Wednesday, 29 December 2010

New Year's Resolutions may come back to bite me

I don't usually make New Year's Resolutions because they come back to bite me courtesy of my ever-alert family.

Yesterday, Miss Hissy pointed out that I would find it impossible to keep a resolution because I "never stick at anything". This coldly delivered observation was made after I took her to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (she's already seen it twice), bought her lunch at Sushi Train and took her to Dymock's so she could buy I am Four.

I don't think she meant her advice to cut so deep, but that's The Hiss. She is cruelty and malice wrapped in a cute package. Deceptive.

Despite this, I've decided to declare my New Year's Resolutions for 2011. I know I'm a fool, but what else was I gonna write about?

For what it's worth and if you're interested (yawn now) here they are:
1. I will be nice to The Hiss even though she's really mean to me*.
2. I will be less critical of my eldest daughter Precious Princess, who often leaves the house wearing outfits that leave little to the imagination and has a new boyfriend who rides a motorbike**. 
3. I will be kind to Spanner who still can't quite get around to setting up the mirror and towel rack in the bathroom, even though I bought them a year ago***.
4. I will finish my latest ms... and start another****.
5. I will achieve better ocean swim times*****.

*If you've met The Hiss, you will be aware of the momentous nature of this resolution. The Hiss is my greatest critic - she is 14.  
**PP turns 20 in 2011. PP does as PP likes. I have lost control, so have nothing to lose by accepting that while she might hear my words of wisdom, she chooses not to follow them.
***What more can I say? 
****This is two resolutions in one, and it's huge. The Hiss is correct when she says I find it hard to stick with something. I find it hard to finish a novel. I've just completed a short story, but that's a distraction. I've got to get a rough draft done by March. Gulp. And another started after that. I'm stressed already.
*****I couldn't really get any slower. "Faster, stronger, harder" is my new swimming mantra. Chortle.  

It is done. You read it here. Numbers 4 and 5 are probably the most tangible resolutions, though 1 to 3 could probably be measured by my blood-pressure count.

I don't have to start until January 1, 2011, so I've got a few more days to harangue Spanner about the chores around the house, to hassle The Hiss and send frantic text messages to PP, who is at a music festival somewhere in the wilds of Victoria.

In the meantime, back to the book... or should I do some housework and sort out the mess in the office? 

PS: I haven't included diet, drinking or exercise in my resolutions because there is no way I would be able to follow through. And would I really want to?

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Merry Boxing Day: Rolex Sydney to Hobart

Today it's raining in Sydney but Christmas Day was glorious.


After stuffing ourselves with cold ham, chicken, salads, pudding with brandy custard and pavlova with fresh strawberries, pawpaw and cream, we headed down to Rushcutters Bay to have a squiz at the Sydney to Hobart fleet.


The race starts at 1pm today, as it does every Boxing Day, so we'll probably drive to Watson's Bay and stand in the drizzle as these (mostly) magnificent boats leave Sydney Harbour for the journey south. The weather's meant to be pretty blustery.






I took some pics on my point-and-snap camera. Enjoy!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Sharks in Sydney Harbour

I start blabbing about sharks and my know-it-all friends (two actually) come onboard with fresh information. 
Mrs Onyabike refers me to a story in The Weekend Australian magazine, which compares the great white's hunting behaviour to that of a serial killer. According to the research quoted in the story, great whites are particular about their prey and return to the same location when about to hunt for food.

Supposedly to confirm the validity of the research, the journo then goes on to describe in gory detail those fatal shark attacks in Australia where the victim appears to have been the 'chosen one'.

I would like to mention that two of the fatalities were off the coast of South Australia and another was in WA (the breeding grounds for great whites) and another in a boating accident kilometres from the shore in Northern Queensland in 1977.

The weirdest of all though were two attacks off Byron Bay, 10 years apart, where both male victims had the last name 'Ford'.

My advice is to be careful swimming at Byron Bay if your last name is Ford. There's a local serial killer great white seeking out all Fords.

But really, what's the white pointer of this story? 

There were no dates provided, so the research obviously isn't new. My guess is it was commissioned by an editor who suddenly realised it was summer. And that's when Australians go to the beach. LIGHT BULB MOMENT. He then gets his hands on a couple of shark photos bound to scare the crap out of your average joe and sends his hack reporter off to research serial killer great whites. If you're interested, here's the link: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/kill-zone/story-e6frg8h6-1225971145872

The next lot of news comes from Davo, who should be mowing the lawn on a Sundee, but instead has his mug (this is slang for 'face') in the paper (which means he was reading the newspaper when he should've been doing domestic chores*).

In The Sun-Herald, fishing columnist David Lockwood advises readers not to swim in the harbour because there's lots of sharks about.

I reckon this is scarier than Mrs Onyabike's story - according to local fishermen, whaler and bull sharks were spotted breeching in the harbour last week. Mary Mother of God (dunno how the rest goes as I'm not Catholic, but you get the gist).

Lockwood writes: 'Fishing guides report seeing sharks up to two metres cruising in the harbour this month.

'The potential maneaters have been spotted off the Opera House, in Darling Harbour, at Dobroyd Point and even in Middle Harbour.'

CRIKEY. My daughter Miss Hissy sailed at Middle Harbour today - she's also there tomorrow and Wednesday.

While summer 2010 was relatively free from shark sightings, it looks like the big fellas are back because of the abundance of fish in Sydney Harbour, including bonito and kingfish.

