Journal

Journal: In search of new

New year, new words… I hope. (Can it really be February already?)

I’m in that weird place I haven’t been very often in my creative writing career — between novels. And it shows, because I don’t quite know what to do with myself.

flowers-1911205_1280

The “completed” novel has been with readers for feedback for the past few months. Most of the comments are now in, and I have many good suggestions for improvement and clarification. So far, no one has suggested anything that demands a full rewrite (phew — I’ve already written three drafts). Most of the feedback aligns or complements each other, with few conflicting views. This is a good thing!

So, on the whole, I’m pretty happy. And I’m rather keen to get stuck in and fix it all up, make it prettier.

But I’m holding back on the final revision… for two reasons.

The first reason is that I have a tendency to work on the same thing over and over and over. I much prefer to revise than create anything new. For me, new is really really hard. It’s unknown and I feel out of control. There’s no guarantee of meeting my own expectations with a first draft, let alone anyone else’s.

Refining an existing story, on the other hand, is still hard, but ultimately more rewarding, because I can see things taking shape as I work towards achieving a certain vision.

But I recognise that the whole point of being an author is to write new things to satisfy the voracious appetite of readers (or so I hope) — so I need to get better (and faster) at writing new things, instead of getting fixated on revision and perfection.

The idea is thus to write a follow-up novel right away, so that it’s past even first draft form by the time I publish the first. This will be beneficial whether I am successful in obtaining a commercial publisher (who will be more confident in me as a debut author if a follow-up is on the way) or decide to indie-publish (where publishing frequency is one of the keys to success).

The second reason for holding back on revision is even more practical. I want to be able to foreshadow any elements I introduce in a follow-up novel, which will be related to the first. After all, I may create some amazing thing that needs to be at least present in the initial book. (In fact, I already have.)

The next book

Which brings me to the next book. You may recall I was going to tackle a direct sequel to the first book during NaNoWriMo last November. So why isn’t it finished already, dammit?

I wrote about 21.5K words during NaNoWriMo and then conked out. This is partly because NaNo pace is a very fast pace for me to work. It’s a big effort for me to churn out 1500-2000 words a day on a regular basis. I really really wish I was one of those authors who could churn out 10K words a day, but I’m just not. Alas.

Even if I have an idea of where the story is supposed to be going, I still need lots of rumination time between scenes to make sure it stays heading in the right direction. (I guess I don’t trust my subconscious enough to let it have free rein.)

But with my current daily cafe writing routine, 1500 words a day of rough draft isn’t impossible… There was in fact a second reason I conked out.

One of the goals I set myself during NaNo was to not worry too much about what I was writing. I wanted to see if I could give my right brain control and see what came out of it. I was completely prepared for a whole lot of junk with some nuggets of gold.

And this is essentially what I got (or so I thought). The problem was that, once I decided I didn’t like where the story was headed, I lost interest in it and my creative juices stopped flowing. I could see a few things I liked buried in a whole lot of drivel. So I stopped about two weeks into the challenge.

Another book entirely

After a few weeks break, I started thinking about a different character entirely. A new character. And I started to wonder whether the next book would be something other than a direct sequel. Definitely linked and keeping to the overall major themes, but coming at the “big picture” story from another angle.

As a result, I’ve spent the past couple of months ruminating on how to approach the follow-up book as part of a mosaic series. Whose story is it? What is the major conflict? What’s the best way to link it directly to the first book? How does it key in with the overarching series story? Which of my existing characters get to play? (Who doesn’t?)

So far all I know is that I want it to explore a particular corner of this world I’ve created. But I don’t actually have the discreet story yet. Gah!

And then last week I read over the 21.5K NaNo words to discover they’re not as bad or irrelevant as I thought. Maybe I was onto something after all?

So NOW I’m pondering how to mesh the original follow-up story with the new ideas I’ve been having… Yep. Circles. Round and round.

One of these days — hopefully soon — I will get my act together and start writing this accursed follow-up book. It had better be soon, because I really really REALLY miss my daily writing sessions.

