Sunday, 31 May 2009

Everyone's writing a novel, or thinking about it

"Everyone's writing a novel." (Barney talking to Fist, The Book Group)

I was out having a coffee with my partner Spanner this morning when I bumped into an old acquaintance. She joined us and we went through the motions.

"What have you been up to?"
"Same old same old. What about you?"
"Nothing much. You know, just stuff."
Mmm. What next? I decide to tell her I'm writing a ROMANCE novel.

"Oh, really?" She smiles, one eyebrow raised quizzically (I wish I could do that). "What's it about?"
"Well, it sort of revolves around the hero and heroine and how they get together in the end." I shuffle uncomfortably in my chair.

But then I am saved when she informs me that her good friend has just finished writing an 80,000-word novel.

"My friend says publishers won't take anyone seriously until they've written 80,000 words. How long is your book?"
"It's a romance novel, so it's 50,000 words. But I haven't quite finished."

She shifts the focus of the conversation with a new revelation. "I'm writing a book."
"Wow," I say, impressed. "What's it about?"
"I can't tell you. I haven't really started it yet. I just need to find the time."
"Oh, OK. Fair enough."

I look across the table at Spanner, the taciturn handyman who only reads books about boats and prefers films with subtitles. And I wonder if he is the only person left on the planet who has no desire to write a novel.
Clever man.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Anal plotters and lazy pantsers in romance writing

I've discovered that in the rarefied world of romance writing there are two types of writers -plotters and pantsers.

Plotters are the anal retentives, those writers who plan every detail of their book before they start writing. They create elaborate character charts, assemble collages (pretty pictures of imagined characters and their homes, families, houses, cars, holiday destinations, etc), and organise their plots chapter by meticulous chapter.

The pantsers are a disorganised lot who fly by the seat of their pants. Maybe they do a little bit of planning to establish their characters and give them personality traits, but generally the plot is a vague concept that takes shape as they write.

Sometimes I wish I didn't, but I fall into the latter category. I mean, who's got the time or energy for all that fiddly stuff (though I can imagine JK Rowling working in a huge ancient library on about five massive whiteboards, surrounded by stacks of reference books based on myths and legends).

Instead, I set out on a 'journey' (yuck, cliche but so appropriate) with my characters and keep them guessing about what's going to happen next. I know they hate it, and a lot of the time they're hanging around in my head telling me to just get on with it!

"Get out of the freakin' pool!" "Get your head out of the fridge!" "Write me some proper dialogue, not that pap!" "You can't expect me to do THAT to him?"

I can only take comfort from the fact that one of my favourite characters in the Channel 4 series set in Glasgow, Scotland, The Book Group, appears to be a pantser.

Scottish Kenny, who is in a wheelchair, is writing a novel. The following dialogue comes from a conversation he has with another book group member, Fist (she's Swedish). Kenny is attempting to describe his book's plotline to Fist.

Kenny (has a gorgeous Scottish brogue): This man's living in a cabin way up in the hills. He's trying to remember a story his father told him a long time ago.

Fist (gorgeous Swedish accent): Where is his father?

Kenny: Dead, years ago. Lung cancer. But before he died, he told his son about a place in the hills that no one knows about - a secret place.

Fist: What's in the secret place?

Kenny: I haven't gone that far yet. I'm working on developing my characters.

Fist: Wow.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Des Renford's son in the lineup for the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim

I can still remember the black-and-white telly coverage of Des Renford, coated in a fatty white substance, staggering ashore after conquering the English Channel for what seemed like the umpteenth time.

In Australia in the '70s and '80s Renford was a legend who swam "the old ditch" 19 times. I think he still holds the record for more successful crossings than any other Australian.
During one crossing Renford, who was built like a brick s***house, was run over by a hovercraft. He still managed to finish the swim, which is a mark of the man and his sheer determination.

This achievement is even more striking because Renford had a crook ticker. He suffered two heart attacks and a stroke in the 1980s, before succumbing to a third heart attack while swimming at his local pool in 1999. That one got him. He was 72.

Now, one of Renford's three sons is making his own name in the sport.

Michael Renford, 47, crossed the Channel in 2007 and is in the lineup for the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim on June 6.

This is a 45.8 kilometre rock around the block compared to the 34.2km race across the road. However, a strong assisting current evens things out, bringing the Manhattan swim down to a 'manageable' 32km.

In preparation, Michael swims 60km a week. (I recall Grant Hackett saying to become a deadset distance swimmmer he would need to increase his training to 90km a week, but it obviously never happened). Anyway, 60km is good enough for me!