There are two Sydney Harbour swims coming up in the next few months. Am I worried? At the moment I'm more concerned about The Hiss. I reckon she's about as tender as Wagyu beef!

*explanation for anyone born after 1965

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Now for something completely different in the lead-up to Christmas: let's talk about sharks

I picked up a postcard that advertised an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum called Planet Shark - Predator or Prey. It's on until the February 27, 2011.

As an ocean swimmer, I find sharks fascinating and terrifying. I don't think about them every time I enter the open water, but when I get separated from the peloton (I told you I was slow and lacked a sense of direction) my imagination goes into overdrive as I consider the sonar signals my kicking size-7 feet might send out to a horde of ravenous carnivores.

Bruce the vegetarian shark does not exist. Sharks eat meat using their multiple rows of monstrous dagger-shaped teeth to tear into human flesh as the victim thrashes in a sea of her own blood while her limbs are severed - one by one. And so on and so forth. Blah blah blah.

But because I'm a rational person, I know my chances of being attacked by a shark are miniscule. On http://www.funny2.com/, there's a list of odds, which claims the chance of dying from a shark attack is 1 in 300,000,000.

This American website says 1 in 3 people will die from heart disease (go easy on the plum pudding and custard on Christmas Day) and there's a 1 in 18,585 chance of carking it in a car accident. And to really get you in a festive mood, the chance of dying from any kind of injury during the next year is 1 in 1820.

Sharks are seriously dangerous and I'm not gonna dangle my tootsies off most of the coast of South Australia or WA, but I'm also not getting my knickers in a knot when all the ocean swimming events I enter put swimmer safety first.

Here's what Time Out magazine says of the Maritime Museum exhibition:
Explore the murky myths and fascinating facts which have surrounded one of the most misunderstood animals on earth for centuries. Journey through Planet Shark and see full-scale specimen models, fossils, real teeth and jaws, original items from the 1975 movie Jaws and interviews with shark attack survivors. Gain a new level of respect and understanding for the oceans oldest predator.

Survivors of shark attacks often become sharks' greatest advocates. Navy diver Paul de Gelder, who lost his right hand and lower leg when he was attacked by a bull shark in Sydney Harbour in 2009, now lobbies the UN for stronger international trade regulations to protect sharks.

In an interview in September, de Gelder said: "Do we have the right to drive any animal to the brink of extinction before any action is taken? Regardless of what an animal does according to its base instincts of survival, it has its place in our world. We have an obligation to protect and maintain the natural balance of our delicate ecosystems."

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Oprah's at Bondi but all the action's at the 2010 Bilgola Ocean Swim

It's a long way from Bondi in the eastern suburbs to Bilgola on the northern beaches, and though Sydney is in the grip of Oprah hysteria some of us want to escape the hype.

So, on this magnificent day my temporary swim coach, Ms Fivestar, and I ditched Oprah at Bondi for the 1.5 km swim at Bilgola.

We met my brother-in-law Davo on the beach, where he confirmed the water temperature was a chilly 16 degrees. Davo and I swam 2 km in 15 degrees at Bondi the year of the Black Saturday bushfires. And it was bloody-headache-freezing. 

Today the organisers gave swimmers the option of wearing wetsuits or going 'newd'. We opted for the latter, though I wore two caps to keep my head warm.

The water may have been cold, but the surf was non-existent, which gladdened my wimpy heart. I don't like monster waves (last year's Bilgola swim had them and it was a bugger). I've been in enough huge-surf swims to know how friggin' tough it is out there. It's no fun having to watch your back as you swim to the beach to ensure you're not pulped my a dumper.

For me, the conditions were perfect. The four (?) waves of swimmers went off with three minutes between. Davo and I wished each other good luck as he sprinted ahead of me into the water. The cold was refreshing and the swim mostly blissful. No chop and a smooth run out through the buoy gates and then north-east to the red-balloon-topped buoy.

If you're a faithful reader of this blog, you'll know about my goggle issues (they always fog and fill up) and my lack of a sense of direction (I have no ocean sense). Today I had to empty out my goggles half-a-dozen times, a no-no in ocean swimming where stopping wastes precious seconds. However, I was fortunate to 'attach' myself to another green-capped swimmer who I could see out of the only clear bit of my goggles. I followed him around the buoys and he made a good choice coming in, avoiding a rip that held many swimmers up.

I shuffled up the beach and belched about a dozen times as the salt water I'd swallowed made its way back up. Erk.

Davo finished after me, which is a rare occurrence. If he's reading this, he would want me to add that he didn't swim at all during winter and that his last swim, in a pool, was about six weeks ago. 

I hope that makes you feel better Davo!

I have no idea about my time. I'll have to wait until the results are up on http://www.oceanswims.com/

Friday, 10 December 2010

Blondie and The Pretenders play the Enmore

Hot, steamy and sexy. No, it's not an erotic novel. It's Blondie and The Pretenders at the Enmore.

In my continued attempts to educate my youngest daughter, 14-year-old Miss Hissy, I took her to the Wednesday night gig, where 59-year-old Chrissie Hynde and 65-year-old Deborah Harry led the charge for baby-boomer rock and roll.

The Enmore is an intimate venue in Sydney's inner-west, where you can get up close to the stage. Because the punters, except for Miss Hissy, were in the 50s-plus demographic, it wasn't hard (we just kicked the Zimmer frames and sticks out of our way).