Journal: Nail art and NaNo

I have always liked colour and fun. I wear bright colours. I have purple streaks in my hair. And now I have little flashes of colour on my fingernails as well.

The craze that seems to be sweeping through my social circles is Jamberry nail stickers.

Look:

Those are my fingernails!

I confess this post is merely an excuse to share the above photos — I’m enjoying the challenge of nail/hand photography (for social media) as much as running around with decorated fingernails. A good photo comes down as much to creative cropping as anything. But it’s also so much fun deciding what I’m going to ‘hold’… And natural light is a must.

The lowdown on Jamberry is this: They are vinyl stickers sold online and/or via individual consultants. I’ve found them pretty easy to put on and take off, and they stay on for up to two weeks. There are heaps of designs. However, I’m not doing a full sales spiel — check out DebK or Kirstyn if you are in Australia. (Both good friends of mine and highly recommended as consultants.)


In writing developments, I am in the last week of planning before NaNoWriMo starts. (This is where writers spend November trying to write an entire novel or 50K words.)

It’s been four years since I participated, and this year it comes at a good time for me. My plan is to spend the month churning out as much as I can of the next book in the fantasy series I’m writing. At best, I’ll have the beginnings of something good. At worst, I will have some words down that can be worked into something useful. Win win!

I’m really looking forward to NaNo actually, because I’m in need of some self-discipline, and this will provide some much-needed structure. I also have a five-day writing retreat in the middle of it, which is awesome!

The planning is coming along OK. I have a starting point at least. And I have a very rough idea of the overall arc. I need to decide whether to trust my subconscious and go with whatever NaNo produces, or whether I’m better to have more of an outline. Today I had something of an epiphany, which could affect some things…

I’ll let you know in a month how I go — plus more Jamberry!

Journal: shaking in my boots

I finally sent the novel I’ve been working on to some writing friends for feedback. Huzzah! Now I’m shaking in my snazzy red boots.

redboots

It’s amazing how my mind flipped after clicking ‘send’.

Before hitting ’send’, I was pretty happy with the general shape of the draft. I’ve been dying for someone to read it — to tell me what’s working and what’s not. I’ve been hungry for suggestions for improvement. I’m ready for and in need of external perspectives. Even so, I was confident the story was holding together. Not terrible. I read it through over the past couple of months (while I was procrastinating over the final scene) and parts of it even made me smile.

Immediately after hitting ‘send’, all my insecurities surged to the fore and now all I can see are the holes: the pedestrian narrative, the mundane dialogue, the trite story. I feel like my soul is laid bare ready to be flayed. Why would anyone waste time reading anything I wrote?

And did I mention I sent this to friends?

I really have forgotten how nerve-wracking it is putting your work in front of people. How exposed it makes you feel. The purpose of writing anything is to forge a connection with readers — but what if you fail? What if your work is completely crap and no one ever, anywhere in the entire universe, likes it? WHAT IF —

OK stop. This is stupid. It can’t possibly be as bad as all that… (fingers are crossed)

To maintain perspective, I keep telling myself the following:

  • Nothing is ever perfect. The whole point of asking people to read it is to identify the areas that need improvement. (It takes a village, right?)
  • Every reader is looking for something different. So, my book might not be Game of Thrones… but, guess what? I don’t even like GoT. It’s too dark and violent and filled with unlikeable characters for my taste. Some readers might want that. Others might prefer a gentle fantasy with moral dilemmas, a bit of romance and a happy ending.
  • Not everyone can win the Booker. It’s easy to read an amazing book and self-flagellate because there is no way in hell I could ever write like that. Even though this does happen often enough, the truth is that many authors do not inspire such envy in me… While I certainly don’t aspire to be mediocre, I can’t help but notice that a great number of published authors are. (I guess my point here, in a roundabout way, is that story is more important for most readers than writing craft.)

Bottom line: Once I’ve taken feedback on board, made this book the best it can be, (figured out the best way forward from a publishing perspective…), I just need to find my readers. I aspire to be regarded as a good writer. But, more importantly, I ultimately want to connect with that sub-group of readers who like what I like.