The water temperature in the Hudson River is around 18 degrees (hey, two degrees more than Bondi on a hot day). Nonetheless, Michael will need a thick coating of vaseline-lanolin to stop the chills and chaffing. He should also try not to swallow the water, which isn't too fresh.
Bon chance Mick. First we take Manhattan...

Sunday, 24 May 2009

It's so hard to write a bleeding romance novel - and a bouquet for The Book Group

In the final scene of the brilliant 12-part TV series, The Book Group, the main character Clare sits down at her computer to try to write her novel.

She is transported into the role of the heroine on horseback in the sand dunes in an Arabian desert, where she is joined by her hero, a sheik upon his steed.

Their dialogue, mostly in Arabic with subtitles, goes:

Hero: Where are you going?
Heroine: Who knows, hombre. Que sera sera.
Hero: What do I say here?
Heroine: I'm not sure. I think it should be something kind of romantic, leaving it open for us to get together later on.
Hero: Right.
Heroine: I'll think of something later.
Hero: Revision.
Heroine: Right.
Hero: Anything else?
Heroine: Peace.
Hero: Peace. God willing.

As someone who has been poised to write a novel for the past 25 years, I feel for Clare. I understand her pain. I know the blank page and the frustration when there is no inspiration (I once heard a playwrite/novelist/artist - fill the blank - say he felt sorry for all those intelligent people who wanted to work in the arts but just didn't have 'IT'. What he meant was not everyone has a book in them. Sometimes I think that's me).

However, thanks to my new romance writing bootcamp friends, over the past few months I have moved closer to my goal. I have written 37,000 words of my first romance novel and I can see a flickering light at the end of the tunnel.
DON'T BLOW IT OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now I've wasted half the morning - dropping daughter to work, shopping, getting petrol, unpacking shopping, stuffing face and writing this stupid time-wasting blog, I might have a moment to write... after I take the dog for a walk, oh, and do some housework.
A'Salaam Insha'lah.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The endurance swimmer who tackled the Amazon River likes his red wine

I nearly didn't have a drink tonight.

But then I read about endurance swimmer Martin Strel (pictured right), who's visiting Australia next month to promote his documentary Big River Man.

The doco follows the 5268-kilometre journey Strel undertook to swim the length of the Amazon River starting in Peru, as high up as he could get a support boat, and ending in Brazil at the Atlantic Ocean.

For someone like me who considers the 2.7 km Big Swim (from Palmy to Whale) a marathon, Strel is a bloody freak.

How did he do it? There's the obvious stuff, like he trained five hours a day in preparation for the swim and took along a highly professional support team, including a river navigator and a virtual medical team.

But here's the surprise - the big man from Slovenia credits his homemade wine as a superfuel that kept him going for 66 days, even after 'flesh-eating' piranhas tore through his wetsuit and he endured numerous horrid tropical ailments including dengue fever.

*"I drink two bottles of wine, but you have never seen me drunk. Don't take aspirin, just ask me for my wine," he told a journalist.

Strike me pink! No wonder Strel managed this amazing feat. Or is it a wonder that he did? He's pickled!

Here's to you Marty. You have the heart of a lion and the constitution of a rugby league team.

*Do not attempt this at home before a swim! You will sink. To the bottom.

Monday, 18 May 2009

When the ocean swims season ends Byron Bay beckons

Memories of Byron Bay light the corners of my mind... Corny, but when you've done a life-affirming swim in paradise it stays with you and carries you through the Sydney autumn and winter to the next ocean swims season.

As I walk through the bum-end of the CBD to work, past the smokers crowded like sewer rats on the grimy pavement and with the stench from the garbage truck emptying bins along Pitt Street assaulting my nostrils, I dream of Byron.

Ahhhhhhh... that's better. For a bit.

By July, I'm back to my grumpy, intolerant self. It's not pretty.

To ease the pain, I visit the best website in the world for ocean-swimming nuts, which I've mentioned on many occasions.

Last time I was there (geez, I think it might have been yesterday) I scrolled through the photo gallery that features the 2009 Byron Bay Winter Whales Ocean Classic.

And guess what I found? Pics of me and my friend Mrs Snorkel.

What most amazes me, apart from my god-awful stroke and saggy bottom, is the water. Pure, clear and clean. Look at the legs floating out of Mrs Snorkel's frame! Beautiful, surreal.

Mrs Snorkel and me ambling in the sea.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Top 5 swimming pools in Sydney continued...