Because old people shrink, Miss Hissy (I will call her The Hiss from now on) had a birds-eye-view of both bands. The Pretenders were up first and, as much as oldies can go wild, the room went OFF.

Hynde has charisma in spades and still looks and moves like a 20-year-old (but I am a bit blind). Her voice is stronger than ever. Drummer Martin Chambers is the only other original band member, and he is phenomenal. 

I'm not saying that a band that's been around forever should regurgitate all their old hits, but let's face it - that's why the crowd was there. When the band launched into Precious and Message of Love, a roar went up. Everyone swayed like lovesick-teenagers to Stop Your Sobbing and Talk of the Town. The 75-minute set finished with Brass in Pocket. I was in heaven and so was The Hiss.

It couldn't get any better. But then there was Blondie. When Deborah Harry arrived on stage wearing a black punk-rock frock with multiple belts and layers of tulle, teamed with diamante-framed glasses, The Hiss turned to me and shouted: "She's awesome."

From then on, it just got better. Like Hynde, Harry has an amazing stage presence. She's still beautiful - good bone structure is so important. And all those years living a nocturnal existence have preserved her skin, which is flawless. 


Highlights for The Hiss and I were original band member Clem Burke on drums and the classics such as Hanging on the Telephone, One Way or AnotherAtomic (stunning), In the Flesh, Union City Blue, Call Me, The Tide is High (which became an audience sing-a-long), Rapture (with Harry's amazing rap) and Heart of Glass (they saved that for last). 


When, towards the end, Harry tore off her tulle skirt to reveal teensy shorts underneath, a couple of blokes in the audience had minor heart attacks. Age is a state of mind.  

Afterwards, The Hiss said "Thanks Mum". It was a night to remember.                                 

Monday, 6 December 2010

Social media does my head in

I found it ironic that the particpants of last Friday's social media workshop run by the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) were asked to bring along a pen and notepad.


Twenty-six pages of jottings later, I know why. There is just too much to digest on social media, with most of the day's activities focusing on Facebook and Twitter. This is why you'll see my newly established Twitter account on my blog. Arrrgh! What do I do next?


I feel that to keep up with the rest of the mob, I've got to be there in the thick of it. I have a Facebook account, but I don't go there often. It's a time-sucker.


As you can see from my blog, I don't take advantage of all the bells and whistles that can be attached to snazz it up. My Facebook is the same. 's all too complicated.


And as for Twitter, I can't understand why anyone would care about me having a coffee at a local cafe with the mum of one of my daughter's friends.


Unless you've got something interesting to tweet, don't bother. Which is why I haven't yet activated it on my phone. I am following six people and have three followers (Hi Tam!).


By the way, Julie Posetti, who ran the workshop, really knows her stuff. Despite this knowledge, she is in strife with The Australian newspaper's Editor in Chief Chris Mitchell who is threatening litigation over a tweet Posetti sent at a conference last week. If you have Twitter, you can follow the story from Julie and her huge band of supporters' POV at #twitdef. Or you can read all about it on Julie's blog at http://www.j-scribe.com/2010/11/twitdef.html

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

How funny is this: Oprah wants a sleepover at a typical Australian home

As I sit in my cramped office that was once my stepson's bedroom, I wonder if it would suit Oprah Winfrey if she came to our house for a sleepover.

I'd need to tidy up the spare bed because Spanner's Dad slept in it last week when he was up from Melbourne and I haven't had time to change the sheets. No one likes old-man smell. Definitely a must-change.

The reason I'm considering this far-fetched idea is that the undisputed Queen of the USA is visiting Australia in mid-December and has expressed an interest in staying at a "typical Australian home".

This got me thinking, what is the 'typical' Australian home?

And does mine fall into that category?

Here's a typical day in my life in my typical Australian home:

5.30am alarm. Spanner goes downstairs and makes coffee.

6am. After showering and dressing I join Spanner, unpack dishwasher, feed dog, do a load of washing, hang out washing, make lunch for Miss Hissy and myself - VEGEMITE SANDWICHES. Spanner leaves and says goodbye to dog.

7.30am. I head off to work, but before I leave I attempt to wake Miss Hissy and Precious Princess.

8.30am. At work, I send Wake-Up text messages to both Miss Hiss and PP. Miss Hissy has a fit and abuses me for not waking her before I left. PP sleeps through text.

4pm or thereabouts. I catch the bus home. Miss Hissy greets me with homework that has to be proofread. She is having a panic attack. I change and walk dog. Spanner arrives and makes coffee. I feed dog, take the clothes off the line, make dinner - BANGERS AND MASH WITH THREE VEGE - and proofread homework. Miss Hissy complains that I have changed her work so it is no longer her work. I pack dishwasher. Dog goes berserk because there are POSSUMS scuttling around IN THE ROOF. Spanner watches arthouse-cinema DVD (tonight it was Spanish). Afterwards, Spanner says goodnight to dog and goes to bed.

11pm. Precious Princess arrives home - with boyfriend. Asks, can he sleep over? I face a dilemma and offer him the bed that might be Oprah's. I don't tell him about Spanner's Dad.

Typical?

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Bad sex in fiction award loses out on romance

The sex/love scene in a romance novel is of the utmost importance. It's what most readers wait for - that magic moment when the hero and heroine decide to do IT.