(Having said that, if this is how nervous I am when friends are reading it, how much worse will it be if/when strangers get their hands on it?)

Meanwhile, my thoughts are now turning to the next book in the series (this is, after all, fantasy, folks!). My intention is to spend October planning, ready to tackle a draft (or part thereof) of a sequel during NaNoWriMo in November. I think it’ll do me good to write something new for a while. First drafts are so damn hard.

Farewell, my devilcat

I collected Chenna’s ashes today, exactly three weeks after she signed out. Three weeks. Gosh.

Chenna with Mr Tickle December 2015

Chenna with Mr Tickle December 2015

I still think about her every day, because there is not one aspect of my life in this house that she wasn’t a part of. She arrived as a cute and cantankerous kitten within weeks of me moving in, and proceeded to make her presence felt each and every day.

She was the first thing I thought about every morning, as she sat on my pillow (or sprawled on me) and jabbed me awake.

She was the first thing I encountered every time I arrived home, as she waited for me, meowing, at the front door.

She was often the last thing I was aware of at night, as she snuggled against me in or on the bed.

This was her house, just as much as it is mine. From the beginning (for nearly 14 years), a whole end of the sofa was set aside for her use. During the day, she slept on a colourful cushion propped up for her comfort, positioned so she could see out the window. Sometimes she would squeeze half her body through the venetian blind, much to the amusement and joy of my neighbours (and the ruin of said blind) — presumably to catch a bit of extra sun.

(I’ve just removed the cushion and set the sofa to ‘rights’, after two and a half weeks of staring at her empty bed. Now my sofa seems too big.)

For most of her life she enjoyed complete run of the house and garden. I keep thinking I hear the distinctive clunking sound of her cat flap. That and her automatic cat feeder, which allowed me to program feed times and dispense measured doses of feed from a hopper, revolutionised my life. And hers too, I daresay; because she was much happier at home with no interruptions whenever I was away.

It’s no secret she wasn’t a particularly likeable cat — although I loved her. Even with me, she could get vicious, often without apparent reason. She was quick with her claws, unrestrained with her teeth. Some nights, she developed a fondness for attacking my bare feet — really painful! — and even though I could usually read the signs, it was often too late, and I’d be subjected to ninja foot attacks. My only recourse was to run and jump on my bed, but she was much quicker than me.

As for her relationships with other people… I cannot think of one person other than me that she liked (and I’m mostly sure she liked me). Some people she tolerated… barely. Most people she detested on sight.

But she was a tricky one. She was good at looking all cute and cuddly and luring people in, before flipping into a ninja attack. So many people refused to heed my warnings, only to suffer the pain of her disdain.

She definitely earned her nickname Devilcat, and my Diary of a Devilcat series of posts on this blog and earlier on her own blog Feline in Therapy (mostly 2007-2009) — were a lot of fun to write. I am so glad now that I’ll have them as memories.

I was probably the only one who ever experienced her affectionate side. And she was affectionate far more often than she wasn’t. She didn’t start off as a lap cat, but she made up for it in her latter years, when she would appear beside me as soon as I sat down… her little face peering up at me, then she’d leap up and nudge any obstacles away. (FYI it is a challenge to negotiate a lap cat and a laptop computer simultaneously.)

She also liked stretching out on my chest when I was reading in bed — not necessarily convenient, but it was hard to shove away a purring, warm, cuddly feline, gazing up at me.

Having her around was always companionable — whether smooching on me, sitting outside in the sunshine, sleeping the day away, greeting me at the door. Even when she was being annoying — waking me too early, nagging me for food, prowling all over my workspace, or leaving dead moths (or worse) all over the floor.

Chenna had her share of medical issues as well. From early on she was prone to urinary tract infections, although this was controlled with a specially formulated diet. Then there was her left eye, which changed colour from green to brown when she was still quite young. This saw us visiting animal eye specialists and contemplating the prospect of having her eye removed due to the risk of melanoma of the iris. Thankfully we risked keeping her eye and nothing came of it.

