Sunday, 31 May 2009

First moment of disillusion

I can remember the first time I was disillusioned in the Church, although it wasn't till years later — after I stopped being a Christian — that I realised my disillusion was with the Church — not with Christianity itself.

I had put my name forward to join the "worship team" at my church — that is, the group of singers and musos at the front of the church who lead the congregation in song.

I was pretty excited, and pretty nervous. I was 14 or 15 at the time, and was a shy girl who blushed all over just from talking to someone she didn't know — let alone singing in front of church.

I rode my pushbike to church that week, praying I'd do well, singing my scales nervously, singing a musical tongue-twister we'd been taught in my first worship team practice, earlier that week. We didn't start on time, but practice was going well, and I was slowly gaining some confidence — although the sound guy was still turning my microphone up to maximum volume since no-one could hear my shy little voice.

We came to a particular song I loved, and did a test run of the song. Then the worship leader stopped.

"Nouch," he said to his co-leader, "Which way should I sing? Like this—" he sang the line — "Or like this?" And he sang it again, singing on a higher note, his eyes closed. "I think the second way sounds more emotional, don't you?"

Nouch agreed, and he sang it that way, as I stared at them, unable to believe it. I knew I was naive, but... all those times in church, I'd been carried away in the song. The leader singing higher notes, his eyes closed, did sound more emotional; I had got more emotional myself, never realising this was a deliberate ploy to stir up my emotions.

But it was the first glimmer of recognition that I had of the deliberate emotional manipulation that goes on at churches. It's not being "moved by the Spirit"; it's coldly manipulating people's emotions.

It's still a moment I remember very clearly.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Fiji - Day One

Last week Dan and I went to Fiji for a much-needed holiday (on his part), and in time-honoured tradition I feel the need to show off all the (200+) photos we took of the first time I've been outside New Zealand in ten years. Dan gave me the holiday as a graduation/birthday present, which was extremely awesome/thoughtful/wonderful/caring/kind of him.

Fiji was... hot. As in, I got off the plane and my clothes started sticking to me as sweat almost immediately started running down my body. Hot. And even more humid than it was hot. I have to admit, I wondered if this holiday was even going to be bearable if this was the average heat/humidity... thankfully, once we got to our resort and changed into t-shirts and miniskirts/shorts, it was fine.

We stayed in our own little "bure" or house, just as the Fijians of yore stayed in — complete with thatched roof and air-conditioning.

Room 206

I have to say, I wandered in the door (the guide keeping up a constant stream of cheerful chatter), glanced around the room — and my gaze was riveted to the bed.

Enjoy your honeymoon

In case you can't read the words spelled carefully out in little leaves and petals on our bed, it says: "Enjoy your honeymoon".

...we aren't on our honeymoon.

...we aren't even engaged.

...we have different surnames, I don't wear any rings on either ring-finger... how on earth would they think we're on our honeymoon?

"And here's your complimentary champagne, to celebrate your honeymoon," our guide carried on, motioning to a bottle of wine sitting in an ice-bucket next to a fruit platter of pawpaw (I think), watermelon, pineapple and banana.

Complimentary honeymoon champagne (and fruit platter)

...I decided maybe it was our honeymoon after all, and nodded and smiled brightly at our guide. As far as I know, Fiji's a relatively Christian country; so later, as Dan and I explored the little foot-shaped man-made island in front of our resort, we decided that any PDA's could be excused because, apparently, it's our honeymoon....

View from the foot

Above is my ham-handed attempt to sew two photos together with MS Paint. Yes, I know the line between the two photos is pretty obvious, but I repeat: MS Paint. At least it gives you some idea of the view from the "heel" of the foot island, though, as we looked back at the resort.

We didn't do much the rest of the day, as it was already dinner-time. Dan ordered seafood in banana leaf, which looked pretty awesome:

Dinner: Seafood wrapped in banana leaf

...although I wasn't brave enough to sample any of it (I had chicken filo. I know, go to Fiji for a holiday and have something as exotic as... the meal I had in Palmy on Wednesday).