And the author has to make it memorable. She has an obligation to her readers to ensure they leave the book/bedroom feeling as satisfied as the two lovers.  

I know it's genre dependent, but usually the sex has to be meaningful because the hero and heroine have been fighting their attraction to each other for however-many chapters. The sex can't be over in 30 seconds. Even if it's frantic, it's got to be jam-packed with emotion and a vibrant energy that lifts everyone to a climax - if you know what I mean.  

Romance writers labour over the scenes in which the hero and heroine consummate their relationship. The challenge is to keep the writing fresh and avoid cliches, which takes a lot of work. Mop my beaded brow, Hugh!  

But in the literary world it seems this is not the case. For the past 18 years, a British publication has highlighted usually prominent authors' godawful sex scenes. 

The Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award for 2010 is being announced tomorrow (November 29) but I thought you might like a sample of two of the nominees' work. The prize rewards "poorly written, redundant or crude passages of a sexual nature" in literary works.  

Australian author Christos Tsiolkas' Booker-longlisted novel The Slap made it onto the bad sex shortlist. The Sydney Morning Herald's Susan Wyndham wrote of the nomination:

'The judges cited a passage in which two characters ''f---ed for ages'' in the family home of one, ''standing up, her skirt bunched around her ankles, his jeans pulled down to his knees, moaning into each other, the drug keeping him hard and allowing him to forestall climaxing''.

'Jonathan Beckman, the assistant editor of The Literary Review, which gives the annual award, said the sheer quantity of sex also weighed heavily in the judges' choice. ''It's very repetitive,'' he said. ''The sheer laziness of saying 'they f---ed for ages' is just one example of slack writing.'''

Good luck with it, Christos. 

American writer Jonathan Franzen topped the list with scenes from his latest novel, Freedom

Here's what The Guardian had to say:

'The judges were unmoved by the hype surrounding this autumn's standout fiction title, Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, citing the bestselling account of the disintegration of an American family for a description of a "phone sex" encounter where words make "their own world. One afternoon, as Connie described it, her excited clitoris grew to be eight inches long, a protruding pencil of tenderness with which she gently parted the lips of his penis and drove herself down to the base of its shaft. Another day, at her urging, Joey described to her the sleek warm neatness of her turds as they slid from her anus and fell into his open mouth, where, since these were only words, they tasted like excellent dark chocolate."'

A pencil will never look the same. 

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

My condolences to everyone in New Zealand

My grandparents on my dad's side were New Zealanders. But that has nothing to do with this post.


Australia and NZ are neighbours and friends. Tonight I feel a great weight for your loss. This should never have happened.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Let the ocean swimming season begin: Dawny Swim around Cockatoo Island

I love the Dawn Fraser Pool in Balmain because it feels like a step back in time to when the world was less complicated and everybody spent Sunday at the beach or on the harbour.

Nowadays, Sydneysiders scream around like mad ants and the weekend is a massive traffic jam that spills over to the weekdays.

That's life, I guess. But today I went to Dawny's to do my first ocean swim of the season. The sun shone in a blue sky as a couple of hundred swimmers assembled just outside the perimeter of the harbour pool to take on either the 1 km or 2.5 km swim.

Like last year, I chose the longer swim around Cockatoo Island, the location of a disused ship yard, which is now a tourist attraction. These days you can camp overnight in permanent tents on Cockatoo Island, which is something I've yet to to do because Spanner says, "Why would you want to do that?"

This year the swim around the island was anti-clockwise and run a bit earlier at 9.05 am because the ferry timetable to the island has changed. Apparently, a clockwise swim interferes with ferry movements. This is a  bummer because the tide was running out of the harbour this morning, so going in an anti-clockwise direction meant swimming around the back of the island against the tide.

Dawny is a fun swim for me because everyone starts in the water and it's flat (no bloody big waves) except for chop caused by harbour craft and a bit of wind.

Another reason why it's such an excellent swim is I don't have to wait to start through about five waves of swimmers with three minute intervals between them. Today, there were three waves of swimmers, with a one minute interval between each group. That's the way to run a swim.

It was so well organised that I didn't have time to panic or even think about the coolish 18 degree water temperature. No sooner had the first wave gone, then the 46-to-really-old codgers wave was off.

I absolutely love this swim, though I'm sure my time today sucked. But those who follow this blog (thanks for persevering with my rants) will be aware that I'm no Libby Lenton. More like Eric the Eel. 

But today I didn't care. As I was dragged like an old turtle back onto the pontoon after the swim, I marvelled that I had cruised around Cockatoo Island, through jelly blubbers in the murky harbour water and narrowly avoiding the gaping jaws of lurking bull sharks (that's my story and I'm sticking to it).

I'm all revved up, so it's on to the next swim around the eensy-teensy misnamed Wedding Cake island at Coogee next week.

See you at the swim.

PS: In the pic, you can see Cockatoo Island beyond the pool. All the industrial stuff is still there as the island is a heritage site.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Summer has finally arrived in Sydney and Venus of Bondi has got it

Summer is finally here. And it's a stinker.

Next week will be my first swim of the ocean-swims season, in the 2.5 km Dawny swim around Cockatoo Island at Balmain in Sydney's inner-west. I reckon the harbour water will still be chilly. Here's hoping it deters the bull sharks.

Am I ready? Nup.

I feel a bit like the sculpture in my pic that I snapped in Tamarama at Sculpture by the Sea, which ends today.

Isn't she gorgeous? Very well rounded.

