Friday, July 31, 2009

A world in my here

Disclaimer: the following is not a review of the Time Travellers Wife, nor is it a criticism of that book or it's author. It is merely a playful creative exercise.

Odysseus: I'm a modern day myth, part Icarus, part Cupid, part Orpheus, who, despite drinking as many cups of expensive coffee as I can fit into one narrative, and popping all the pills I can think of (which have or have not been invented), still cannot manage to stay in one place long enough to have more than a fight, rod someone, or to groom my future wife. This latter point is worth some discussion but as no one else is mentioning it I won't either, suffice to say, it's weird. I am a time traveller but I am caught within the confines of my own lifetime - a la Dr Sam Beckett. Unlike Beckett, however, I am playing out a different hypothetical time travel paradigm. One which has me land my naked tall dark and handsome butt at critical moments of mine or my wife's past, but rarely, in the future. I can take nothing that is not a part of me with me, except sometimes dirt, which I cannot explain, so I don't. It's all about being. There's something destinctly metaphysical about me that I cannot explain beyond quoting Donne.

Penelope: I have known Odysseus all my life, almost, from when I was six at least - any younger would have been weird. He is as familiar to me as perfectly cooked tuna at just the perfect shade of tuna pink. He has been visiting me in the meadow by my parents' house, Knossos. I am little more than a symbol myself but know I am a goddess to Odysseus because I often display the labrys. I don't like to talk about deep and meaningful things because Odysseus is the patriarch. I am the Frida Kahlo to his Diego, the Euridice to his Orpheus.

Odysseus: Penelope likes to believe we are living in a Minoan society but my values are strictly Achaean. I like to kick butt until I meet Penelope in my real time, when I mix the delights of butt kicking with the feminine delights of slipping between Laura Ashley sheets. I know they're Laura Ashley because I am cultured, obviously because I work at the Newberry library, and not Starbucks, where my persistent nakedness, coffee guzzling and product placement might have been more at home.

Odysseus: I am roaming around barefoot (and the rest - that is to say I am nude again, not to be confused with Nude the collection of short fiction by Nuala Ní Chonchúir, available to buy now from Salt) in some part of my neighbourhood, for maximum confusion and the threat of bumping into people I will know or meet in my future. I never can seem to time travel to anywhere else in America. I am an anti-hero striving towards redemption. Despite my time travelling gimmick with bells on (and one 'l' in traveling) I am still fallible and cannot shake off this mortal coil, no matter how many drugs I take. I am, in the words of Teddy Thompson, 'only a man'. Don't tell Penelope I listen this as she'll make me wear headphones (as I tell her to when she listens to Fleetwood Mac - das unt uncool, ya)!

Penelope: I make Odysseus wings, to remind you all that I am an artist actually and as an excuse to put in some technical detail to make my career choice sound real and not made up to justify this one scene. Odysseus is at the mercy of the Fates, however, and even my wings cannot save him, now that his feet have fallen off (oh, sorry, was that part rushed? Only I thought, seeing as the book's all about me really, you'd like to spend a huge amount of time on my wedding day. Odysseus won't mind, he can time travel over this bit, again and again).

Odysseus: Sometimes I get really quite rather very annoyed that people think that I'm just a sci-fi character, but that's not true. If they hadn't thought up a condition to try to explain my time travelling ability I would have been a magic realist romance (so much to thank Borges for), perhaps, but I really am not a sci-fi character at all, that's all a myth. However, giving me a toe hole into that genre does improve my sales. Sci-fi fans seem not to care about the other elements of my make up: hearing them go on and on about how science fiction writers invented this that and the other is like hearing Penelope go on and on about tuna. It's all a myth. I keep travelling back to that same sentence, probably because it is of great significance to me in my life, even though I may never understand why, not even if I look it up in my big Random House dictionary or read all of Ovid.

Penelope: Some might say my life is a cliché, or that some of the characters and racial stereotypes are clichéd, too.

