Feeding the muse

Of cats old and new

Today it is a year since I lost my devilcat. A whole year. Really hard to believe.

About a month ago, realising how time was simply slipping on by without me noticing, I earmarked last weekend as the time to adopt a new furry feline friend.

This is Lucia. She’s a three year old black tortoiseshell. Very cute. Very similar, in fact, to our old family cat, Moggie.

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Miss Lucia, aged 3

Lucia and I have enjoyed hanging out this week. I’m not sure of her full history yet, but I do know she’s been moved around a few times this year, so I think she may see my house as a way station. But she’s pretty chilled out about it.

She’s figured out that Chenna’s old cushion on the sofa by the window is a pretty cool place to sleep — I have covered it with a fleece blanket that’s nice and soft. And she thinks sleeping on my bed overnight is a bit of all right. She also seems to like hanging out with a few soft toys lurking in the bomb site that is my study…

She is most polite in the mornings and actually waits for me to wake up before racing to the kitchen for food (more fool her!). The dead hours of night are her favourite for using her litter tray, because she can dig for five minutes without being interrupted.

So we’re doing all right! So far she’s keeping to herself most of the time, although she does enjoy the occasional “mad minute”, when she forgets she’s not a kitten and bolts around the house with toys, real and imaginary. And she has deigned to curl up on top of me a few times. She doesn’t seem to like being picked up and cuddled too much at this stage, but she hasn’t growled or hissed once… (Although she has drawn blood – heh.)

I’m still learning her habits and she’s getting used to mine. Anyway, it’s nice to have an animal companion again.


Let’s not forget about Chenna, though, my devilcat companion of 14 years, who passed away a year ago. I do still think about her often, and now Lucia reminds me of her as well. I daresay it’s a cat thing.

chenna

Chenna, once a devilcat

Several weeks back, a friend sent me to the following link as the anniversary of Chenna’s death was approaching. It’s a short webcomic by Akimiya Jun about the nine lives of a cat, and it kind of explains why some cats are a bit devilish.

It made me cry.

In fact, it still makes me cry.

It’s so beautiful, and I hope Akimiya will not mind me reproducing it here. (I have tried to ask permission of the artist, but her website keeps throwing errors at me.) It really reminds me of my experience with Chenna, whose eighth life I shared.

I leave you with Nine Lives, as I contemplate which of Lucia’s lives I have been blessed with…

9lives

Shannara isn’t perfect, but gives me hope

Ever since the movie versions of Lord of the Rings appeared, I’ve been living in hope more epic fantasy novels will roar to life onscreen.

I love the LOTR movies so much, will never be tired of them. They represent everything I most love about the fantasy genre (and value in life) — adventure, discovery, magic, heroism, deep friendships… The fantastical world first envisioned by Tolkien is brilliantly brought to life by Peter Jackson and his team in those movies. I wanted (still want) more!

Next came the HBO TV adaptation of Game of Thrones. I was excited by this at first — a whole multi-book series of big fat fantasy in TV serial format. It had me salivating at the prospect. It didn’t matter that I never really liked the first book much, back when I first tried to read it it 1999. A TV series would prove a far more digestible format and save me from reading them…

As it turned out, no. Despite the fact that half a world of non-fantasy enthusiasts have become obsessed with GoT, this lifelong fantasy enthusiast could NOT get into it. I tried. Desperately, I tried. The production values are incredible — brilliant acting, fabulous screenplay, amazing visualisation and representation of GRRM’s imagined world on the screen. For those alone, I resolved to watch it, even if there weren’t any characters I actually liked…

In the end, I couldn’t go the distance. The violence — sexual, psychological and physical — did me in. Like several people I’ve spoken to, I made it up until the point where Joffrey gets killed (huzzah! oops, spoilers) and then gave it away.

So disappointing.

The Hobbit movies came and went. I didn’t hate them — they do have the same amazing artistic production values as LOTR; but the plot is shallow compared with the depth and complexity of LOTR. They cannot compare.

There are so many amazing fantasy stories out there. Books I absolutely adore. How about a super sexy adaptation of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series? Or a vivid imagining of Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders? Or a poignant depiction of Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan?

They would all make brilliant television.

It often seems, however, to be Young Adult or children’s books that are adapted into movies… Not counting the current trend for YA science fiction movies, I can think of Eragon (fantasy) that was made into a movie… And of course, Harry Potter.