She's made from recycled sandstone boulders, her name is Bondi Venus and her creator is Dennis Kalous.

In his statement from the Sculpture by the Sea catalogue, Kalous writes: 'Boulders are useless stones. When tooled and put into composition suddenly Bondi Venus emerges.'

I reckon I need a bit of tooling, if you know what I mean.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Ouch, the truth hurts: how criticism can make or break a writer

Because I'm a sensitive soul*, it took a lot of courage** to join a face-to-face writers' critique group.

I won't go into details about the group members, suffice to say they're a rowdy bunch of chickadees*** whose overriding goal is to get their work published.

Our styles are different and the genres include erotica, sweet, paranormal and historical, which has its advantages and disadvantages. At least it encourages a feisty exchange of ideas.  

On Saturday I went to my second meeting with the group, though it's been established for several months. This week it was my turn to have my WIP critiqued.

I quite like my story and have a fond affection for my hero and heroine. But after an hour of having my WIP verbally shredded and tossed into a dumpster, my feelings have changed. Now I look at my hero and see an insipid wimp that no girl with blood in her veins would want to jump. And my heroine is selfish, vacuous and two-dimensional.

My GMC sucksthe plot is ridiculous**** and I do too much TELL and not enough SHOW.

Shellshocked, I left the meeting and stumbled into the late afternoon drizzle. 

On the way home I stopped at a bottle shop and spent more than I usually do on a bottle of shiraz, and when I got back I bored Spanner into a coma with a self-pitying rant.

"My WIP sucks. I'll never be a writer. I'm shite. The world is shite. And you don't care about me. You don't understand me. I'm a tortured artist. Pour me another glass of wine, ya bastard." And so on and so forth until bedtime.

Now it's Monday, I've had time to reflect on the feedback - and to recover from a mild headache. I realise that all is not lost and, for the most part, my critique partners were right, though I wish they'd been a little more gentle and massaged my ego with a little more praise.

But now I know where I need to dig into my story to give it more guts. I've got to raise the stakes and not sit back and think: "Geez, I'm clever."

Writing is bloody hard work and so is the ability to accept well-intended criticism. You know how the saying goes - What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

*Unable to handle criticism
**The energy to get off my bum and do something
***Like me, they are barking mad (in the most complimentary sense) 
**** No one at the meeting said this, but being the sensitive creature that I am, I reinterpreted every comment (sociopathic maybe?)

Friday, 5 November 2010

When worlds collide: writing and swimming at the same time

It's all happening in November what with NaNoWriMo and the start of the ocean swimming season.

I've joined the RWAustralia camp for November writing month, with a goal of 20,000 words that I hope to add to my WIP. If I manage it, my WIP will leap to 30,000 words.

The problem is my writing is as slow as my swimming. We're five days into November and I've just managed to cough up 2000 words. You don't need to be a genius to figure out the maths. I won't reach my goal at the rate I'm going.

It's no different in the pool. And when you translate my pool times to a quixotic ocean it's fair to add a couple of minutes to the end result.

But I'm not about to sob into my beer. Life is pretty fan-friggin'-tastic. I've included a couple of pics from Sculpture by the Sea 2010 in this post - the artworks are displayed along the magnificent walk from Bondi to Tamarama beaches. You can't beat it - even on an overcast day.

Hey, did you know it rains more often in Sydney than it does in London? Ms Fivestar told me that, so blame her if it's wrong.



Sunday, 31 October 2010

You be the judge: my intense experience of judging a writing competition

Just recently I was invited to judge a writing comp, probably because my short story made it into the RWA Little Gems Topaz anthology.

I thought, 'This can't be too hard' but I was wrong. What an intense experience. I did an initial read of the three entries allocated to me, jotting down comments along the way.

Of course, being a vainglorious would-be 'author', I initially compared the entries to my latest WIP and wondered why my work wasn't screaming up the bestseller list (maybe I need to finish a book first). The entries didn't come close to matching the literary genius of my brilliant work in progress!

But hang on! The memories of the negative feedback I'd recieved from comps entered over the past five years flooded back. I hesitantly opened my competitions folder and leafed through the judges comments on my MS, now in the drawer never to be opened.

Here's what one judge wrote: "The story has potential and it began well. I didn't care for the deck-hand bit (that kind of misunderstanding has been done to death). The hero came across as uncouth with his comment about the boat and totally unkind comment about her financial status. The whole scene between hero and heroine seemed contrived to generate a motiveless (to me) conflict."

Ouch. I can't tell you how much I loved my opening scene on the yacht until this judge slammed it onto the pavement and ground it to a pulp with the heel of her boot.

IN THE DRAWER CRUMMY SCENE! I HAVE NO TALENT! I'M A LOSER!

That judge gave me 37 out of a possible 63.

However, the two other judges awarded me 56 and 52, with the 56 judge commenting: "Setting, heroine setup is good, GMC is very solid for heroine."

OUT OF THE DRAWER AWARD-WINNING SCENE! MY MS IS BRILLIANT! I'M A STAR!

Because I've suffered heartache at the waspish pens of others, I waited another week before I re-read the three entries. And they weren't half bad. I tried to be fair with my comments and to point out the problems where I saw them. But I'm not going to dump on these entrants when I've only read a small portion of their stories and have no knowledge of their writing experience.