You're never far from a swimming pool in Sydney, though I reckon you'd be hard-pressed to find one in, say, India or Singapore (I've thrown this in for the Indian and Singaporean bloggers who've obviously accidentally stumbled across Shayne's world).

Here in the land of the way-too-tanned, we're spoilt for choice. This brings me to the last 2 pools in my Top 5 pools and aquatic centres in Sydney:

5. Leichhardt Park Aquatic Centre. This 50-metre heated outdoor pool in Sydney's inner-west is open all-year-round. I occasionally swim here with Mr and Mrs Snorkel, and we have a fine old time doing our laps during the less frantic part of the day - from around 9am-12pm on weekdays.
The pool is heavily used during the summer months, so it's wise to check lane availability. But in autumn when the blow-ins drop off it's a peaceful place, located as it is on the edge of the park with views to Iron Cove. Parking is free and it's $6.20 entry. In September, a new 'state-of-the-art' (what does that mean? Sounds like 'lack of imagination') facility is opening that features a 16-metre indoor pool (too short!) and gymnasium. There's a cafe, but why would you bother when cafe heaven - Norton Street - is just up the road?

6. Macquarie University Sport & Aquatic Centre, North Ryde. Give me a pool among the gum trees... this is it. If you can be bothered travelling the 16 kilometres from the CBD, this pool is worth it. The complex is new - there's a gym and a shorter indoor pool as well as the 50-metre outdoor pool heated to a toasty 27 degrees Celsius in the cooler months.
This is perfect for wimps like me, who don't mind swimming in a warm bath.
The parking is free for the first two hours, but you must get a ticket from one of only two machines (that I could see) because the parking police are vigilant. At only $4.50 entry, this is the cheapest of the top 5. A small price to pay to splash around surrounded by neatly mown lawns and Eucalypts.

If you can think of any other pools that are worth a mention, drop me a line.

Love youse all. Blog on. XXX

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Top 5 swimming pools and aquatic centres in Sydney

Before sex, there was swimming. Hey, if you're into the theory of evolution we evolved from fish, so it makes sense that we should all be able to swim!

But that's not my point (I just wanted to get 'sex' into the copy somewhere). Within the confines of the Sydney metroplitan area I have been a peripatetic swimmer this summer.

As a result, I have dipped my tootsies into lots of commercially-operated swimming pools/aquatic centres.

Of course, there are numerous ocean pools dotted around Sydney's beaches. And most of these are sublime. But because I do not live by the sea (you are blessed if you do, lucky buggers), I will stick to the pay-and-swim models.

It's hard to beat the following for ambience and superior swimming conditions:

Top 5 Sydney swimming pools:

1. Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool, The Domain: This heated 50 metre outdoor salt-water swimming pool is magic. It's located on the eastern rim of the CBD, next to the Royal Botanic Gardens.
The pool complex, chic and modern, overlooks Woolloomooloo Bay and Garden Island, where a navy diver lost an arm and leg in a shark attack earlier this year - just thought I'd throw in a shark reference to stir up the pot.
But not to worry, those nasty sharks can't get into Boy Charlton as it's long been a popular hang-out for gay boys and glam residents of the inner-city and ritzy Finger Wharf apartments at the 'loo.
The salt water is akin to the Red Sea or is that the Dead Sea? You float and swim and dig the view and buff bodies. Afterwards, a latte at the cafe on the pool deck is compulsory. Pool entry is a $5.70 for adults, but multi-passes are available. Parking is meter only and can get pricey if you shower and do coffee after your laps.
ABC Pool is closed during winter and opens again on September 1.

2. Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, Ultimo: I am not a fan of the work of the late Harry Seidler. But the famous architect has left Sydneysiders an amazing legacy in the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre, the last public building he designed before his death in 2006.
Sadly, Seidler didn't see the centre before its completion and opening in April 2007.
Why is this 50 metre indoor pool so wonderful? It's encased in a sexy curvaceous (got the 's' word in again!) white wave punctuated by ribbons of glass to let in the natural light. And there is light all around as you swim your laps within coo-ee of the not-so-sparkly Harris Street.
But you wouldn't know you were next to a busy arterial road, even when the huge glass windows are open on a hot summer's day. The view from the other side of the pool is over Darling Harbour and the city. You can enjoy it sitting on the cantilevered deck (how do they build these things?) sipping on a skinny soy chai latte.
At $6.20 per swim and $3 for undercover parking, it's not cheap. But multi-passes are available and it's open all-year round.

