Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Elf issues

Tis the season for typos - click on the picture to enlarge. Shame they've since corrected it!
Happy New Year to all my bloggers - thank you to everyone who has offered advice, support and encouragement in all its myriad forms - wishing you and yours a very elfy 2010!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas eve's special

Image coordinated by blogger, TFE.

It's Christmas Eve and I have a very special visitor: a visitor with a smashing red vehicle - perfect for the festivities - what's that - a sleigh? Neigh.

This visitor is coming about a portrait. Now, my studio is all decked out with canvas and more canvas and all I need is -

- Oh, before I forget: do you remember the last portrait I painted? It was of Nude - the collection of achingly good short fiction by Nuala Ní Chonchúir.
Well, this portrait is of the artist: Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car. It's just pulled up. Hang on a mo -
-Yep, park it right there!

Picture copyright of Nuala Ní Chonchúir.

Surprise! Nuala's here again! Yippee!
Come on in and have a mince pie! Actually, have several - I made way too many this year - don't they look cute with the little stars on top? Yes, I brushed them with a little milk and a sprinkle of sugar to brown them. Please, stop, you're too generous with your compliments! Eggnog?
Right, have a sit down, I've got lots I want to ask you about your winning poetry collection, Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car.

It's great to have you back after your last virtual book tour, that time it was your short fiction collection Nude doing the posing. I'm thrilled you've returned with your poetry. And I have to say that Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car feels like a very natural progression from Nude, a poetic sequel almost. There are a lot of themes, motifs, (what would you call them?) shared by the two collections and I wondered which came first or were they simultaneous, were you even conscious of the connections as you wrote them or were they indicative of a series of long standing obsessions? (Sorry – bit of a cluster bomb of a question that!)

Hey Rachel – thanks for having me back again. It’s odd to have two books come out back to back but they are from two different publishers. The poems are actually all rather recent. The pamphlet Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car in its entirety was my (winning) entry into Templar Poetry’s pamphlet competition. I had entered in 2008 too so I decided to enter a completely new set of poems this year.

I think poetry like short fiction is about the personal obsessions of the writer and so there are themes and motifs that re-occur a lot in all my writing: fertility, pregnancy, pregnancy loss, children, sex, relationships, the break-up of relationships, art. These are all things that occupy me and fascinate me, so inevitably that spills over into my writing.

So, to answer your question about timing, the stories were written first (2005 – 2008/9) and the poems came after, (2008 – 2009) but the same themes are with me even now.

In “When You Are Ready” you begin with a line about Narcissus:

"You are no ordinary Narcissus.

There is no pool that could
reflect back all you are
and keep you there, gazing."

They are key lines, I think, to understanding how the poems are so successful, especially when one considers the title of this collection. Portrait of the Artist With a Red Car, a nod to Joyce's semi-autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, reads as both an intimate portrait of you – the poet (the artist), and a mirror: you leave the reader enough looking space to find themselves between your lines. Reading your poems had me a Narcissus, only, instead of staring at a pool, my reflection was on the surface of a glass slide, under a microscope, and as I read I was dissecting myself. And I remember when you toured here with Nude I asked you how much you considered the readers of your fiction as being participants within the fiction, not merely readers, and I wondered how much you think that your poetry in this collection is open to reader projection, how much is poetic persona and how much is you?

To be honest, it’s mostly me. My poetry tends to come from a personal place. Some people talk about ‘confessional poetry’ as if it’s a disease or something. For me, as a poetry reader, I’d rather read a personal, moving poem than an impersonal treatise. Some of my poems are persona poems (I’ve never danced with poet Paul Durcan, for example!) but mostly the poems come from my life and the lives of women I am curious about. I’m a feminist and that can’t help but spill over into all my work. Readers can – and will – take what they like from a poem; once it’s out there people will put their own spin on what a writer means by a poem.

I am going to ask you about your reference to Paul Durcan (poet and author of “Golden Mothers Driving West”), your dance with him, and if the “three Polish boys” in the title poem of your collection are a nod to Durcan's own poignant tribute to motherhood?

The Durcan poem is a bit of whimsy. I invented the encounter with him in The Winding Stair, which is a favourite book shop of mine in Dublin. I’m a fan of the man and his work; I love his style of reading and the diverse and very Irish voices in his poetry. I’ve only met him once and I just gushed briefly about his general wonderfulness. He smiled and nodded sagely.

The Polish boys in the title poem were nothing to do with Durcan. There are a lot of Polish immigrants in Ireland and watching them with their crap car, as I sat in my own crap car, got me wishing for better cars for us all. That thought process led me in the poem to me and my first husband’s car crash and I had my poem. I didn’t know where the poem was going when it started. I never know where any of my writing is off to when I step into it; that’s the mystery and fun of it, I guess. And I love that. On a slight tangent, it struck me lately that writing is the one place where I allow myself to be chaotic – I’m intensely organised in all other parts of my life.

I can't help thinking back to Nude again and how after I had interviewed you I was struck by how odd it was (to me) that I hadn't asked you about the art references in there and I'm not going to this time either, but I am going to thank you for coming all the way over here - here's a box of shortbread I made earlier, car shaped and iced in red - I'll take a photo before...oh, they're tasty, eh?. Readers, you'll have to imagine what they looked like!

Rachel, thanks again for having me over. It’s always a pleasure and I’m delighted to be here again.

If people want to buy the pamphlet it costs €6 (about NZ $12) from Templar Poetry here:

Thanks again, and thanks TFE for the great tour logo.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Just tin

I have just had a loss of appetite having read this which has resulted in the following spontaneous burst of poetic criticism:

Carry On

Had they driven all this way
to come face to face
with the head
of a fat soaked
beast and a slick

of indeterminable
intestines whose hosts
were unidentifiable
in the thick of it.
Was this the Styx,

bloodied and carcass
strewn? Had they
crashed, head long, into
hell? Their own
bodies mingled with

the mangled
formless parts:
lungs, hooves,
limbs, livers or hearts:
none could determine

in the horror as they
clambered from the
wreck of it. Merged
by-products of human
nature; the wish

to consume slips over
the tarmac, the verge,
the wayside: wasted.
The road is closed,
only for now.