Extra random memories of Chenna (to be updated as they come to me): her black fluff smeared over my chairs (and its subsequent removal with lint cloth)… the sound of her jumping off furniture… the sound of her simply walking across the floor… her enjoyment of tuna juice… her love of escaping out the front door and scampering around the driveway… the fact I always walked around with scratches over my wrists (they have, alas, all healed now)…

The myriad tiny adjustments I would make to accommodate her: turning my toothbrush to the wall so she wouldn’t brush against it… putting my devices out of the way so she wouldn’t sit on them… never leaving food uncovered on the bench unless I actually wanted her to lick it up…


When I received the news about Chenna’s condition three weeks ago, after several weeks of knowing there was something wrong, I wept and wept. (I had no inkling it was something so serious.) Then I sat down and wrote her final devilcat post. Then I curled up beside her in my bed until it was time for her final appointment at the vet.

She purred and let me stroke her. That was our farewell.

I made the decision to end it straight away, as she was so sick there was a good chance she’d simply die in my bed at any time. That, I wasn’t prepared to deal with. And I didn’t think she should have to either.

I spent a lot of time crying (well, bawling) in the days that followed — when I rang the vet to arrange for her to be cremated, when I received a card from the vet with Chenna’s paw print on it, when I packed up her stuff strewn about the house.

When some amazing friends presented me with the following bespoke graphic illustration of Chenna in a frame. (Designed by Rachel Rule, The British Rule (etsy shop).)

Chenna

Graphic illustration of Chenna

And I wept today, when I collected her ashes from the vet and donated her leftover food. (And, of course, while writing this post.)

After three weeks, the intensity of the grief has ebbed. Most of the time I can think about Chenna without weeping, or only weeping a little. Most of the time her absence seems almost a quizzical thing, something just a bit wrong, a bit weird.

But I’m still sad. A bit flat. I miss my little devilcat animal companion terribly.

Farewell Chenna

Farewell Chenna

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.

Journal: The quest for temperance and other things

I bet you’re all wondering how I’m going with getting stuff done? I mean, it’s been over a month since my last post (sorry), so obviously I’ve been far too busy kicking goals. Right?

Er, no. Not really…

Well, actually, yes, I have kicked at least one goal.

I have, for instance, revised almost half my novel in progress over the past three months. It was the ‘easy’ half, alas. Beginnings are so much easier than middles and ends. But it was satisfying to inject some of my Mongolian experiences into the early scenes involving horses.

Yep, the writing is going OK. It’s other parts of my life that still need a bit more focus. A bit more temperance.

I’ve already confessed my reading addiction. I tried to put limits on it over the past two months, but not entirely successfully. So now I’m taking more radical action. (Oh God, I can’t believe I’m doing this. I could still edit this out of the post…) My plan is to go kindle-free for the rest of April.

That’s right. April is kindle-free month. (I think I might go throw up now.)

Let me hasten to add that I am allowed to read, however. I have a gazillion paperbacks on my to-be-read pile. I’m hoping to make a little headway with these instead. Just not quite as much headway…

I’ve decided to give up a couple of other things in April too. The first is sugar. (Yeah, everyone is trying to give up sugar. The new poison.) The other is wine — or at least, limiting my intake to Friday – Sunday only.

So far, the sugar thing isn’t going so well. It’s really hard to give up my evening chocolate fix. But I’m trying to reduce the quantity.

It’s day 3 on the wine front, and so far I’ve passed. (Arrrgh! Give me wine NOW!) I’ve found that a glass of red at about 4pm (i.e. now) is a great accompaniment to the last work remnants of the day — one of the benefits of working from home. But, judging from the number of empty wine bottles I’ve been accumulating… Too. Much. Wine.

My motivation for reducing wine consumption is threefold: 1) I’m having trouble keeping up with stocks, 2) I’m suspicious of its possible/probable role in my expanding waistline, 3) Consuming wine in the late afternoon is a psychological barrier for me working out on my elliptical trainer…

(Oooooh, and just now, right this second, I received an email from my wine company telling me my ‘wines are on the way’. Ironic much?)