Much as I do love Harry and friends, can we have more adult fantasy adaptations please? Preferably without the excessive violence of GoT?

This all brings me to the Chronicles of Shannara, which is what prompted me to write this post.

I got Netflix last week. (Yes, a bit slow on the uptake, I admit.) I was exploring all the options (where to start? OMG) when I came across the TV series, Chronicles of Shannara, which had been mentioned by a friend of mine, just the week before.

Ha! A new fantasy series on TV! Yesssss.

The Chronicles of Shannara is a recent fantasy TV series based on the “classic” books of Terry Brooks (the first books were published in the 1970s). (Actually, technically it’s not fantasy, being set in a post-apocalyptic earth that has lost all tech, but it feels like fantasy, with elves and magic and stuff.) So I thought I’d check it out.

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I almost didn’t make it past the first episode, which was… pedestrian. Visually it’s quite an attractive and interesting representation of our technological world gone to the vines, but the acting was pretty wooden and the screenplay kind of stilted. Not to mention a derivative plot (which is why I never did read these books).

A couple of things stayed my hand from pressing the stop button — and indeed drew me through the entire 10-part series to the end.

Female main characters — not one, but two. Young women who are enterprising, resourceful, determined, competent, fully clothed (mostly — but discreet nudity is shared among the genders). In this TV series, female characters are not an obligatory afterthought, nor limited to a single main character. At the end of the series it’s these two young women who save the world, through trial, friendship and sacrifice. There’s a guy there who helps a bit.

Quest and adventure — Quest-based fantasy may be considered passe these days, but I still love it. I love exploring new worlds — or in this case a post-apocalyptic north-west America that’s now dominated by elves, trolls and gnomes. And I love the dynamic of a group of characters, finding their inner heroism, struggling to fulfill some sort of mission to save the world.

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Don’t get me wrong, this show is still B-grade on all levels. It will never compare with GoT or LOTR screen adaptations. But it does have a whole lot of heart and a cast of heroic, likeable characters. I would still rather watch that than GoT any day.

What I really want is a TV adaptation of epic fantasy that combines the slick production of GoT with the heart of Shannara. Please?

Singing acapella in the tea room

The most important aspect of singing for me is creating harmonies with other people and filling a space with music. There’s a kind of magic created when multiple voices weave together and unfurl, blending and enhancing and expanding, the whole so much more than the sum of its parts.

This is why I have been singing in a community choir for the past three and a half years. And it’s also why I leapt at the chance 18 months ago to be part of something incredibly special.

A group of women from my ‘choir’ (which isn’t a choir in the ‘carmina burana’ sense) were hanging out together, when one of them voiced an idea. Every one of the nine other women present said yes to this idea without hesitation; and now, a year and a half later, we are still getting together monthly to sing at a local hospital palliative care unit.

As one of my fellow songsters said on Saturday, it’s the most worthwhile thing I do.

Once a month we sing acapella in the tea room, with the idea that our sound will travel down the two long corridors where the individual rooms are. Sometimes the tea room is mostly empty, with the occasional staff member or visitor wandering through; sometimes those patients who are well enough wander down to listen; sometimes we gather a bit of a ‘crowd’.

The main idea is that we fill the space with music for a time, hopefully bringing comfort to those who are dying and their visiting family.

Some of us have been known to sing at the beach as well.

Some of us have been known to sing at the beach as well.

Even when it feels like no one is listening, it’s tremendously uplifting for us; because that’s the thing about music — it travels into all the nooks and crannies of space and somewhere it’s making someone feel a bit better. It goes way beyond the simple joy of singing together.

This past Saturday, we were invited into a patient’s room for the first time. The man himself was very ill, but his daughter explained that he had been in a choir and would love to hear us sing. So, after our usual half-hour set, we gathered around his bed and sang a few songs.

Although he could not respond, he seemed to be aware and listening, and I cannot explain how moved we all were to be able to do that for him.

Each month is different when we sing in the palliative care unit, but it’s always rewarding. I know that we all gain something each time from the simple act of singing together, but it makes it so much more worthwhile to think that our music brings something to others as well.

Let’s bring back the interrobang

interrobangEver since I discovered the existence, some years ago, of the punctuation mark known as the interrobang, I’ve been intensely captivated.

It’s basically a hybrid question and exclamation mark. I think it would be very useful for writing dialogue; but, after being invented in the 1960s, it has (alas) fallen out of favour. More info here.