Odysseus: Some people may not be able to discern a difference in the narrative voices of Penelope or I.

Penelope: Some people may have to refer back to the name at the beginning of each passage to remind themselves which character is speaking as it is not always clear from the actions being shown in the narrative - unless there is a quantity of nakedness, or tuna at hand - especially as both Odysseus and I have a fondness for Laura Ashley.

Odysseus: It's all because I practically live at the library. If I didn't, I probably wouldn't feel the need to drop in literary references every five minutes.

"And you wait, keep waiting for that one thing which would infinitely enrich your life: the powerful, uniquely uncommon, the awakening of dormant stones, depths that would reveal you to yourself. In the dusk you notice the book shelves with their volumes in gold and in brown; and you think of far lands you journeyed, of pictures and of shimmering gowns worn by women you conquered and lost. And it comes to you all of a sudden: That was it! And you arise, for you are aware of a year in your distant past with its fears and events and prayers". - Rainer Maria Rilke.

Odysseus: I could go on and on, but that would be epic.

Penelope: Odysseus goes on and on, but I should have the last word, after all I am his wife and this is all about me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Snow yourself

Snow: some flakes are big.

So, it's official, I am interviewing Women Rule Writer extraordinaire, Nuala Ní Chonchúir on September the 1st - plenty time to get those questions in (see last post) - and I'm really excited. I swing between nerves and giddiness (perhaps the giddiness is just the nerves making noise). And I have been thinking a lot about (everything - no change there) wanting to do a good job of the interview, because it's Nuala's good reputation, and it's mine too.

Some flakes are small.

Clicking onto my blog today I was suddenly hit by myself - as I must appear to you, out there.
I became uncomfortably conscious of my outward persona. There are two distinct impressions my blog gives.

Some melt before they hit the ground.

One can be summed up by the title of my blog, based on a poem I wrote about four years ago.

Snow; like thought
between breath,
lapses, caught
by soft short
melting. Death.

Every now and then I change the 'Death' to Nought, depending on my mood, and I switch the punctuation, too. I don't think it is a very 'good' poem, technically or otherwise, but it is a very me poem.

Some don't melt soon enough.

I read some interesting blogs recently and I was inspired to respond - one of them was about responsorial poetry, and the other was a poem which had me committing all kinds of errors, including this:

Plate hair

I looked at your
picture and thought
of the words. My jaw
seized till it ached with laughter. Snort
after snort, brought tears. Face: sore
and twitching; 'theose' I wrote, and 'ryme'.

I have noticed a tendency in myself to act spontaneously. I'm not sure it is always the right thing to do (especially in hindsight), but it is very me.

This blog is my first impression, in a way, to potential agents, publishers, fellow writers, and anyone else out there, in the ether, who cares to follow my ramblings - what does it say about me?

I still don't like the image of the snow - it looks like wallpaper, and might as well be yellow, and the background colour is just slightly the wrong shade of blue/almost grey, and my picture makes me look goofy and shy (which I am) but which I don't want to appear because I want to show my serious and thoughtful side (which I have), which is hidden by my humour, which is stupid.

Real snow is indescribable though, isn't it? You decide.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Nude Zealand

I've got some exciting news, I won't beat about the easel, I'll lay it bare...

...Nuala Ní Chonchúir is coming to New Zealand to Kick off her world tour to promote her new book of short fiction Nude...and the best bit...she's starting the tour here!

That's right, I'm going to be hosting the first stop off! How cool is this?!

(I've only ever hosted a sheep tick before so I hope I can pull this off!)

And that's where I need you, dear bloggers. I'm going to be interviewing Nuala (AKA WOMEN RULE WRITER), and I thought it might be fun to have a little audience participation.


Follow me into my studio and I will elaborate.

By all means take a seat - but not that one! It has wet paint on it. Phewsh!

