesdays.) He would comment if you made yourself tea in the mornings, because there was always a particular amount of tea in the teapot, and if you poured an unexpected cup of tea it changed things and rendered the teapot unpredictable. Also, before I stayed with my grandparents, the concept of breakfast having a set time was completely foreign to me. Grandad always noticed if you stumbled in sleepy and late. Mind you, he was also notorious for getting caught up in what he was doing and being late for meals himself.

Also, my Grandad Barclay loved ships. 'Love' is actually too weak a word for how my grandfather felt about ships. He spent hours in his study with hundreds of books about ships to keep him company. When he was staying with us in Auckland, he caught many ferries to Devonport so that he could sit looking out at the harbour, watching each ship go past. And he sketched ships in tiny exact detail everywhere - on scraps of paper, on napkins, on the old whiteboard that my parents used to write reminders on when we were little. When my sister got out her felt pens and drew a bold, schoolkid version of the Titanic in bright colours, Grandad gave it a careful look, then added several funnels to improve the picture's accuracy.

The last time I went to England with my family, we left my grandparents' house early in the morning to fly home. Grandad stepped out to see us off. He wore a dressing gown and his captain's hat, and he gave us a sharp salute and a wry smile before we drove away.

That was the last time I ever saw him.

Because they've always been far away, I'm not as thrown as most people are by losing a grandparent. They're people I'm deeply fond of but not people I'm close to. I keep going with my everyday things and someone who breathed on the other side of the world no longer breathes. Nonetheless, he was wonderful, and he deserves remembering.

I'm notoriously indecisive about religion and I don't know what to make of the idea of an afterlife. To me it's the sort of thing you can't ever know with any sureness either way.

Still, wherever you are Grandad, I hope the seas are good.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

On choosing a genre

This weeks question at the highway is about how we choose the genre of our novels. Or, as Michelle put it, how our genre chooses us. I like putting it like this. With genre, I've never really chosen. Also for me, the question of how a genre chooses me links really closely with the question of why it chooses me. So you're going to have to read about both at once, because I can't separate them out. Lucky you.

I have a lot of ideas for stories. To say a lot is quite a nice way of putting it. My head is like one of those explosive houses, you know, the ones with people who build up a hoard of everything in case of an apocalypse, those people who never throw anything away. I have a few strong ideas, which take up lots of space, and countless vague floating butterfly ideas, which take up less. But collectively, it's still masses. I can never seem to dump novel ideas, even when they go wrong. I just bury them until they come back strong and shiny and sure of themselves again.

But yeah. Out of all that, I have two novel ideas at the moment which are straight contemporary, and stubborn about it. They're flukes, both of them. Every other story idea in my head is fantasy or speculative, including my current WIP. I started writing stories as a kid, and they came out fantastical, with magic springing out all over the place in one way or another. And it hasn't really changed since then. I write what calls to me, what makes sense to me, what carries me through the endless but wonderful toil that is novel writing. If it didn't resonate, I'd never get to the end of it.

I love reading contemporary as much as I love reading fantasy, but the stuff that I love writing the most is the stuff where magic exists, where the world is mysterious and inexplicable and beautiful. That can be true in contemporary as well, and that's probably why I have my two ideas which go against the trend and refuse any supernatural elements I try to add. (Which shows all the more how I can never choose genre, even when I try.) But mostly I write magic best. I'd be lying if I said that's because magic is what I know. More because it's what I don't know, what I want to know, what I dream about. When I was about six years old, I wanted to be a professional witch when I grew up, and deal with magic all the time. Writing is the closest I can get to that.

My ideas often start as jumbled up things, conversations between people who turn out to be characters, images, and tangled stuff that I dream about first thing in the morning, the lucid dreams that you have when morning light wakes you up and then you drift back to sleep again. Sometimes it all comes together gradually, like a bunch of threads weaving themselves into fabric, appearing then dissolving into a whole. Other times stuff slams together in my head and leaves me stunned and buzzing, like I've somehow stumbled inside a power socket. (I don't really buy the whole muse idea, but if I had one, he/she would totally be into electrocution.)

And in all of that, genre is the last thing I think of, because usually it's obvious. In all the dizzy note taking and thinking of exciting events and seeing exactly where the key relationships are, something in my head goes, oh yeah. That's fantasy again. Surprise surprise. Or it goes, god. You've come up with an idea that doesn't have magic in it. Will it work?

Basically, for me, the best way to choose a genre is to let the story choose it. Stories know what they're made of, but I generally don't until they tell me. I'm just the person who sits around fussing with words and drinking too much coffee, and trying to work out what she forgot to put on the shopping list because her head was too full of make believe things.