Being a judge is hard work, but the task was made easier after I put my ego in the drawer.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

A heart count in my WIP causes mine to sink

I just did a search through my latest WIP, which is 14,040 words, and already it contains 14 mentions of the word 'heart'.

And in my first MS that's locked in a drawer never to be opened, the organ that pushes blood from one part of the body to the other appears over 80 times.

How's that for heart-attack material? 

I don't know whether you can have too many hearts in a romance, but I tend to rely on this essential organ too much in my attempts to evoke reactions from my characters. 

There's hearts beating, flying, swooping and sinking all over the shop!

There's tired analogies such as 'her heart beat like a drum' and other cliches including racing, heavy, empty and hollow hearts

A quick flick through several romance novels reveals: His heart stopped, his heart turned over, joy flooded her heart, her heart sank, his heart twisted in sympathy, her aching heart, heart banging against her rib cage, her heart beat out a grim rhythm of a farewell, he sounded as if she gashed a hole in his heart, her heart launched into a veering race (these last three, all very nice, are from Anna Campbell's Tempt The Devil). 

If the heart is used sparingly, it can be used to good effect. But too much of anything isn't recommended.

If there's anyone out there who can help me with this (and don't suggest I try using my imagination), I'd like to know. How does one describe a character's emotions without falling into cliches and relying on heart analogies and metaphors? 

 PS: This post was inspired by a poignant quote from an article in The Sun-Herald, where a former member of the French Foreign Legion, David Mason, says: "I stood next to the cot [of baby boy Abdou, who dies] and felt one of the strings that bound my heart to my soul stretch and snap."

PPS: I took the photo of these fibreglass heart lights at Ku de ta in Bali. It's an amazing nightclub that overlooks the beach at Seminyak on the south coast. The hearts were strung up in a tree at the entrance to the club to celebrate its tenth anniversary.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

I'm on my way: from pantser to plodder to plotter

Finally.

For the past two weeks I've spent a couple of hours every Friday at my friend Ms Fivestar's office, where I have managed to bang out a couple of thousand words of my latest WIP.

Ms Fivestar works with her business partner Mrs LOL, so there's lots of chit-chat and takeaway flat-whites
before I start to rock and write.

I love it. I still get stuff done, which wouldn't happen at home where there are distractions such as layers of dust, grimy pots and pans in the sink and at least three loads of washing. 

All that can wait... 

And in the space of two weeks I've learnt an invaluable lesson. I need to do more plotting. It's not just enough to go to Ms Fivestar's office and knock out the words. I really need to sit down and consider where my story is heading before I get to the next bit. 

So today, in preparation for tomorrow, I've created a framework for my story. It's no longer so free-form and a series of scenes floating around in my head. I'm also finishing off the synopsis. It might change as I write, but at least I have some structure to my story.

BTW, Ms Fivestar and Mrs LOL's office is no ordinary work space. It's an old warehouse (it might have even been barn or stables, that's how old it is) that's been converted into six offices, each with a mezzanine level. It's light and airy - and there's a cafe downstairs!

I've got the life. I just hope they don't start charging me to use the space!

PS: Pic is of daily offering to Hindu gods in Bali. I'm thinking of starting up this practice at home, just because it's a lovely ritual.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The tragic tale of Blackie Buttercup the rabbit and why sometimes it's OK to lie to your kids

Once upon a time, in 2000 to be exact, we owned a rabbit. Spanner and I were under the misguided impression that it would be a less labour-intensive pet than a dog. 

I can't even remember where we bought Blackie Buttercup (BB), a white New Zealand short-eared bunny with a penchant for hand-woven Indian rugs, chair legs and internet cables. The bloody thing gnawed its way through most things in our house whenever we allowed it inside.

The most upsetting incident involved a Ginger Spice doll. BB chewed the doll's leg to just above the ankle and amputated her foot. I still have the maimed doll, which resides in a box with at least a dozen dishevelled Barbies and one exhausted looking Ken. 

But I digress. BB, it turned out, was more trouble than he/she was worth. Despite this I became attached to the little critter, which would hop around my feet as I hung out the washing. 

About six months after we brought BB home, he/she disappeared. We searched far and wide, but it was Spanner who made the gruesome discovery several days later. BB had crawled into our neighbour's yard and under the house where he/she had consumed Ratsak. 

We decided not to tell the kids the truth. Instead, we wove a romantic tale about the liberation of BB into the bush reserve near our house. And they believed it.

Until yesterday. 

Believing that Precious Princess was asleep (it was around 9am) I recounted the sad tale of Blackie Buttercup to an electrician/sparky who was at our house to install a new oven (we were discussing the whereabouts of the electricity cabling, which led me to the saga of BB). 

Just as I finished the story, PP swung open her bedroom door and stabbed a finger at me. "You lied to us about Blackie Buttercup!"

In front of the stunned sparky, I argued with PP about why we felt we had to tell a lie. I mean, how do you explain to three kids under the age of ten that their pet has endured an agonising death after ingesting poison? 

"But," PP argued, "for years we thought Blackie Buttercup was out there in the wild popping out babies. Whenever we saw a rabbit, we thought it was related to Blackie Buttercup. But it was all a lie."

Then she looked at me oddly, and I knew an evil idea had formed in her head. Bribery.

Panic clenched my heart. "Don't you dare tell your little sister about this," I begged. In the meantime, the sparky had edged to the front door, planning his own escape. "She'll never forgive me." (Miss Hissy is the unforgiving type)

A twisted smile distorted PP's beautiful face into a mask of terror. 
"Mmm. Maybe I will or maybe I won't."