Nonetheless, I did once sneak an interrobang into a manuscript to see whether anyone noticed… (Nope!)

Anyway, I was just now out to dinner and came across the following stuck to a wall:

interrobang festival

Waaaah!

The Wheeler Centre is a reputable Melbourne writers centre. This event appears to be a bunch of panelists dealing with philosophical questions. Not that I care much. I just love the fact it’s bringing back the interrobang!

Example sentence using interrobang: “How the F%^K do you type an interrobang‽

(Answer: On a Mac, find it in the punctuation section of the “characters” menu (control-command-spacebar) and make it a favourite. On a PC, key in ALT 8253.)

Journal ~ Update on words, Spring, bad habits

Words…

Despite my indecision a month ago, I’ve managed to get back into a good creative routine. The second half of July was work-frenzied as predicted, but August has been a delight. Lots of cafe writing sessions and I’ve started the run to the end of this novel.

So I feel as though I’m getting somewhere. Although I do have a few plotting dilemmas I need to sort out. There’s nothing quite like writing yourself into a difficult spot. I’m all for characters doing the thing that’s logical for them, but it doesn’t help if that makes the story dull or the problem impossible (or too easy) to solve. I’m going to have to disrupt a few things, think laterally, to make it work good.

Luckily for me, this coming weekend I’m heading to a writing retreat for four days. Me and a carload of food and wine and chocolate… And writing tools of course. Just the environment needed for creative inspiration. (And people to toss ideas around with.) Bring it on.


Spring…

Spring is heading our way and I never ever get tired of discovering this…

l love cutting away all the dead traps and foliage from my carnivorous plants to reveal the new shoots coming through — and, in the case of the Nepenthes plants — quite large new pitchers.

We enjoyed a sunny and mild weekend just past, and it was pleasant to spend a little time outside tending to my plants. The next task for this year will be re-potting, which I’ll tackle in another couple of months.


Bad habits…

At a farmers’ market the other week I bought a 2kg box of chocolate-coated licorice. I am on strict rationing, but it’s sooo yummy!

2kg is a lot of licorice.

Also, back in May I reported I was going to (ironically) wean myself off reading. I did pretty well in June (I read just 4 books), but since getting back from Mongolia it’s been all downhill.

This past Saturday night I might have forgotten to sleep.

That is all.

And at the bottom of my wardrobe I found…

(Or, “Sometimes it pays to be a hoarder”)

In the very near future I’m heading to the Steppes Of Mongolia. To ride a horse. For two whole weeks. Squee!

As you might expect, I’ve been planning what to take for a while now. I don’t ride horses all that often, so I don’t have all the gear. One of the big question marks was over what shoes to wear. I didn’t want to go out and invest in riding boots, but I didn’t seem to have anything that fit the bill.

Except I did.

Have riding boots.

Already.

Not bad for 20 years old?

My RM Williams boots. Not bad for more than 20 years old!

I kid you not. At the bottom of my wardrobe, carefully stored in the original, albeit dusty, box, was a pair of RM Williams riding boots.

RM Williams are an Australian brand — you could say they are the quintessential stockman’s boot. Well made. Hard wearing. Designed for horse riding…

I bought mine back when I was in my early 20s and wore them with jeans for a while. Then, because they weren’t especially comfortable for walking around in, or fashionable, I put them away and forgot about them; but I could never quite bring myself to throw them out.

And now that turns out to be a good thing.

I confess I do have hoarder tendencies. I don’t keep things that are completely useless, but I do find it hard to dispose of items that might prove handy one day… even if ‘one day’ never seems to come around.

(Recently I’ve been eying a stack of ‘gift’ boxes taking up space in my study. I really should get rid of them… I know I should get rid of them. But each of them would make such a great presentation box for a certain kind of present. So there they remain. Waiting.)

The boots I might reasonably have expected never to wear again, having ignored them for more than 20 years. I might reasonably have expected to have got rid of them long ago. Except I didn’t.

And now my decision to keep them has borne fruit! I took them to a bootmaker and got rubber soles fitted over the smooth leather (to give me some friction against the stirrups), and now I’m all set to go.

Not long to wait now!

A new cafe is always good

FEEDING THE MUSEThere’s a new cafe just opened in my local shopping strip (like, yesterday), and today I got to check it out for its “office” potential.