Oh, just look how the light has illuminated your cheek...I's the thing. I'm going to be asking Nuala some questions and I thought, wow, of all the times I would have loved to ask a 'real' writer some questions, and now I can! And wouldn't it be great to share that feeling?

This is what I'm going to do. I am offering you, dear bloggers, the opportunity to ask Nuala a question of your own. Here's the deal. I get to ask three questions. I'm giving up my third question to one of you, so it had better be a good one.

Rules: it has to be a question about writing or about Nude.

What's in it for you? You mean, that isn't enough? You're a tough bunch to please.

Well, Nude is published by Salt (and is available to buy now - ha), and Salt's website receives '80,000 visits a month...14 million hits a year'.

Uh? Not following?

As a little thank you for hosting Nuala, I get my blog profiled on Salt's website - yup - I get (in theory) 80,000 extra visits to my blog per month (that's 80,006 bloggers in total!) As my reward to you guys for your questions, I will guest profile your blogs, thus sending that extra traffic your way, too.

Now are you interested?

I'll only be asking one of your questions mind, the rest of you will still get profiled for contributing though - that sound fair?

I look forward to writing your portrait!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mistaken a view

Bit of a mixed post today.

You ever buy a jar of glass beads? They look so beautiful, glossy and luminous, primary and childishly satisfying. You take them home: expectation grows with their potential; the possibilities epitomised by their perfectness. The lid removed they tumble out, rainbow laughter: the material equivelent of giggles. And then? Why hadn't you noticed the broken ones before, at the bottom (they knew they were not perfect), why did you not see them?

I'll start with the beads at the top.

I got a blog award from the lovely Valerie Storey - see, it has pride of place up there. Thank you Valerie. I shall consider carefully before passing it on!

Andrea, AKA acatofimpossiblecolour, is off to meet her agent/editor for the first time. Her book, Ngozi, is to be published by an imprint of Random House no less, and I want to wish her every success! Andrea has been a fantastic help/critic with my query letter and she will, no doubt, be pleased I have dispatched an ammended version on it's way to London - it is always good to have another pair of eyes look over anything you write, but to have Andrea has been so insightful. I am exceedingly grateful to her for taking the time for me, especially right now - you should see how much she's packing for her trip! I hope the journey continues for her long after she returns.

Another Andrea gave me a lovely mention this week too (or was it last week? I need more sleep) - thanks. Her blog is very unassuming and lacks pretension, and she posts some great images - also she posted about Montana Poetry Day way before any of the supposedly 'in-the-know' bloggers did, but I don't mention names, unless it's to boast and sing their praises, and I'm singing Andreas today! Plus she dug out some of my favourite illustrations to one of my favourite poems too, and posted them together! I have all on to post a letter in the same month as I put the stamp on it!

Now the beads further down, where you can only really see the ones that touch the edge of the jar.

I have been so tired this week and have been very foot in mouth, so foot in mouth that I'm possibly going to have to wipe my toes...(think about it)...erm...or not.

Firstly, visited the library at the weekend, and whilst discussing my writing project with the librarian, I made a stupid gaffe. She mentioned a book and asked if the date it was written was alright: 'what era are you?'

'I'm only thirty three' says me - clever aren't I? She meant the date my story's set in of course...of course!

Next I read a poem and thought, that was wonderful, I'll blog the author and let them off I cyber trots, and said 'poet' has posted all about her new book (no prizes for guessing who this is folks, btw). Great, so I ramble on about how great her poetry is....cyber blog home, only to realise her book is about her short fiction, not her poems!

And typos...Woman, I've missed letters here, there and ever wer!

I decide I need a coffee to wake me up. Now I don't normally drink coffee. I am not what you would term a coffee drinker. I am a tea belly. Tea is my thing. I like Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assam, green tea, herbal tea, fruit tea, lots of teas in fact. But coffee seemed like the best thing for extra caffeine. And so many to choose from. I have never had to choose for myself before.
I didn't want frothy milk, I didn't want black, I didn't want, well, any of them actually, but I told myself I needed one: 'I'd like a flat black with milk, please.'