I'm not sure if there's a moral to this tragic rabbit tale. 

Maybe it's to make sure the family is out of earshot if you're talking behind their backs.

I still think we did the right thing, even though PP currently holds the balance of power in this household.  

The pic is one of only two in existence of Blackie Buttercup. Here, he is being nursed by Miss Hissy.  I scanned the pic and can't work out how to get rid of the frame! I hate technology.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Lost in the supermarket* or why Australia's two supermarket giants make me cry

The supermarket makes me depressed. It's windowless and fluoro-lit, and the temperature swings from nipple-pricking ice cold at the dairy section to airless around the shampoo, condoms and toothpaste aisle.

The piped music ranges from crap Mark Knopfler dirges (I don't care what all the ageing, balding 15-minute guitar-solo tragics out there say, MK put the 'dire' into '80s rock) to Kylie Minogue's frizzy disco turn.

I once had a panic attack in the dog-food and toilet-paper aisle as I felt its product-laden shelves close in on me (maybe it had something to do with my fear of being smothered by tonnes of super soft hypo-allergenic Sorbent rolls).

Recently I stomped in child-like frustration when my favourite brand of nuts, Nobby's, were usurped by the supermarket's own home brand. I want Nobby's cashews, not the non-brand that makes the two Australian supermarket Goliaths impervious to the struggling Davids of this world.

And yesterday I cried. I discovered that my favourite yoghurt in the whole world had been squashed next to the 'new' home-brand yoghurt, which promised the same taste sensation for less money.

And its packaging was similar to that of my yoghurt. It was an AVATAR. An imposter. A rip-off that denies choice to those of us who like to shop for our favourite brands. It's only a matter of time before my yoghurt gets the chop.

A tear trickled. Earlier, I'd supressed the urge to scream: "Where's the bloody Windex?" as I roamed the household-products aisle like a caged tiger. Turns out, it had been moved to a different spot. 

But the yoghurt situation was bad. I was pissed off BIG TIME. 

What to do? Because I'm officially a "mad bitch"**, I arrived home and immediately shot off an email to the manufacturer of my favourite yoghurt. "What's going on? Tell me it will be all right and my favourite yoghurt will always be there for me!"

I will report back when I get a response. 

There appears to be so much choice these days, but in reality there's precious little.

This issue is about FREEDOM OF CHOICE AND BRAND MONOPOLISATION BY AUSTRALIA'S TWO SUPERMARKET GIANTS.

We will fight them in the aisles!    

*With respect to The Clash
**My eldest daughter Precious Princess described me in such glowing terms

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Casa Luna Cooking School is more for looking

As I still haven't done an ocean swim or written one pathetic word of my Great Australian Novel (*snort*) I thought I would return to my recent adventures in Bali.

Of course, with the imminent cinema release of Eat, Pray, Love, this post is timely as it deals with my own middle-life crisis, which is pretty ordinary albeit 'strangely compelling'*

But this post is about Ms Fivestar's and my experience of the renowned Casa Luna (CL) Cooking School in Ubud. The CL empire is run by Janet De Neefe, a glamorous expat Australian who married a Balinese more than 20 years ago and is now behind the Indus Restaurant, Honeymoon Guesthouses, Pantheon Gallery and the Casa Luna Restaurant, Cooking School and Emporium. 

We didn't meet De Neefe or "Mrs Janet", as she is called by her staff, who obviously adore her.

But we did get to enjoy several hours with our Casa Luna cooking 'teacher', Made, whose huge smile and wicked sense of humour was thoroughly engaging. On the downside, we didn't get to do much cooking. The class was less hands-on and more of a cooking demonstration.

One of the reasons for this is the class sizes. In our class was a group of around eight women from Geraldton in WA, Angela from Darwin in the NT (her boyfriend Robbie had a dose of Bali belly and couldn't make it), around half a dozen women from the USA (Pennsylvania), a mother and daughter from Brazil and Ms Five Star and me. Note: the majority of the women were aged 40-60 and the token male was absent.  

The cooking facilities in the tropical semi-outdoor setting comprised two wok burners, so you couldn't accommodate more than two people at a time. Admittedly, half the challenge in creating the dishes was the slicing and dicing, which was mostly completed for us before the class started. And at the end of the class, we consumed the feast. 

The dishes were: 
spiced fish in banana leaves, fish curry, spinach in tomato-chilli sambal, carrot and cucumber salad and sambal. These were followed by black rice pudding.  

There are lots of cooking schools in Ubud, and some might just be more interactive than this one. If you like to look and eat, it's a winner. But if you prefer to do more than stir and pound for a bit, you might just want to look around.
*Stay tuned for my 'the day I cried in the supermarket' post. It's a cracker. 'Strangely compelling' is designed to attract curious readers to my blog.  


Thursday, 30 September 2010

A pool, a pool, my backyard for a pool





My sister and I were spoilt growing up. We had swimming pools in two of the houses we lived in. The first was at a red-brick house my dad built in St Ives, when it was still considered a bushland suburb on the outskirts of Sydney. I was a little kid then, but I can still remember dad teaching me to swim. And the day he caught a snake in the pool and cut off its head. The image of the headless writhing body has stayed with me till this day.