I didn’t have time to linger and write or anything, being somewhat under the pump with work this week; but I’ve established I am far more productive overall if I get out of the house on any given day. I swear this is not simply a rationalisation of my need for someone else to cook me eggs and make me coffee (although there’s a teeny part of that). I seriously need the fresh air and (today, at least) sunshine and a good half hour (15 minutes each way) of walking. Besides, today I also needed to pick up some milk and groceries for dinner.

So. Today. New cafe. 🙂

The good

It has WiFi. In fact my phone automatically connected, because it’s the same network as that maintained by the previous restaurant. This makes it a good option for those days when the work stuff keeps encroaching and internet helps.

It is large. This is important if I’m going to hang about for hours, so I don’t feel as though I’m taking up a table. Mid-week it should be good. And it has bench style seating along one of the walls, which is the section I’ll be heading for next time (to join the guys already ensconced with their MacBooks).

The staff are really friendly (and I think they might be hipsters). Anyway, they’re keen and enthusiastic, so I get the feeling they’ll be happy to have some regulars hang out with computers.

On the other hand…

It’s noisy, what with the polished concrete floors and all. The overall vibe is OK, but it is only day 2 so it may improve. I think the venue is a bit sterile and boxy for me to be truly relaxed.

The menu is fairly limited. Again, they may be starting easy with the view to expand. It has breakfast (eggs) served until 3pm, which isn’t too bad. I ended up ordering a simple poached eggs with mushrooms (which was very nice), but I’ll be looking for the menu to diversify or I’ll be getting really bored. What is there is pretty classy though (just not so much for me), and they make a point of mentioning free range, local produce etc, which is a big tick.

The coffee

The coffee was good, if not my favourite coffee in the area. This is not a comment on its quality, more my personal taste. (There is a difference.) I’m certainly very happy to drink it — although hope they get large cups soon. There was latte art too, which is fairly essential in my area these days!

The verdict

I can see this new cafe being a good option for when I feel like a change of scene from my usual writing cafe — or when I think I’m going to need WiFi. Sometimes, when I get busy, I do hit a cafe to work, simply because I get sick of being home all the time.

But I don’t think it will be supplanting my “happy place” cafe anytime soon. Still, it’s nice to have yet another option.

Musical flashback ~ Resident Alien ~ Spacehog

The other day I ransacked my long-neglected CD collection and came up with a pile of old favourites to play in the car. So, while I indulge in musical nostalgia, I’ve decided to share and briefly reminisce about the really good ones. My ultimate favourites. (Mostly from the 90s.)

This week’s musical flashback CD is Resident Alien from Spacehog, released in 1995.

resident alienThis album will always be synonymous with the truly wonderful hit single, In the Meantime.

The entire album is quirky and weird and awesome. My other favourite song is Shipwrecked and I’m also rather fond of Zeroes. But mostly it’s not about the individual songs; it’s the overall journey that is Resident Alien.

Have a listen to the album on Spotify.

The height of Resident Alien’s popularity was during my post graduate university years, a time when I listened to a lot of current music (unlike now). The 1990s was my music era.

Spacehog’s second and third albums were The Chinese Album and The Hogyssey… also fun. And now I’ve just discovered they reunited and released a fourth album in 2013 — As it is on Earth. Must go and listen to it.

If you too were once a Spacehog fan, take a trip back to a happy place. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy a new experience.

And I’d love to hear what you think.

In preparation for the steppes of Mongolia where there be horses

There’s a rumor going around that my next big adventure will be in Mongolia. Horse trekking in Mongolia. On the steppes. The steppes of Mongolia. On horseback. With horses. For two weeks. (And then some.)

Except it isn’t a rumor.

It’s tremendously exciting. The scenery should be amazing, the culture fascinating — and, oh, the adventure!

For me an added bonus is the experiential research a two-week horse trek (with camping, no electricity and no showers — eek) will give me. For someone who writes fantasy with horses, this is going to be the ultimate research expedition.

Of course, there are a few practicalities to consider… Am I an experienced rider? No. I’ve been on a horse several times, maybe as many as ten times in my life, but I definitely consider myself to be inexperienced. (But maybe I’ll have characters with as little experience — right?)

A great many people have looked worried and asked how much riding I’m going to do beforehand. A little, I say. I know I’m going to be sore. It’s all part of the experience.

Having said that, I’m not entirely averse to a little preparation…

So today I went on a two-hour trail ride

Yes, that’s two hours, not two weeks or even two days. And even so, I am a little, er, weary.