Two posts for you this week - I'm going AWOL from blogging for a couple of weeks as I need to sort out some issues I am having with my WIP so please be patient with me: I'll try and keep up to scratch with comments on my blog but I may not be as visible in the rest of blog land for a while. Thank you. Your comments are, as always, very much appreciated.

Dead tiered

Bradwell Edge, Derbyshire Peak District, UK. 2007

Is it me, or is everyone blogging about death lately? Every blog I've read recently has mentioned it and, as I've mentioned before, I don't deal with it very well. Here's my take on it - I wrote it on the eleventh of the eleventh this year. I suppose it is customary to be miserable at this time of year.


This is death: the slow shuttering up of the drive to achieve
or the need to be desired. When all of my lines
accumulate and can be read "I don't care","I'm tired",
this is death. A dry stone wall in disrepair
for want of the stonemason
who built me. A monument:
all that remains of me.
A cairn: the weight of
living upon me. Stone,
not carved: cast.
This heap of me.
in want of a roof,
a lifetime in want
of a shelter;
This is

Friday, December 4, 2009

Glad I wait or not?

Last post I used this image. I didn't give you the full picture.

I'm glad I waited to post this.

Todays post is bigger than I wanted it to be.

Have you ever had one of those dreams where it seems really, well, real? And then you wake up, at least you think you have, and realise that the dream hasn't ended? And then, hopefully, in the real world and not in some straight to tv horror film, you actually wake up. Phewsh! What a nightmare!

There's nothing worse than doing battle in your dreams only to wake and have to do it all again - and you ever realise how rubbish you are at fighting in dreams? All that pre-experience doesn't do you any good whatsoever because, when the real event happens, all you know how to do is lose - that or wake up, and you can't wake up again if you're already awake.

Still following this?

Well today I woke up...hang on, first things first. Remember that poem I was writing about bugs? Well, I had another bash at it (oh, pardon the pun - I don't often bash the wee beasties, not often, thankfully...for me...). Here's what I have so far, not a draft as such, more a collection of associated phrases indicating something of the movement and imagery I'm interested in pursuing, or was when I wrote it:


There are three in jars on the sill: insects.
You'd have to hear them to know what they are.
Mute: I have captured their identity
but the fear they infect me with cannot be kept
or even held. Reduced to a pencil tap I collect
their facts, memorise their features through that
which is featureless. You can see
their difference more clearly through the safety
of a jar. They have travelled the equivalent
of miles around a glossy ellipse: each one slips
as it tries to scale the side, all those legs and not
one can get a footing. I've never liked them
and to think I came all this way to find a fear
with features I recognise only by my reaction to them.
Window ajar: I return them outside, lesson learnt,
to butt noisily against the pane (still
ignorant of my sensitivity), or silently wander.

I used Jim's starting point and went from there. What I was aware of, as I wrote this, was that there were several things going on in my thoughts and that it was the clash of these which was one cause in my poem's non-communication. Firstly there was the noise. The first poem I posted was entitled "Cicadas": it isn't merely their buggyness which frightens me, it's their noise, and for several months of the year it is constant through the day. However, at night we have crickets - similar you would think? Yes and no. I like crickets. I can hold crickets in my hand, if I'm feeling brave. I like their sound. I detest cicadas. At some point I'm going to work on the cicadas alone.

Secondly, there was the feeling of alieness - not only of the bugs being alien, but of my feeling alienated in a place where these bugs are at home. I wanted to capture (oops) the feeling I had, often still have, of being not-at-home: an un-homely feeling. This in turn leads on to ideas around heimlich and un-heimlich and touches on the gothic, the surreal and the notion of things which are all too familiar being at the same time most frightening. I want to write a poem with these elements in.

Finally, there is the realisation that different senses react differently to different aspects of buggyness. There's a lot of difference. Certainly it all results in the same fear but the individual elements deserve distinction.

Now, shall I begin at the beginning or at the beginning of the end and work backwards - what works for you?

I woke up with the breeze from the open bedroom window blowing my hair across my cheek. It was just a dream, phewsh, here I am in my own bed with a gentle breeze to cool my perspiring brow. I sat up. My hair was still blowing the same way, only the window wasn't open.
Back a bit. I had gone to bed after checking my blog (for what, blog bugs?) and drifted off into a fitful sleep. I had a dream about a hairy spider - specifically a hairy spider in the bathroom which someone (my husband?) flicked into my face.
I woke up and felt a sense of calm rationality sweep over me when I thought of the last image I had observed closely:

The moth "eyes" - and I laughed at how funny it was that I had cropped off the part which scared me - see the little furry critter in the left hand corner ("LITTLE" USED HERE TO SHRINK FEAR TO MANAGEABLE PROPORTIONS).

I looked at my husband who was looking at me and I saw an expression register on his face which I felt ought to have been on mine. Especially considering the fact that my hair was still travelling towards my eye.

A flush of adrenaline had me flick my hair from my face. I felt nothing. I saw nothing. I did the thing they do in horror films when you shout "NOOOOOOOOOOoooooo"!

I peered over the edge of the bed and saw:

five little diamonds, twinkling in the sky

which one did I pick? Go on, click the link - I dare you.

I want to say that I rushed to grab my trusty bug hoover and carefully disposed of this fellow to hoover up some spiders of its own (white tails are unusual in that they only prey on other spiders - veritable gladiators of the bug world).

The End.

P.S. Sleep tight, mind the bugs don't bite! Oh, and the's all wrong, the one on my head was much bigger, about five centimeters across, bigger than my eye in any case, or in my head!

Short story newsflash - there's a competition over at the Tomlit blog if you're interested. Get your entries in quick though, deadline is December 14! Think I'm going to enter.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Highlanded here

This is where it all began, except that it didn't really. This picture was taken at a secret location in New Zealand's South Island. P.S. It's a secret because it's also the setting for my novel in progress. Shhh!

I recently had a second story/poem up at Ink, Sweat & Tears (remember The Fish Wife?) and for any of you who didn't see it, you can read it by clicking on the moth below. As I mentioned in this post, I am going to tell you what inspired this piece, which I called "Your Favourite Colour".