During nearly every meal, this cute little resort kitten would beg for food from the guests. She was way too shy to actually approach a human, so she would just sit a few feet away and flirt with you over her shoulder.


And then we retired to our honeymoon bed, though it cost me a pang to sweep all those carefully-arranged leaves and petals away. But I feel I've bombarded you with enough photos for the time being, so I will stop for now, leaving you with an image of my dessert that night: the elegantly-titled chocolate "mouse" cake.

Chocolate 'mouse' cake

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Debut authors

It's interesting reading debut novels lately, because I've automatically started to compare my own writing to that of the writer.

Most of the authors I read are well-established authors. Jodi Picoult, Terry Pratchett, Jeffrey Archer, Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer; the one with the fewest novels to her name is Austen.

But The Black Moth (Heyer's debut) is encouraging to read for an unpublished writer. The dialogue is stilted and unrealistic; the hero and heroine are vanilla; and I find myself caring more about the anti-hero's failed romance than the hero's boring-knight-saves-boring-damsel routine.

At the end of the book, I wanted to know what happened to the villain; if he somehow redeemed himself, because Heyer didn't make him wholly evil. At the beginning, I assumed the story was about the villain, because the whole first chapter is all about the villain. (In fact, it's my opinion Heyer later renamed the villain and used him as her hero in These old shades.)

Simple mistakes! Simple mistakes that could easily be fixed! I sometimes read a book now, and at a poorly-phrased paragraph or stilted piece of dialogue I'll think, in disgust, Come on, that sounds like something I would write! And in a way that's encouraging — even if the worst of a debut novel is on the same level as what I write, it shows I'm at least on the right track. A few years ago, I probably wasn't even at that level.

In a way I feel Heyer may have had it easier; she was published a few decades ago, and I've heard the publishing industry has got a lot more cutthroat since then. But I've read debut novels published recently, and again, I notice stilted dialogue, plot holes, character stereotypes, predictable plots... it inspires me with hope. And these are still good books. These are still readable, gripping, exciting books that I can't wait to finish. These are still published, recognised, lauded books.

What does this mean? Well, before I submit anywhere I want to be perfect. I want to edit and revise and polish it to what I feel is perfection. But it's encouraging to know that, while an author can do the best they can, some mistakes in writing don't prevent you from being published. You shouldn't make any mistakes; if you're aware of any, they should be wiped. But... I don't know. It's just encouraging.

Sunday, 24 May 2009


I don't believe in writer's block.

I believe in hard work, discipline, and long hours spent learning the craft of writing. I believe in lots of feedback, lots of reading, lots of research.

I don't believe in sitting down and just waiting for inspiration to strike, because that road you'll never get anything done.

Having said that, since finishing my first self-published book, I've been experiencing something perilously close to writer's block.

I'm currently trying to re-write my manuscript from NaNoWriMo 2008. I sat down and plotted this story, point by point, in October; I got about three-quarters of the way through the plot, and then November hit and I threw plotting to the winds and just wrote. This worked excellently in November, and it was great to have that outline ahead of me, showing the way, guiding me... until the plot points ended.

I've tried. I have tried. I've stared at my screen for hours, written possible plot points on paper, gone to cafes to meditate on my story, asked others for feedback and ideas, and even gone to sleep thinking about my story in the hopes that I will dream what happens next. Sadly, none of these seem to have worked, although I've been having some weird dreams lately.

I don't need an ending. I know the ending. I know the start, and most of the middle. I just don't know... how to get to the ending. I have middleitis, and I'm worried this is where I find out I have an intrinsically flawed plot.

I'm not giving up. I don't want another unfinished manuscript to add to the pile. Not to mention, this is the first one that I (still) feel has potential. I'm not looking for perfection; all I want is a complete story. That's all. Get it finished, then go back later and work out the kinks.