Our next pool was some years later when I started high school. It was built after we moved into the house my dad renovated in Chatswood West, on Sydney's north shore. I recall my then best friend Lynne and I recording a 'documentary' about St Francis of Assisi, using a Super-8 camera, in the pool before it was filled.

And my mother, a woman who never gets her hair wet, falling onto the pool cover one freezing winter's day and slowly sinking. And drunken poolside teenage parties. And coming home from the beach all sandy and burnt and throwing myself into the soothing blue chlorinated water.

I would love a swimming pool now, but they are costly to build and have to be maintained. Spanner laughs like a pirate whenever I mention the possibility. If I had buckets of money, my pool would be long enough to do laps in.

Dream on!

This leads me to the reason for this post, which is to show off the pools in the two gorgeous hotels where I stayed in Bali.

The ocean swimming season is just around the corner, so I am thinking (note the word) about increasing my swims per week to four. Then there's the search for a squad.

Anyway, feast your eyes on these beautiful pools. The rectangular one is at the Oberoi in Seminyak and the more organically shaped one is at the Santi Mandala resort, about a 15 minute drive from Ubud.

More soon on upcoming ocean swims.

Monday, 27 September 2010

My bloody family and how absence doesn't make the heart grow fonder


I know this blog is supposed to be about swimming and writing*. But because I've not been doing much of either lately, today my post is about my bloody family.

This is the story...

I arrive home from my holiday and nothing has changed. I know I was only away for 12 days, but I thought the deal was that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

That's garbage. And talking of garbage...

The house is a mess. I still don't have an oven that works and there's a hole in the wall for a dishwasher. The broken machine is next to the kitchen bench, its pipes pinned to its sides with masking tape.

The downstairs toilet reminds me of the latrine in the petrol station at Drummoyne. I will never ever in my life use that facility again, so that gives you an indication of the state of the dunny at home*.

The dog is scratching. Five hours later, I'm scratching like a maniac and youngest daughter Miss Hissy is covered in bites. I still can't figure out if it's the dog's fault or some microscopic bitey thing lurking in the unwashed bed linen.

My erstwhile eldest daughter Precious Princess is nowhere to be found. She's locked in some infinite hip-hop party diorama. Our only contact is via text message, where she informs me she is still alive and will 'be home soon'. Her room resembles the interior of the dog's kennel.

I have failed as a mother.

In the end, there's only one person to blame - my spouse, Spanner, who likes to dish out cliches such as, "Don't worry, be happy" and "Life goes on regardless" and "No one notices the mess but you."

I reckon the dog noticed it too. Or is that just wishful thinking on my part?

*Profuse apologies to those of you who expected this blog to be about swimming or writing.
*I could draw parallels to the Commonwealth Games Village in New Delhi, but I won't.
PS: Pic is of my dog sleeping peacefully on freshly laundered sheets.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Bali lows: what the travel brochures don't tell you

I haven't read Elizabeth Gilbert's account of her time spent on a mission of self-discovery in Bali in her memoirs Eat, Pray, Love. I'm not sure what she found there or whether she wrote about some of the more pressing issues impacting on this beautiful island and its people. Probably not. After all, it was all about her.

I was only in Bali for 12 days and loved it.

But no one told me about:

* the burning off. What recycling? Plastic bottles and bags, the whole kit and kaboodle goes up in smoke every day in Bali. It blows off the coast, but in the northern town of Ubud the air is thick with poisonous fumes each morning and evening.

* the raw sewerage that pollutes the rivers and the ocean. Actually, my friend Ms Love-a-chat did warn me about this. She and her hubby chose not to swim at Kuta Beach earlier this year because of the raw sewerage that poured into the Indian Ocean every day after the rain.

* the dreadful plight of street dogs. Thousands of starving maltreated dogs prowl the streets of Bali rummaging for food. Ms Fivestar and I were nearly holed up by a growling street dog when we went for a walk around a village close to Ubud. I didn't fancy frothing at the mouth so we made a beeline for our comfortable resort. The sad thing is that Aussie ex-pats tend to import their own spoilt fat canine creatures, even though it is possible to adopt a street dog.

* the traffic. I will never complain about Sydney traffic again. Unless you cycle down a small village back street, Bali is in gridlock for most of the day and night.

* the rampant overdevelopment of the south coast. This includes Seminyak, Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua and almost down to Uluwatu (watch out surfers at Blue Point and Padang Padang, the developers are encroaching on your piece of paradise). Eyesore hotels litter the coast. It's fugly and sad. Where have all the rice paddies gone?

* children begging on the freeway. The eldest child knocks on the car window while mum sits on the median strip cradling a newborn. Sometimes there is no mum at all. This is terribly worrying.

And let's not forget regular sightings of the Bintang outfitted (singlet and cap and Bintang in hand) Aussie tourist - tattoos are mandatory for blokes and sheilas. God bless their fat farty bottoms, for they bring in the tourist dollar.

On the bright side, there are initiatives to clean up Bali, though it's stuck with the Bintang-sucking Aussies. Coca-Cola Amatil has a program to clean up the beaches and help the recovery of sea turtles at Kuta Beach (KBSTC).

There's also a program to help Bali's street kids at http://www.ykpa.org/

The Bali Animal Welfare Association recently launched a petition to help save Bali's street dogs and eliminate the cruel treatment of animals in Indonesia. The petition is at http://www.bawabali.com/ and needs 5000 more signatures.

Spanner just came in and told me that it was impossible to save the world. But that's just Spanner.