Insects photographed in Dunedin airport.

These pied, pseudo-eyed lovelies were pinned onto five sides of a foam cube in Dunedin airport. Imagine my joy when I saw them - no really, I was completely fascinated by them! I may be frightened by most bugs, (and moths and butterflies, if large enough, do flutter at the periphery of this phobia) but I do find them captivating and spend a lot of time looking very closely at them - in books/jars/cabinets. More on the critters later: I am still working on the bug poem I posted a couple of weeks ago. I began drafting it two weekends ago but it turned into an 8000 word story - oops! Last weekend I typed that story up, as well as doing more research reading for my WIP and a little writing for that, also. I'm as busy as a bee...enough of the creatures for a moment...and am currently decorating my daughter's room. No intrigue yet?

Image taken from "Homes & Antiques" back issue.

Well, it was whilst thumbing through old "Homes & Antiques" magazines and paint colour charts with a view to finding my daughter's favourite colour - you see, it's coming together now - that I came across this image, above. I wasn't sure what it was but it looked to me like a seat cushion made from old papers. What do you think? And I thought the blue looked very soft and worn and lovely. But I also remembered watching this Ted Talk on colour and illusions:

Remembering this, I took a second, closer look at the blue and noticed how the fibres were breaking away and that the seat was in fact made up of many different shades of blue, and that the blue only appeared that shade of blue in relation to the other colours in the picture: the neutral shades - the warm tones which accentuated the blues - and then I played around adding different colour cards to see how they would alter my perception of the blue seat.

Image from "Homes & Antiques".

And something started to tingle in my brain and I got excited knowing I was growing a story. You can call it inspiration if that works for you but for me it is like hundreds or thousands (or some other too big to actually bother to count number) of flash cards which are all electronically tagged. Anything which makes a connection to an existing thought or memory in my brain jumps into place like the opposite poles of a magnet and I know I'm onto something.

Image from "Homes & Antiques", plus Dulux colours of New Zealand - funny: looks just like yellow and blue to me!

I flicked through some more pages and there was an article about a Scottish castle, I don't remember where exactly it was but I've been to Scotland a few times, most recently the west coast and the Highlands four months before I moved to New Zealand, and I had seen old stone buildings, like the one featured in the magazine, there. I had a real connection and an emotional response to the images I was looking at - a good sign.
Image from "Homes & Interiors" - again.
I had real interiors in response to the ones in the magazine and photographs of beautiful scenery to prompt my memory. I thought of "The Fish Wife" which, although I didn't mention it when I blogged about it, I had actually set in Mallaig on Scotland's West coast. From there I remembered Arisaig, Ardnamurchan, Ben Nevis, Ben Lawers, and lochs and those funny little pine tree filled islands you see in the centre of the lochs, all of which I have photographs of. However, I still had a "proper" reason for looking at the magazines and I continued to browse for the perfect shade of blue.

Image from "Homes & Antiques", a really old one, about four years old - I had them given, alright?

While the Highlands were wiring themselves into some sort of story in my head I saw these frosty images and, again, noted how the blue was more attractive for being beside the neutral warmth of, in this instance, wicker.

You guessed it - "Homes & Antiques" - yes, I do have other interiors magazines and no, I didn't buy any of them, and yes, they are all old ones!

And here, the path sets off the frosty box hedging. Hedging reminded me of walls and I had a complete setting.

Image from "Homes & Interiors", bla, blah, blah.
I remembered a conversation I had with my host in South Island, asking me if I thought the scenery there reminded me of Scotland. It did and it didn't. I was, however, splicing the two places together in my head when I thought of ways to describe the neutral shade and the fibres of the blue seat (which had now become a crushed velvet - like moth wings).

The rabbits I had read about in the museum on my South Island trip, the hunting also, plus I had masses of similar imagery archived in my memory, as well as our own pet rabbit. There were deer farms in South Island and we saw a dead doe with a chunk of flesh bitten out of its rear: tufts of its fibres breaking free and blowing in the breeze. Old buildings had shingled roof tops.

All of this, and more, went into "Your Favourite Colour" but the really interesting part is, I wasn't conscious of any of this until after I had written it. What actually happened was:

I was flicking through magazines looking for a shade of blue I liked for paint. I felt a story coming on. I started writing and what I was writing reminded me of "The Fish Wife" and I thought, wouldn't it be nice if this were a sort of sister for that piece. The words came out automatically, I barely had to think, aside from researching a suitable moth, and when I read the "finished" story/poem - for it came out as is, with no redrafting - I had a realisation of where every element in it had come from and I thought you might be interested to know that.
I also want to thank Andrea, at Rainbow Notebook, for giving my story a special mention on her blog. Head over there if you really want some inspiration!
(On a side note - I'm having pc trouble and links are not working properly - am on to it!)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I make up stuff

I was recently awarded two blog awards by That Elusive Line writer, illustrator and all round dandy blogger, Thomas Taylor. Thank you, Thomas, I am very honoured.

However, I did look at the list of things I had to do and my brain short circuited (not to be confused with the book Short Circuit by Vanessa Gebbie). There were simply too many numbers, sorry Thomas, and I would have felt like a fraud if I had copied the awards onto my blog and then not followed through with the terms of acceptance.

What I've done is come up with a feel good solution. A way for everyone to share in the enjoyment and praise with no numbers (well, three if you count the thirds). I am offering the Principle of Thirds Award to anyone who wants it. If you can be bothered to copy and paste this award onto your blog, it's yours. That's it. You don't have to pass it on but you can if you want to.
In line with the spirit of the two other awards and the recent blog craze to post some things which are true and some which aren't, here are some random facts about me and not about me.

I can click my tongue like horse hooves to the tune of the William Tell Overture whilst humming the same tune.

I can't swim.

I passed my driving test first time.

Awards, like painting, like photography, work on a principle of thirds. (I make up stuff so don't believe everything I write. Only a third may be true or, conversely, two thirds may be true).