Of course, what makes this interesting is the fact that my voucher expires at the end of May; so I have just under a week to finish a manuscript (that I don't yet know the plot for), format it, and design a cover. Ye gods.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how I could get ideas to finish the plot? What I'm considering at the moment is the Nike approach: just do it. Start writing. Don't allow myself to wait for the perfect middle. Who knows, my characters may even show me the way to the middle.

We'll see.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Re-reading the first draft

So, remember me liking my 2008 manuscript?

Remember me saying that this is the one I'd like to get to a publishable standard? That I love the characters, and all manner of other good things?

Well, that was before I re-read the story.


The start is dreary; the description melodramatic; the action unexciting; the emotion cheesy; the plot riddled with holes.

OK, so I already knew that about the plot, and I'm still very fond of my characters. Heroine, villain, all of 'em.

But apparently I can't write.

Not giving up, though. I'm still going to finish off this dull, clumsily-written story because, y'know what? It's a first draft. I'm still going to edit it (while writing other stories), and try to get it to a publishable standard, even if it's going to take me longer than I'd hoped.

I'm not discouraged; it's more funny than anything else. Besides, I already knew I'd need to rewrite a lot of it; I was prepared for that. I wanted a first draft, not a finished work of perfection. And I've heard this is a normal part of revision anyway.

1) (writing first draft) I am a genius! This will be an instant best-seller! Rowling will hang her head in shame and defeat.
2) (coming back after break to rewrite first draft) Miserable drivel! Why was I ever born? I have no talent, and should instantly run and hide myself where nobody could ever associate me with this travesty.
3) ...I don't know. Probably a sad, grim determination of "This'll have to do," as you decide to send your baby out into the big wide world.

And I hate to think what it's like after that; the writer submitting to agent after agent, publisher after publisher, or watching his work being rewritten by well-meaning editors who just don't get it, or torn to shreds by bloodthirsty reviewers....

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Month of mayhem

I have, essentially, today and tomorrow to finish off my 2008 manuscript. After that, I'm going to be a screenwriting, job intervieweeing, parent-hosting, graduating, birthdaying, Fiji-visiting baby. Not all at the same time, but it's gonna be a busy few weeks.

After we get back from Fiji, I only have a week till my voucher expires — and last time it took me about two weeks to ready the cover for print.

So in the space of today and tomorrow I really need to write an extra 50,000 words (or thereabouts) and edit my novel to perfection. To give you an idea of how fast I can write, if necessary, the most I wrote in any single day last year was 16,402 words. So while 50,000 words in two days is still impossible, it's... do-able if I get myself an extra couple of days and write like crazy-person the whole time. Huh, at that speed I could almost complete NaNoWriMo in a long weekend.

Those 16,402 words weren't as bad as you might think, either. But then I had a detailed plan I was following, characters I loved, a storyline I knew inside and out; most importantly, I was in the flow. I'd been following these characters every day for the past month. I knew them. I knew what they wanted, where they wanted to be.

Now I've had a break of over five months, and it's going to take me a while to get reacquainted with them.

I also need to decide what the actual plot is for the rest of the novel. I know the ending, but I'm somewhat undecided as to how my heroes get there. I have plenty of ideas, but I'd really prefer an idea that made sense and was logical. (This is what happens when you write a story based on a dream.)

My aim for today is 5000 words. My aim for tomorrow is not 45,000 words — ye gods — but I would like to finish the book before my parents get here, and finish it well — not rushing it.

Yeah, cos that's gonna happen.

It's going to be a great rest of the month, though. A visit from my parents and brother; graduation; and a trip to Fiji. Oh, plus I'm turning a quarter of a century old this month. Quarter of a century! I keep forgetting it in the excitement of graduating and Fiji-ing.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Why can't I just write?

Had a really bad job interview. The job was perfect for me; I would do it perfectly; I am more than competent.