Additionally, the kindle ban will hopefully improve my sleeping patterns, which may or may not also be contributing to the waistline thing (because apparently sleeping patterns play a role in weight loss/gain). Plus, it would be really awesome if I could get up earlier and do the elliptical thing in the morning instead.

(Then, maybe, the wine habit could be re-initiated?)

I’m a little reluctant to post this… Mainly because it feels like I’m revealing a bit too much about my terrible habits. And (let’s face it) who among you really cares? But hopefully a public declaration will help keep me in line.


In other writing-related happenings, I spent Easter at the 2016 Australian National Science Fiction Convention (Contact 2016) in Brisbane. It was a delightfully intimate convention at Hotel Jen, with some interesting programming and I was able to catch up with many friends as well as meet new people.

I particularly enjoyed listening to fantasy authors talk about their researching experiences (Real Fantasy); discussions about female heroism and what makes a hero (Female Heroism: the either/or argument); a panel of bi/pan-sexual women talking about Queer SF; and the challenge of keeping characters sympathetic to the reader when you make them do bad things (Kill or be killed – The role of hard choices in writing compelling narrative).

I also attended the Aurealis Awards, which are Australia’s premier jury-voted literary awards for speculative fiction. It was awesome to see my good friend and writing buddy, Deborah Kalin, win two awards (Best Young Adult Short Story and Best Horror Novella) for her novella ‘The Miseducation of Mara Lys’ out of her collection Cherry Crow Children. (See this post from a year ago with some thoughts from Deb about the collection.) Yay!


Finally, on a more whimsical note, I have adopted a couple of new mobile office ‘tools’ this year. My Crumpler ‘green bag’ is being rested, and I’m using a new Crumpler bag, which is designed to look more like a handbag. Aside from the fact it doesn’t have as many internal pockets (in particular pen slots, which I am missing greatly), my new bag is proving ideal for carting my laptop around — or not.

To protect my laptop, I went looking for a funky laptop sleeve and found this awesome website called Society6, which sells a host of very affordable stuff featuring the work of independent artists. I liked their stuff so much, I bought two laptop sleeves.

This saves me from changing bags all the time for those (admittedly rare) occasions when I’m not lugging my laptop around. This new bag is just a bit smarter and more practical for everyday use — although I really do miss the pen slots!

The year of getting stuff done

Today has been an exercise in self control. A novel for which I’ve been waiting waiting waiting has been released — Kings Rising, the conclusion to CS Pacat’s Captive Prince fantasy trilogy is now available. In fact, it is already sitting on my kindle.

But I promised myself that February (i.e. this week) marked the start of “The year of getting stuff done”. It’s a year when I’m going to get off my a$$ and take control of my life. Things to do… places to see… health to prioritise… And all that.

And I need to take control, because for the past year I’ve been… distracted.

It’s not that 2015 was a bad year. It was a pretty great year, actually. I kicked a lot of goals — plenty of singing, plenty of writing, regular D&D with friends. Not to mention the trip of a lifetime to Mongolia!

But I’m also very aware that there are parts of my life I’ve let slide. I haven’t achieved nearly as much I’d have liked to, and I need that to change. I need to be less distracted. Or maybe the word is consumed.

The issue? It is, I’m afraid, too much reading. Overall, I’m delighted I’ve kicked my TV habit in favour of books, but I have to acknowledge I’ve taken this reading thing a bit too far.

For example:

Reading all night and right through the next day. OK, I only did that once, but I saw 7am from the wrong side several times. When I hear the birds start singing and light breach the cracks in the holland blind… yikes.

Finishing a book at 3:30am and heading straight to Amazon to one-click the next book in the series.

Not wanting to socialise… if my friends only knew how many times I dragged myself to a social engagement when all I wanted to do was stay home with my kindle.

Blowing off entire half days (when I’m supposed to be working) in order to read. This working from home gig requires discipline!

I’m serious.

Yep.

I’ve been completely consumed by reading reading reading. It’s been read/eat/read/work/read/write… Every spare moment of every day has been spent on the couch. When not immersed in a book, I’ve been at best only half present, thinking about when I get to switch on my kindle again. It’s like I’ve been submerged in a poppy haze.