This was fun! I might make up some more awards!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Telling my wares

This photo has a little to do with the flash fiction I've got up at Ink, Sweat & Tears. I'll explain later. But, remind me.

Bit of a school jumble sale of a post for you today. Got to be in quick to get the best stuff!

Thomas Taylor, over at That Elusive Line has generously nominated me for a couple of awards which I will gladly accept and do what is required of me at some point over the weekend - yes, it's Friday here, come on rest of the world, get your act together! (Note - deferring attention from my own tardiness!)

Got another piece of flash fiction up at Ink Sweat & Tears which I shall be dissecting for you in a week or so if you're interested to know what went into it and how it all started (this is my code for - you might think it's a little strange and therefore, that, by default, perhaps I am, also, but I'm not, honest governor, it's all got a very simple explanation, and phewsh, I'm normal really - and could I fit in another clause break? Probably not). It's called "Your Favourite Colour". Let me know what you think.

Goshkins, on a mish not to start a sentence with "so" and yet to cause the maximum agitation to all you grammarians out there! Any takers? We've sold all the quality goods now, can I ask anyone to take the last few items of this post off my hands - c'mon, it's pence. Nope?

Back in the van it goes then, you'll all have to wait until the next jumble to know what else I had to tell you!

Friday, November 20, 2009

See gulls fly

I didn't have a photo of an eagle, at least not one in focus enough to tell it was an eagle. Anyway, there are no eagles in New Zealand anymore.

You know when things aren't going to plan when you start a line with "I was going to..."

Well, managed to stave off that disaster. So, here's the thing, I was going to write a really interesting, stimulating, nay, I say veritable lyrical Officer and a Gentleman assault course for the mind, and I was going to tie that whole film thing (tenuous link for those of you reading between the lines) in and wow you all with my wit and...yeah, well look where that got me.

Well, what happened was, there was this dog. No, scrap that, there was this pack, big, hugemongously fearsome braying, barking, belching pack (if only the collective noun for dog began with a b) - heck, there was a back of belching beasts (why let stupid spelling rules spoil a quality bit of alliteration?)...and then I faffed about and read these and was more tickled by the degeneration of the comments thread than the jokes themselves and completely forgot what I was going to blog about.

And then, just like a flash of flashyness, I remembered: I was going to answer Steven's super duper questions from the comments in my last post about how do I write a poem and, specifically, how do I know it's a good one.

Remarkably it all ties in because the way I go about writing a poem is much the way I am going about writing this post: I think of something, I hear/read/see something and I think, that could work together, so I stick it together and something else pops into my head and then I go, wait, this is see? I make it up as I go along and sometimes I like it and sometimes I don't. The ones I don't like can, often after a period of solitary confinement (for them, not me) be redeemed with a little wordy personal trainer. The ones I do like I ask politely to wait in the green room and if we still get along after the show I invite them to dinner.

Here's one that's doing hard labour for being a crime against my potential for publication - hey, I'm not proud.

Cicadas 10/03/08

Won't get used to cicadas
breaking up the air with their
too loud noise, a cross between
electricity and clock.

Biting spiders will destroy
my quality of life whilst
flies continue to taunt me
with their filthy aerial

arrogance, refusing to
die when sprayed: insecticide
does not do as it says on
the tin. Won't get used to here.

Here's what I think is wrong with it (yes, the list is finite - just about). Firstly, it's too personal. Most of my poetry is personal, personal is not bad per se, but (I think) the poem must also speak to a wider audience, it must transcend the boundaries of the territory in which it was created. This p, p (nope, I can't even call it one), this aberration is still very much in the shadow underneath my own I.

Secondly, agh, forget it, it just doesn't move me enough to even want to dissect it. Which is odd, considering that it's written about a subject which causes me such a strong personal reaction, because this po, po - almost typed it (pooh) - doesn't get across any of the emotion or fear - any real feeling in fact.

Thirdly, hey, maybe I'm just over my phobia? Sadly, not: I have an earwig and a spider, and some as yet unidentified flying critter, in jars on the sill awaiting release, just like this bunch of worthless words. I may be able to turn them in to words worthy of an officer but they will never be....yeah, yeah, it was a tenuous link, remember? So here goes (making an ass of myself now): run - for the hills! (*Where the seagulls fly, on a mountain high, la, la, la!)

Friday, November 13, 2009

This hit

Live mean there's, erm, non-live traffic? Err, that would be stationary in a never to move again traffic way, as in permanently parked traffic; on the scrap heap! Recycle: it's alright after all! Lost the plot some days ago, before my sleeping hours were reduced by a small persuasive chap - that's not a euphemism, by the way - with mighty lungs and an ability to throw his toys out of his cot!

The internet - a world of mischief and ideas.

I have a poem to post today but as I was rooting around in my pictures for a suitable image - I know how you bloggers like a picture with your post - I came across this, which I had saved a couple of months ago, and thought I'd give a big high five to my blog readers in Bulls, and a thank you for making me chuckle. Yes - I'm immature, what of it?

Inspiration, it's everywhere, especially in these times when it's no more than a click away. It would be possible to sit here and never leave the knowledge well that is the internet. Sitting in front of a screen for hours on end is not the way I find inspiration, however, even if it is the medium which transforms my findings most quickly into stories and poems. I still like to get out and about, hence blog AWOL lately.

And here's why:

Come on let's go
I'll say and I'll
scoop up your two toothed, grinning,
compliant softness and we'll head
out into civilisation. Note book in hand,
we'll listen to random snippets of stranger
conversation you don't yet understand,
and notice peculiarities of description
to translate into language; and when
the notebook is heavy with
inspiration and my arms are tired
from carrying you, we will return,
and as you sleep I'll write,
and one day you'll be inspired.

If you want some more inspiration, Women Rule Writer is hosting a blogeriffic interview with poet Liz Gallagher where Liz talks about her collection of poetry "The Wrong Miracle", and where Nuala invites you to enter a draw to win the book. But if you prefer to buy your own, all royalties go to SANDS, the stillbirth and neo-natal death charity. So it's a win win situation. What are you waiting for? Check it out.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cease her

Picture this: two faces framed in gilt. Ornately carved laurel leaves
intertwined with golden vine.