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The lovely horses at Hepburn Lagoon Trailrides

I rode a beautiful horse called Wilson at Hepburn Lagoon Trailrides, near Ballarat. He liked to be right up the front. He also liked to walk right up snug to the horse that was supposed to be leading. He was a good horse — trotted and cantered when he was supposed to, and most importantly stopped when I asked him to. Good horse.

We had two ‘dramatic’ incidents (almost). First, when he stumbled quite badly and I could have gone over his head. Second, when the horse next to him shied and we got shoved aside rather abruptly. I managed not to fall off both times. Yay me.

This ride was very much a trial run. I am expecting it to reveal which parts of me are going to hurt the most (presently I ache all over with weariness, but there is no real pain… yet). It’s also highlighted a few bits of gear that could be useful — such as riding gloves and elastic straps to keep my sunglasses on.

Over the course of two hours I made some progress with my trotting technique, although it’s still far from mastered, and managed most of the time to hold the reins correctly. But I figure after two weeks, I’ll be a pro!

horse-scratching

Wilson scratches his head

When we got back to the yard and dismounted, Wilson scratched his head all over me, which was kind of funny. I choose to think this was his way of saying thank you. (Or maybe good bye and good riddance?)

We had fabulous weather and it made for a spectacular day. The people — both staff and other participants — were lovely and there’s a good chance we’ll return for a longer ride — all part of the preparation.

Meanwhile, I’m sure that tomorrow I will ache.

Musings on secret preview TV viewing versus feedback reading

I’ve done my fair share of reading and providing feedback on short stories and novels over the years. It’s much easier to be objective and analytical about someone else’s work — all in the name of being constructive and helpful, of course.

In such cases you know the author will take onboard some suggestions, discard others, depending on how it aligns with their grand vision or whether there’s consensus. Because everyone is unique, responds to stories differently.

What is clear to one reader will be confusing to another. Plot holes may only be glaringly obvious to a tenth of your audience (although a tenth is probably still too many). Some readers will happily go the journey and trust something will be explained; others have less patience.

Whatever happens, it’s up to the author to revise and play with the words on the page. No one else needs to get involved.

It was recently impressed upon me that it’s not quite so ‘straightforward’ in television and film.

This week I attended a secret preview screening of a new Australian TV mini-series that’s in post production, scheduled to hit local screens later this year. Having signed a non disclosure agreement, I cannot say anything about the show itself. But I can talk about the interesting experience of providing feedback in this very different medium.

The production team had assembled a small group of about 15 people (referred to as ‘civilians’, by which I think they meant non TV industry) and sat us down to watch the first two episodes of a six-part series.

After each episode, we filled out a questionnaire on issues such as pacing, characters, logic, clarity of plot etc. Most of it was exactly the same sort of feedback authors ask for. I was right in my element!

Except, as I filled out my answers, I couldn’t help feeling perturbed by the fact that the scenes had already been shot, with actors. Going through my mind was the recurring question of how much they could actually change at this point?

They emphasised that it wasn’t a final edit, and I’m aware there’s probably tons of footage currently on the cutting room floor. But… what if it’s a story hole and there’s simply no way of fixing it without reshooting some scenes? Or what if it’s just bad acting?

I should say at this point that these thoughts were hypothetical about the industry, rather than specific to the particular show in question. But I certainly wasn’t holding back with my comments (which were mostly positive) or hesitating to make suggestions, just as I would if it were simply words on the page.

Following the questionnaires, an objective facilitator led us in a group discussion for about half an hour, which went much as a group critique of a story does — different people picking up things I hadn’t noticed, or didn’t necessarily agree with. Debating what things meant, what might happen next. All very familiar.

But when you get a group going like that, it’s inevitable they end up ‘rewriting the script’ so to speak (as one participant jokingly said). How do the producers weed out the real value from this type of feedback, when so much of it is obviously not feasible? How do they identify the gold?

I will be really interested to see the final cut of the show when it’s aired later this year, just to see how much it changes. To see how much it can change at such a late phase of production.

The whole experience has given me a new appreciation of the TV and film industry — as in just how many people have an input into the final product. How many instruments need to be tuned before music is made.

It makes the solitary art of fiction writing seem unbearably simple. Although I know it’s NOT — and this is because the author has to effectively play and tune all the instruments herself!

In any case, I’m certainly interested to see the rest of the show… a mere two episodes out of six, kind of sucks.