Plus I’ve kidded myself into thinking I can exist on around 4 hours sleep a night. Unfortunately, I’m a slow reader. And the more emotionally engaged I get with a book, the slower I go. I like to immerse myself and savour. So I end up reading for a lot of hours. I reckon at some stages of last year (and this past month) I’ve been averaging 8 hours of reading a day. Do the math.

So step one is recognising I have a problem, right? This reading thing has become a habit I need to break. Like too much chocolate.

Imagine how much more I’ll achieve if I simply halve my reading time? Sleep, for one thing. More regular and intensive exercise. Maybe I’ll get on top of the housework. Or my jungle of a garden.

And then there are of course my creative goals. Although I have pressed on with my novel in the past year, imagine how much more I’d have done if I channelled some of those reading hours into writing?

And wouldn’t it be nice if I could sit down and actually write all the blog posts I have buzzing around my head? (So much more to share about Mongolia…)

All this is why I have resisted closeting myself with Kings Rising today. Why I am spending this evening with my laptop instead of my kindle. It’s about kicking my habit.

Already I feel less foggy. It’s only day 3 and I’m going OK. I’m not feeling too twitchy. Not that I’m giving reading up all together. I’ve simply set myself some limits.

It’s going to be a good year. Better sleeping habits and exercise are high on the agenda — I want to be fitter and more highly energised. Improved brain activity. All the good stuff.

I’m striving for greater productivity all round. No more making do with the bare minimum. It’s time to take back control and create, rather than consume.

That’s the end of my confession. I did enjoy last year. A lot. But I’m going to enjoy this one even more.

Journal ~ Festivities, finishing and The Force Awakens

Festivities

Almost 20 years ago, I made a Christmas Advent calendar. I spent hours on the decoration, which is created from cut-up pieces of coloured paper, and it came out better than I ever imagined. Behind each door is a compartment for little daily surprises in the lead-up to Christmas.

Advent calendar - handmade by me

Advent calendar – handmade by me

For the past decade or so, I’ve been filling it up with gifts and chocolates each December for my various nieces and nephews — first one family and then the other. But this year, one of my sisters decided she would fill it for me as my Christmas present.

I can’t express how lovely it has been to open one of those little doors each day and receive a gift. There have been plenty of chocolates (ferrero rocher), but also rolls of washi tape, cute stationery items, a tin of puzzle cards, Christmas decorations, bookmarks, a magnet decorated by my nephew, silicone egg poachers, and a TARDIS tin with peppermints! Then, on Christmas day, a gorgeous pendant on a chain.

It’s felt like Christmas all month.


Finishing

On the writing front, I’ve had a very productive month. Since declaring my intention a month ago to finish the second draft of my novel by Christmas, I actually managed to achieve this goal!

It’s not ‘finished’, of course. I now have to go over it and fix quite a few things. For one, there are aspects of my Mongolian research to be worked in. For another, I invented quite a few aspects of my ‘magic system’ in the final chapters, so now I have to go and retrofit this throughout the entire thing – gah!

But, on the whole, I’m pretty happy with the overall shape, so at this point in time I’m planning an edit and not a rewrite. (Famous last words.)


The Force Awakens

Like a large number of other people, I recently caught a screening of Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens. And I liked it a lot.

It’s immensely fun, and very reminiscent of the originals, right down to several plot points. I very much enjoyed Harrison Ford’s reprisal of Han Solo — probably the highlight for me. It’s also refreshing to have a resourceful female character as main protagonist, but I think they could have taken equality and diversity a lot further than they did.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

In my view, the fact the story builds on the platform established by the originals (as opposed to filling in backstory as did episodes 1-3) automatically gives it an advantage. In many ways, it’s a rehash of the same story, told in the same light-hearted abandon — and this is probably why it works for everyone who was so disappointed with eps 1-3. But it’s not really taking things anywhere new (yet). I hope the next movie does go somewhere a bit more unexpected…

Journal ~ update on words, song, Mockingjay

I’m in the middle of a nice little creative phase at present. The dayjob work levels went from one extreme to the other, and the latter half of November has presented lots of lovely time for me to catch my breath.