I was going to post today about how I go about writing short stories but this arrived in the post and I want to read it, and if you are interested in writing or knowing more about writing short fiction, you should, too.

One face turned aside, ear lobe cushioned to lip, receives the hidden word. Curiosity runs its fickle fingers down your contorted spine as you lean in closer.

I was going to pick out a painting to top my post: a pixilated prize for those who seek a visual lure. And then the words came and made a frame. Now all I have to do is fill it, or do I?

He, or is it she, stares ahead and would close her eyes if she thought she could hear better for doing so, and doesn't see anything but the shape of the words going into her ear. She doesn't see the way the body at her side is poised to flee; doesn't see the the thing that glistens in the hand, inches from her neck: a ring? A blade? A torch, perhaps? She is unaware of how the eyes set intent upon her do curve with narrowed lids which mask their unreal colour so that only a tease of it can be seen by you. But you know that the eyes are shaped by ugly satisfaction or grim enjoyment. Lies, you say? Lies it is.

But what's a painting if not words coloured into shapes? We squint at clouds, at clods, at the mottled colours until we can find lines which our eyes translate.

Now it's your turn. Go on? No? Then end it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Write place

Retro furniture installation courtesy of Isobel and Polly Pocket.

It's been a strange period, since I returned from my research trip: I don't seem to be making much of a dent in the information I've accumulated, but I have been busy.

I have written another short story (and when I say short, I mean SHORT: less than a thousand words). I seem to be able to write about an eight hundred worder in an hour. Oh how I wish it were then finished. Sometimes it is. Rarely. More often than not I end up going over them, again and again, tweaking and chopping, syntax juggling, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, for me, I did not allow myself time for double checking with two stories I sent off recently - won't be winning that competition - and found a typo and a ridiculous primary school crime "loose" instead of "lose". I fear my neighbours may have increased the volume on their idiot's lanterns when I saw that one and went AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

Hey ho.

It's not all been a waste. A valuable lesson therein, me thinks. Me often thinks a tad too much in the hind of sight as opposed to the fore of it. Oh sight.

Since returning from South Island, where I tried to get a feel for what it would be like to live in the place I was studying (walking the streets so many times I knew what was where enough to give other tourists directions and describe landmarks in a way as to make them think I lived there), I have been feeling retrospective. I have been thinking about my "place" there and here. Obviously, there, I was fulfilling a role - researching, but there was more to it than that. I was thinking - and this is useful for my novel in progress - what makes a place "home"? Answers on a postcard, please.

Anyway, why was I posting today, ah, yes! Award winning short fiction writer, reviewer (to name a few credentials) and blogger extraordinaire (extraordinaire here is defined as "how does she do all of that?"), Tania Hershman very kindly asked me to write a guest blog for her series on "Writing and Place", and you can read it here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Did I give you a flight?

Sometimes the smallest frames hold the largest views. Incidentally, my daughter took this photograph - and many others as I was enjoying the view of the inside of a paper bag for most of the journey!

Fasten your seat belts. Could all passengers please remain seated whilst the aircraft is taking off and landing. Thank you.

I've been avoiding posting since I returned from my research trip to South Island - what, I hear you say, you were away? Well, here I am again and I have so much I want to share with you all about my trip, but so little I can, alas, as I want to stuff as much of what I have discovered into my novel as my plot allows for.

Please keep your seat belts fastened as we seem to be experiencing a little turbulence.

It's been peculiar, to say the least, being back in Auckland. I have a huge stack of reading material to get through, plus hundreds of photographs to label and scrutinise. I have maps and memoirs and, curiously, memories of my own to sift through and work out what is valuable to my story and what is merely of value to me.

This is your captain speaking, to notify you that we will be landing shortly. We are currently (bunch of numbers) high and with a wind speed of (bunch of numbers), I hope you have had a pleasant flight on behalf of Too Small for Sense and Comfort Airways and I wish you an enjoyable and safe remainder of your journey.

And I have to catch up on blogging and general real life as I know it.

Thank you for choosing to travel with us and I hope to see you all again soon.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What be lies

Time to get to the bottom of this table.
Fig.1 Barley twist table.
Fig.2. Barley twist table and baby grandma.

Thinking space.

Thinking space.

Figure this bare faced lie:

Figure 1. is my table. Figure 2. Is my grandma, but not my table.

Photographs suggest narratives which, like photographs, lie.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Give me a bug

Beetles, courtesy of The Auckland War Memorial Museum.

Bug hoover, courtesy of my daughter. Spider, discourteous! Note how many times the legs are folded at set junctures, thus seemingly smaller than in actuality, though not as large as in my fear-riddled mind!

Bugs: they really bug me!

I don't have a positive relationship with spiders. I am okay if I know they are there - unless they are larger than my thumbnail, or, in the case of the one pictured above, larger than my whole thumb with legs outstretched! - But it is the element of surprise which makes my nerves jangle and the hairs stand to attention on the back of my neck. This wee beastie (note humour used to diffuse fear) brushed against my little finger as I reached for a teaspoon off the sink drainer. I vomited. Don't worry, if you were thinking of popping in for tea and are now concerned abut hygeine - it went on the floor tiles and I bleached! Luckily, I had the bug hoover my daughter bought me for my birthday handy! It was difficult to suck it up - the spider probably weighed as much as the battery used to power the hoover! But the really strange part is, once I caught it, I had to look at it.

(I think it was only there because it was dying, otherwise I doubt it would have hung around long enough for me to lay my clammy hand to the bug catcher.)

It's similar to when you're watching a horror film and the unwitting victim is about to go into the darkened room where you know the evil bloodthirsty thingymebob is lurking in wait, and you shout "don't do it, don't go in - RUN!" And then they go in and get mutilated and you squirm and don't look, and tuck your knees in to your chest. That's me. And then I peek. I repeat this ridiculous behavioural sequence a non-sensicle number of times until I feel unafraid. But I don't touch the thing that I'm afraid of. That would be sick.