Turn up to the two-part interview and the guy interviewing me for Part Two was a workmate at a previous job.

In itself, there's nothing there to throw me. He was a cool guy; we got on well; I did well at the previous job and got promoted. But man, it threw me. I stuttered and stumbled my way through the rest of the interview.

I'm not getting that job now, which is really disappointing. (At least, I wouldn't hire me from that interview.) It's just such a shame, as I do think I'd have excelled at it.

Went home in high dudgeon, scraped my wheels along the gutter as I was passing a car in a narrow gap, came home in a foul mood.

Was feeling really depressed about the interview, so just started reading various blogs — I read a lot of (published) novelists' and literary agents' blogs to try and learn the business for once I'm at that stage.

Started reading, and it's really interesting. You forget your own problems; you're immersed in writing questions and problems.

Something in one blog clicked with me, and I quickly opened my current work and started rewriting a section, tightening the writing, getting it perfect. Then I realised: I'm not depressed any more.

Writing, researching, rewriting, editing: it makes me happy. I'm sick, just for the moment, of looking for a job. If I had a job it'd be fine. And I'm not suffering without a job, although my savings will soon start to.

But it makes me wish, for the moment, that I didn't need to look for a job. It's humiliating sometimes to be unemployed, and that's the part I don't like. I don't mind not getting a job that I've done my best for; if someone better turns up, fair enough. But I hate screwing up an interview; I hate ME being the reason I don't get a job I'm well qualified for.

If I could just write....

Monday, 4 May 2009

Brand's booky wook

Has anyone read My booky wook? Apart from the awesome title, it's caught my interest because it's an autobiography of Russell Brand, the new boyfriend in Chasing Sarah Marshall (who was quite possibly the only good thing about that movie). But I'm loath* to buy, especially since — according to the "Reviews" section in Fishpond, which I'm not entirely sure I can trust — some of the reviews for the book read as follows:
    Grazia: "Part funny, but part hugely disturbing"
    Observer: "To his expanding CV can now be added a scandalous, libidinous memoir that is better written and more entertaining than any number of the celebrity autobiographies that clog the shelves of bookshops"
    Ian Hislop, author: "335 dismal, masturbatory pagey-wages" (although technically I think it should have been pagey-wageys)

So I have no intention of spending money on it. But I'd be interested to hear anyone else's opinion, if they've read it?

Also, I think I might have a moral issue with buying a book that is solely about a guy's issues with drugs, sex and self-harm, and solely profiting said sexed-up, self-harming boozer. To me that's almost promoting that kind of life by paying money to read a book about it.

*This is not a typo. Loath and loathe are two completely different words with two completely different meanings. Look it up.**

**Too lazy to look it up? Loathe = to hate. Loath = does not want [to do something, e.g. buy a book about a druggie]

Friday, 1 May 2009

It's that time again!

How did I not realise this? Today entries open for the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Awards, which last year I spent three months looking forward to — I'd started writing a story for it in March.

And now I have no short stories "on the go" except for my little one about a mouse which I actually quite like, but is probably more suited to publication in a magazine than to winning a competition. It's not clever enough or beautifully-written enough for a competition.

So now, to start from scratch: a beautifully-written, clever story about something deep and meaningful with some subtle metaphors and imagery thrown in for good measure. Maybe something Mansfieldesque, in fact.

Ooh! I now totally want to slyly reference Mansfield in my story. I love literary allusions in stories, and this would be pretty apt (now I just need to think of a story idea). I even know the exact Mansfieldian metaphor that I'd refer to. Luckily for me, I have my Complete short stories of Katherine Mansfield sitting on my bookshelf, just waiting to be plagiarised.

...I'm not actually going to plagiarise anything. Or steal any ideas from her stories, or anything like that.

But when I've found a story idea and started writing, I might try to slip in an allusion to one of Mansfield's stories. Just to see if they pick it up.