And lots of lovely time to work on finishing the second draft of this novel. It’s been slow going for the past several months, due to travel, work and plot tangles, but I really feel I’ve come out the other side. The end is in sight! I’d be so happy if I finished before Christmas. (That gives me, er, exactly one month…)


There’s also been a lot of singing in the past six weeks, with two concerts and involvement in several songs. It’s been wonderful to work with several different groups of people, some new and others familiar.

One of the songs River Wide River Deep was an original composition by Jack Tenan. He recorded the whole thing and has posted on Soundcloud…

That’s Jack singing lead vocals and playing all the instruments, with myself and my friend Christina singing backing vocals. I think it came out pretty well!


When I haven’t been singing (or rehearsing), most of my spare time has been spent reading. But I did manage to get out for some entertainment.

Tea Party smallFirst, I made it to a concert by The Tea Party a couple of weeks ago. Twenty years after its release, the band performed its seminal album The Edges of Twilight end to end. This album is one of my all time favourites and it was awesome to hear the whole thing live.

And then a couple of nights ago I made it to the cinema for the first time in ages to see The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 2. The movie is really well done, and, from what I can remember, very close to the novel. The special effects were amazing.

My main complaint is related to the story/novel, rather than the movie itself…. i.e. most of the stuff that happens (Katniss and her warband trying to get through the Capital to assassinate President Snow — with a very high body count) is ultimately pointless. Well, OK, maybe not pointless… they ended up being a distraction for Snow, allowing the rebels to have their own victory. But I find it unsatisfying that a large part of the resolution of the trilogy is not due to any agency of Katniss’s. She’s essentially a pawn (as she is for most of Mockingjay). And, OK, yes she does take matters into her own hands right at the end, but that smacks of revenge, rather than a desire for greater good. (And, indeed, much of her motivation to kill Snow also lies in revenge.) Bottom line, I don’t really find Katniss heroic.

Is Mockingjay actually commenting on that? Is it exploring how the so-called “heroes” who people get behind, who give people hope, are often far from heroic? Because Mockingjay makes no bones of the fact that Katniss is a propaganda pawn for the rebels. I suppose I wanted her in the end to escape from that role. I wanted her decision to act for herself and go after Snow to mean something for the people she represents. But it really doesn’t.

OK, rambling. Thoughts?

Journal ~ Spitting out sand

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Three and half weeks. The longer it went on, the more apathetic I became. Did anyone notice, I wonder?

Instead, I have been reading. It’s much easier than writing blog posts at the end of a brain-intensive working day, don’t you know? As is my wont, I got a little feverish about it all… compulsive one-clicking and jabbing at the page-turn button on my kindle. It can be a bit like drowning in quicksand, and I just keep going down down down. (help me! give me another book!)

Anyway, I resolved (I hope) a plot issue with my novel-in-progress on Friday, and almost immediately I managed to claw my way to the surface again, spit out the sand, brush the grains out of my eyes, and take a breath. Ta daaa!

I still have a heavy workload at the moment, but at least the novel is going again.


I need to rediscover my blogging mojo too.

In fact, I’ve decided to mine my early blog (Forge & Brew) for inspiration. There’s some good stuff on there that I can reinterpret and update over here. My original thought was to appropriate the travel posts (Spain and France) from five years ago, but having just skimmed through some of the blog, I now realise there’s also a bunch of book reviews, thoughts about inspiration and creativity, and lots about writing… Stay tuned!

So today I’m just checking in to break the drought.

There’s been some fab things happening over the past little while — the writing retreat end-August was great (even if I was somewhat distracted by dayjob stuff), and I’ve been doing a LOT of singing (including a workshop with Brian Martin), partly in preparation for the SoulSong singing retreat this coming weekend. There has also been D&D of course, to the point it’s a bit of a danger this will become a D&D blog (kidding!).

I’m currently working on my next Mongolia post. With luck, it’s not too far away…