So I write about bugs. I find them fascinating. Beetles I find beautiful in their own many coloured intricate way. Spiders: "Know thine enemy"! I embrace my fear for the benefit of my writing.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Walking her shore

I apologise for the poor picture - it is the leaflet I was given to accompany the talk. The green background is my legs!

I have spent an afternoon crying, laughing and, generally, spell bound. Why? I went to a talk about a woman I had never heard of. But, I thought, if she warrants a talk, she must be worth finding out about, and she most certainly was!

Robin Hyde is the pen name of a very remarkable writer. She was a feminist at a time when it did not serve her career to be one, but more than this, she was a humanitarian.

I listened in awe for two and a bit hours and when Derek Challis, Robin's son, spoke (he knew her as mother, and by her real name of Iris, and she died when he was seven) I could not stop my tears from escaping.

It was also a celebration of her life and proof that she goes on living through her son's biography and through her words, which are as fresh and relevant today as they were in the 1930s. Particularly her thoughts on war.

Michele Leggott gave two readings: a poem of her own, named after one of Robin's, and a piece of prose poetry - what came from this experience was the overriding feeling of being in a room of creatively talented and strong people, strong women, and people, including the artists Annette Isbey and Margaret Lawlor-Bartlett, who were also in awe of a true pioneer.

I am not going to direct your reading to these individual pieces, I want you to go out and find out as much about her as you can, for yourselves. You will be inspired.

Apologies for the haphazardness of this post but I couldn't wait to share this with you!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ex-kept in books

"But as I look at all the cherishable, unusual, unexpected and simply beautiful little books on my shelves, held...loved...written in...with flowers pressed, letters hidden and tears stained...I'm afraid the ebook will never match that!" James Mayhew's point - about those things we keep between the pages of our beloved books?

Here are just a few mementos I found in one of my cherished books of childhood.

"Don't jump off of the roof dad, you'll make a big hole in the yard. Mother's just planted petunias, the weeding and seeding was hard..."
This book now belongs to my daughter.

It is now a book of a cherished child, complete with her first drawing of a wolf! And that dark thing, in the margin - that's a little gem.
What are some of the beloved things you've kept in your books?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sir, prized I is

A funny thing happened to me the other day. I say funny because if I don't laugh I may get quite worried about it.

I emailed an agent and asked if he would be interested to take a look at my short fiction collection as well as my novel about memory. Hahahah.....silly me assumed he'd say thanks but no thanks - I've really been practicing my rejection acceptance, I no longer get excited when I see a letter with my name in my own handwriting, in fact, I'm so okay about my fiction being rejected that when he asked to see some of my writing it took a while for me to work out that it wasn't a rejection! And then I realised...I don't know how to submit a collection of short fiction!

I have spent the last two years working out how to write a synopsis for a novel! Now I realise I don't know how to present my short story collection.

I could view it as a novel in one loose sense but I want the distinction to be made that it is not a novel - it is a collection of short fiction - connected, inter-connected, cleverly linked, themed, but individual short stories as well. Every story in it works on its own - apart, aside from the others, and that, I think, is key. That is what makes the short fiction collection different from the chapters of a novel. I get really excited by both novels and short fiction, what I don't get excited about is people who view short fiction as the novel's poor relation. It's not.

I am proud to write short fiction. It is a completely different process for me than writing a novel.

If I were to write my novels as I do my short fiction, people's heads would explode - seriously - I'd make the headlines for completely the wrong reasons! People would be running from book stores screaming "I just cannot take any more! It is too much!"

Short fiction doesn't have the benefit a novel has of time to grow your appreciation. It has to grab you and hit you. We suffer, I think, as readers, through a lot of lacklustre prose in some novels because we have been wooed by a few chapters or glimmering moments, clever devices and such like, and we put our faith in the author that we will be rewarded for our perseverance substantially. Usually the characters develop enough that we care about them to see them through to the end regardless. Not always, but usually. Short fiction does everything a novel does but in a fraction of the time and page space. That is not something to turn your nose up at. That is a skill and, as someone who has spent a huge portion of my life to honing my own style and approach to the discipline, I can tell you it is not easy. Sure, short fiction is easy to start - ooh, I've got a great idea - but how many of those ideas actually get finished? I have dozens of almost rans, dozens! One day, I'll say, one day I will finish you, and what is more, you will know you have been finished. And that's it - that's what I love about short fiction. You get this feeling in your guts about a good short story and it stays with you, which, when you think about it, is testament to their power because it didn't take you a day, a week or whatever to read it, it didn't grow on you gradually, like a novel, it was there - strong and powerful, moving and devastating, elating and hilarious right from the first line and in every single line until the last. Now, show me a novel that does that!

So, you know I can write them, right? Anyone got any pointers on how to present them?

Oh, and while we're on the subject of what I don't know, does anyone know how to write a synopsis for a triptych?

And, before I forget - which I won't (but sometimes I do) - Mr Agent, Sir, my query and synopses will be with you shortly!

AAANND! For anyone still interested in the ongoing e-reader debate, here's some more news.

All I need to do is NOT PANIC! AAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh!

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Take note of this table. I sketched it sometime between 1989 - 1993. I will return to it.

Often I happen upon my stories by chance. I start off with an idea in mind and, intending to write about that, put pen to paper/fingers to type pad and come up with something completely different. Often in this instance means mostly every time! But those initial ideas don't go anywhere, they aren't lost, merely pending.

Today I thought I'd open the file and let you have a look at my most recent list of pending things to write:

Number 1:

My thanks go out to That Elusive Line

Also known as Thomas Taylor,
so hop to his blog where you can find

That Elusive writer and illustrator!

(Please don't start critiquing that as though it's a poem! Groan!)

Thomas has been hosting a wee devil on his blog to debate the pros and cons of the e-reader (don't make me say Kindle - aaaargh!), which is something the vibrant and verbose Donna Hosie has had a blog about, too. Which brings me round to,

Number 2:

"But as I look at all the cherishable, unusual, unexpected and simply beautiful little books on my shelves, held...loved...written in...with flowers pressed, letters hidden and tears stained...I'm afraid the ebook will never match that!"