3. For something less salubrious, why not try Drummoyne Swim Centre, Drummoyne? I like it because I can get a park for nix and entry is $4.80. But wait, there's more.
If you arrive after the pool Nazis have exited the building at 7am, you can enjoy a pleasant swim in an outdoor 50 metre salt-water (river fed) pool on the shores of Sydney Harbour. The pool is in full view of the Iron Cove Bridge and opposite the Callan Park/Rozelle Hospital site.
Like Boy Charlton, this is a salty pool and the swimming is easy. In fact, except for the stingy eyes if your goggles fill up, salt water is the most enjoyable to swim in. Can you have enjoyable water? But you know what I mean. It's soft and silky on your skin and you tend to glide through it, rather than push.
This is an older pool, but it still has all that you need in the way of clean facilities and strong, hot showers. For the after-swim coffee you have to go to the cafe next door. Drummoyne is closed during winter and opens on September 1.

TBC... next week I will include the final two of the top 5 swimming pools, but now I'm tired and feel like a good lie down.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Let's talk about sex... TBA

Soon I will write about the trials and tribulations of writing the sex scene.

But this post is specifically because I've stuffed up the comments box and my romance writing friend, Mon, has fixed everything but now needs to check if it's working.

Thank you for your patience.

Sex coming soon!

What's in a name change: on blogs and vanity

I recently changed the name of the hero in my romance novel, and this morning I changed my blog title.

There are two reasons for the title change. Vanity is the first. Now I have a Clustr (where's the 'e'?) map I know how many people are visiting the blog and which country they're from.

And I am really excited (pathetic really) to see readers dropping by from the USA, Canada and India (India???? They must have hooked into the 'romance', couldn't have been the swimming).

Of course, I was flattered - it doesn't take much. And I can see, all to clearly now, how the megalomaniac personality develops! It starts with a blog!

The second reason for the change was that Shayne's World sounds like Wayne's World. Mmm... looks good, feels right.

As for the hero in my work in progress (wip), I initially exchanged the name 'Robbie' for 'Connor' but that didn't work for me. So, for the time being he's called 'Chase'. God knows why. It's sort of alpha male, I guess.

Back to the drawing board.

And welcome WORLD... the whole 35 of you.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Byron Bay Winter Whales Ocean Swim Classic is a ripper of a swim

Byron Bay, how do I love thee? Let me count just three ways, though there are so many more.

1. Pristine beach 2. Gentle surf
3. Water temperature around 21 degrees Celsius.

This ocean swims' season I have endured Perfect Storm conditions at Mollymook, Antarctic conditions at Bondi (water temp of 16 degrees) and battled pounding surf during The Big Swim from Palm Beach to Whale Beach.

As far as I'm concerned, Byron Bay is the ultimate ocean swim.

My first experience of this 2.2 kilometre swim was last year when I did it with my friend Mrs Snorkel and youngest daughter Miss Hissy (she did the 800 metre event).

We had no preconceptions or expectations about Byron Bay or the event. But after two incredible fun-filled days and the perfect swim we were blown away and made a pact to return in 2009.

This year the swim team comprised Mr and Mrs Snorkel, my eldest daughter Petulant Princess (PP), who is a lapsed swimmer, and moi.

In the three days leading to the swim the weather was as moody as PP, and when I woke this morning at 7am it was rainy, chilly and didn't look like clearing.

After registering at the surf club at 8.30am we piled into one of the many buses that wound around the hillside to drop us at the starting point at Wategoes beach (haunt of the megarich -but not today).

Unlike other ocean swims, Winter Whales starts back-to-front, with the oldest competitors leaving first and the elite swimmers going last.

When the horn blew for my wave (45-49 year-old women) the sun peeked out from behind ominous clouds.

Another unique thing about the swim is that to reach the first buoy we had to first stride through the shallows, swim briefly across a deeper trough then struggle up and over another sandbank before finally hitting deep water. I was exhausted already!
But once I got into a rhythm the swim was a dream. The water was clear so I could see to the bottom all the way. Mrs Snorkel and PP later said they saw huge stingrays and schools of sand whiting.

My arms cut through the water like scissors through silk. It was that smooth and sensual.

Another wonderful thing about Winter Whales is the strong north-flowing current that gives you a helpful ride all the way along the beach. If the event was run in the opposite direction, from Byron to Wategoes, the powerful drag would keep swimmers like me glued to the spot.

The swim was over too soon. And now I'm back home contemplating another week of work and all those chores I left behind.

Reality sucks. As the ocean swims season drifts to a close, I can only dream of swims like Byron and plan for 2010.