Excellently put James Mayhew! I'm going to be doing a little post - at some point - about those things we keep between the pages of our beloved books. Thanks for the idea.

Number 3:

Now, remember that table? Here it is again. This time in a watercolour from 1992.

And I was reminded of this picture when I wrote this post.

It was merely the pile of laundry which triggered my memory. Memory is like that. I've written a novel about memory, and the title of that post, Family Are Rare, is also the title of my collection of short fiction. See how it all comes together?

Number 4:

And I'm writing about this table, but you'll have to wait for that! I will come back to it - eventually!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Kindling me softly

This is a shot of a Hell's Pizza sign, taken whilst driving by one night in November 2007. I am very fond of taking photographs this way.
"The narrator of Afterlife looks back to the summer of 1976, when the course of his life was decided by a violent tragedy, prefigured here in the destruction of a manuscript. He's temperamentally unable to separate the enduring sense of personal loss from his continuing anxieties about the meaning and authority of literature. Perhaps his pessimism will prove to be well founded. There can be few writers who do not at some level suspect that it is entirely possible that all the literature they most value will be discarded in a process of cultural change so encompassing that its exponents and opponents alike can have only a limited grasp of its possible consequences. The automatic remote erasure of electronic texts of Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 undertaken recently by Amazon/Kindle (legally and for legal reasons) - to the fury of readers who thought they'd bought the material in question - can't help but seem richly, if parodically, suggestive of what may await us."

Sean O'Brien: if only you had enthused me as much with your lecture on William Blake! You're a devil of a poet though - I wonder what your novel's like?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Telling me

As far as I am aware, the end result of this image still hangs in a tertiary education facility somewhere in the North of England. Media: felt tip pen on jotter pad.

"Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag..."

When I was seven my grandfather taught me to paint with watercolours. It became my hobby. I have his tartan printed shortbread tin with his paints and brushes, a pencil and a putty rubber, and a piece of charcoal.

When I was seven I wrote my first story and showed it to my primary school teacher. She didn't believe I had written it. Writing became my secret.

When I left high school I had failed my mathematics. I wanted to study journalism because I had to be able to get a "proper job". I was refused entry to the course because the then head of the course thought I was too shy to make it as a journalist. I was brought up to accept the advice of my elders and of professionals: these people knew what they were talking about, apparently.

I looked to science - I had an aptitude for chemistry and biology - I had no mathematics and was refused entry onto the science courses. I enrolled to study art, modern history and English language, and to re-take mathematics. A few months into the course I had dropped history and was re-failing maths. I was deemed unworthy to go to university. I hadn't thought about university. On the advice of a lecturer I dropped out of my other courses - because what use were they if I wasn't going to university?

If I wasn't studying I had to get a job.

I signed up for an art and design course when I was still seventeen, it included fabric and fashion design, jewellery design and ceramics, and in the summer break I got myself a job at my college - painting murals. I still have a great interest in fashion and fabric design, I still make my own jewellery, I went on to study and make ceramics. I still paint. My writing is no longer a secret.

A while ago I was asked if I thought my writing and art were connected. I know the thought processes behind the two definitely are but it took me a while to step away from myself enough to be honest about my work to see what my painting and my writing, and, therefore, what I am about.

"And smile, smile, smile..."

We all have an image of what we want to be. We all aspire to be the best that we can be. We all want to be open to others and embrace difference. And underneath all that - if we were paintings and someone x-rayed us, beneath the layers of what we've told ourselves and everyone else what and who we are - there would be us; raw, rough and unfinished, but us nonetheless. I call this potential. Every blank canvas has it. Every empty screen, clean sheet of paper, new beginning; they are the tabula rasa, the potential. But when we create upon them a mark which we later decide we do not want, do we say - that's it, that was your one chance? Or do we continue with another sheet, another layer of paint, a new document; a new beginning. Does potential cease to be because we didn't achieve it in the first draft?

So, anyway, last week I found the design of the mural I painted in my summer job and I thought of this poem. I wrote it last year.

She wore VERY FLAT
sandals, the type that
history tells us
were worn by Jesus,
though I doubt if He
were real He would be
inclined to wearing
successes such as
these samples of mass
production nor source
purposefully coarse
skin making designs
dyed a lurid lime.
And even if He
were He probably
could not find any
sandals SO VERY
similar; with the
chrome buckles and the
gluing of the straps
concealed within flaps
tucked inside the SO
FLAT soles. Who would know
for definite? No
real proof exists though.
As is commonly
the case, like her, He
more than likely had
soiled, cracked skin: a pad
resulting from too
much wear of a shoe
severely lacking
support; cushioning
secondary to
looks. Feet which tried to,
shed in blocks only
becoming ingrained
with dirt and the dead
skin becoming grey
in pallor. I say
the word probably;
the reality
was I couldn't see,
well not properly,
her feet, because frayed,
trousers, discoloured
from being trodden
upon and sodden
in all weathers, hid
them. I think she did
this on purpose, part
of a student's art
project, a no jest
feminist protest.
Lurking within brown,
corduroy worn down
to the ground were no
doubt legs that were so
hairy they were part
of the protest art;
intrinsic to what
it is to be that:
a feminist. I
realise that my
description does, on
the whole, rely on
gathered unwisely;

In my short story collection there are two semi-autobiographical pieces: one is called Potential. With age comes the ability to project confidence. People who meet me are intimidated by my height and outspokenness - ironic that in school I was bullied for my height and quietness. I was called scaffolding (as well as cardboard cut-out and dictionary) I couldn't shorten myself so I upped the volume. I wear bright colours. I speak my mind. I am honest even when it would serve me better, and those around me, to lie. If I have offended you with this or any other post or comment I have made please tell me; directly. There are, as any writer or reader will know, multiple interpretations of any word or combination of words - it all goes back to that slippery chain of signification - and it would be a fool who professed to know what any one person means by a small selection of words, or to take from that comment an assumption of what a persons views might be. I would say to such people, go back and look again at what offended you from another perspective. I am many things. Other people think I am different things; but, underneath, I am still there, shy as I ever was; writing.

"What's the use of worrying? It never was worthwhile."

I could tell you another version of me, and another, but really, what difference would it make? You'll each have your own perspective, some of you will have more than one - hopefully.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

To Chalmers

Note how the style and colours of this porcine picture jars and juxtaposes with the visuals of my otherwise serene blog.

Last night I went to a packed theatre to watch a music concert. I shouldn't blog about this, normally I wouldn't mention it, but I have never been very successful at disciplining my thought to mouth ratio and now it seems my thoughts are struggling for supremacy over my fingertips.

It wasn't Pink Floyd. It was a World Vision concert. The singer was on fine form (if you enjoy beach boy medleys and the Lonely Goat song from The Sound of Music in the same half hour - I can't remember what else she sang, I've blocked it!) suffused with a couple hundred tired yet overconfident kids, and half way through stopped - (for breath one assumes but not for good) to say why she was singing. Yes, there was a reason - other than the obvious! She wanted to charm us. No. She wanted to raise awareness of the plight of the children of Honduras.

She began by saying that, probably, none of us in the audience would have had any experience of living in a third world country (to which all the British health workers groaned and muttered something to the effects that they thought NZ was a third world country) and that she had been to Honduras to experience it first hand. A video clip followed.

She had taken a film crew. Shots worthy of news night were inter cut with shots of the lovely host - the contrast was staggering - and one could not help but be moved by the images we were being presented with: men, women and children struggling to carry clean water from miles away on a daily basis to tend to their large and hungry families. Their homes were as basic as a home can get and be called a home. Their children were as well behaved as hunger permits. Sometimes, our host said, the elder siblings go without for the younger ones to feed. Meals consist mainly of dry pitta bread, apparently. But all was not desperation.

The next shot was our lady in the home of a family who were busy with jars and fruit. The peoples of Honduras were capitalising on the usually discarded fruit of the cashew nut - I didn't know it grew on the end of a fruit either - they offered our host some to taste.

Mmmmmm, went our host - juices dribbling from her dewy moisturised chin - it would go wonderfully with fine cheeses and a glass of good port.

Seeing is not experiencing.

At the end they thanked the fourteen people who had donated. Wish you were here?

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's sea, see?

Pardon my wonky photo, the horizon line on the actual painting is decidedly more horizontal! Do not, under any circumstances, suggest I put a boat in! I seem to have cropped off the high arc of the sky, it is indigo at the very top. Disclaimer - this painting is not finished, nor is it intended to be viewed as such - ever! I reserve the right to completely white wash this canvas.

A while ago I started another painting, I think I mentioned it, around the same time I was churning out a short story every other day. Well, it's a good thing I primed that canvas because my short story splurge has come to a halt and I am trying to pace myself before I go to the South Island of New Zealand to research my latest novel because I know, once I return from that trip, I will be eat/sleep/drinking my project for the foreseeable future. So I've been adding a dob of paint here and there on the canvass and this is what I've got to show for it thus far.

Originally I intended to plonk lots and lots of brightly painted houses and trees on thick bright grass in the foreground, all but totally obscuring the sea (because I have yet to develop my sea painting skills - blame it on living far inland for the first twenty years of my life!), but now I am wondering whether to let it be a simple and uncluttered (quite unlike my other paintings) seascape.
My daughter had a go at it a few weeks ago, there was a lovely splurge of bright yellow slightly left of centre in the sea and again at the bottom of the frame, I kept a little of it, children know so much more about art than adults.

I look at the sea when every morning on the school run, and every morning it appears completely different. And then again each afternoon, and any other time I am passing! This painting began when it was a soft grey fuzzy morning sea with silver patches and an horizon line which looked like a Morris 1000 car had zoomed along it and left its paintwork there.

What do you think, beach in the foreground or brightly painted lapboard bungalows? I could even throw in a few Norfolk pines and I'd be able to sell it in a touristy gallery - NZ icons painting!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thieve a few

A little piece of NZ, framed especially for you.

I think I may have lost my marbles. Do tell me if you see them rolling around anywhere, feel free to collect them up and keep a few cats' eyes for yourselves, I won't miss the odd one or two.

I have been planning a novel for some months now and next month I am going down to South Island to carry out research for it. I don't have to: in theory I could find all the information I require at my local libraries or from contacts I have made in South Island, and it's going to cost me an arm and a leg, but I really feel I need to experience the place I am writing about first hand. Plus, as there is a lot of oral history in NZ, I need to go to the place itself for that.

I don't want to give too many details away other than to say it is a variation on the idea of a triptych and already it is consuming me. I made a start with writing a few "scenes" back in June, to get a feel for my characters. Much of what I've written so far will not make it into the novel but it has served a very useful purpose, and been worth every word, to really bring my people to life.

This is the first novel I've tackled that's had me scared. I am worried I may have bitten off more than I can chew but there's nothing I love more than a difficult challenge: if something's not hard, it's not fun for me. So I'm doing as much research as I can to be as prepared as possible for everything I am throwing at my characters, and I'm chomping at the bit to find out what they're going to throw back at me.

I've never been to South Island before. When I started planning this novel I spoke to librarians - they were fantastically knowledgeable (as you would expect librarians to be) and went way beyond the call of duty to email links and things they thought might be of interest to me weeks after I had initially queried them! I was given contact details for people living in the place I am going to and was offered free accommodation! I asked an architect about a building and he offered to check out all the details on buildings in my story for accuracy! I have never encountered enthusiasm, helpfulness, generosity or trust as I have found from the people of New Zealand (except, maybe, in the UK! - Especially me, when I lived there!). But seriously, I've been blown away by the offers I've had. So this post is really a big thank you to New Zealand for all the opportunities it has given me.

The only downside is that I have to plan the whole trip! Everything requires timetabling and, as I have droned on about before, I really am not bedfellows with numbers. And the nearer the trip gets, the more stressed I get about catching the plane etc on time, and the more difficult I find organising all of the other things for the correct times and dates. It's giving me headaches - I need to eat some feverfew. I much prefer organising novels than trips! So my marbles have started disassembling and I may loose a few for good. So, go on, take some, I hope they are more use to you than to me!