And the thing is, I know I am not dumb - at least I think I do, yet I always mess up spectacularly and in the most embarrassing ways, particularly (but not confined to) when I'm tired.

And now for the beads at the bottom.

Some great writers died recently, and it made me acknowledge, once again, how I never know what to say when someone dies. It doesn't make a difference if I knew them or not, was touched by them in some way or not, cared or not, I am unable to string a normal sentence together; and I wonder why? I can write poems about them (and my feelings), but I can't speak or write conversationally about them, or the act of dying. And there, see? The 'act' of dying. Perhaps that's it, I am afraid of it, so diminish it to play acting...but there's a magnificence to death, and beside it conversational words seem trite. Now I think of Donne's 'Death be not proud', but poetry can stand up to the bar. I can only misunderstand.

At least being ignorant gives me more scope for learning :) I am a tabula rasa waiting to have knowledge scrawled all over me. I think someone must have replaced my slate with an etcher sketcher though. Perhaps I will retain more knowledge if I stay perfectly still?

But there are worse sufferers than me. I knew someone who had a leg amputated. A well meaning person went up to this person not long after the operation, and said 'never mind dear, it'll grow back.' My person said (afterwards - too polite to embarrass the other person) 'what does he think I am, a spider?'

The beads at the bottom might not seem any use, but look at them, I mean really look at them, and think about them before you discard them. Sometimes there's a wee gem lurking in the bottom - even if it does look like a load of broken glass.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Think Hemingway

Just a short post today.

How short can a short story be?

I wrote what is my most diminutive story today - 82 words, including the title!

What's the shortest story any of you have ever written and what are your views on this?

And for some wonderful short fiction I suggest you check out:

All are bored

All aboard, all aboard, join me on the jolly blogger...I have...erm...stuff to tell...

Remember the synopsis for my latest project? Well, today I rewrote two thirds of it!

I was happy with some elements of it, mainly the beginning, I think I have strong beginnings because I always visualise the characters and their entrance into the story really vividly: I see my stories almost cinematically, so when I write them - the stories themselves - it is just like describing a film, the way I describe a scene with my paints, breaking it down into its composite parts: that part there may appear green but it is actually a visual illusion, achieved by pixillating many shades of blue and yellow. See?

Okay, so it sounds utter guff when I make that analogy, but the point is, I'm a strong starter. Ring any bells?

Well, I know I want to do something really exciting with the narrative for this novel, but before I can get creative I need to have a solid linear narrative in my mind to work with. Something that is believable, engaging, stimulating, moving, and has that most important of things, emotional truth.

If my synopsis/plot outline isn't believable or moving, how can I expect the novel to be? I work from the standpoint that if you start with the finest ingredients, you make for great food, and great food makes for happy eaters! Ah, enough of the analogies. Are you keeping up there on the poop deck?

Well, I have a plot outline and a synopsis I'm happy with - for now. I'm making a tentative start with writing, that is to say, I've allowed the creative flood gates to open now and any snippets of dialogue that come to mind can be given passage. Toot toot!

Writing novels and painting pictures are similar processes: they both work on a principle of thirds. There's a rule in painting that you don't split the canvass in two by sticking a big object smack in the middle, you have to draw the eye in and around the painting. It's that way with novels. I think of painting a lot when I'm developing plots. And I don't think the plot has to be amazingly convoluted. If you have a good story it's a good story, no matter how many twists or turns it has - tell that. Woman the sails!

Also (Bored yet? I'm on a roll here guys, you might want to pause for tea - and might I suggest a chocolate hobnob? Yes, you may take two...) I think if you have a solid and engaging story which is quite simple, you can add interest, twists and turns by how you choose to reveal that story, through the narrative. Narrative is tricky - it's such a slippery word, means many different things - does anyone fancy a post about narrative with their next cuppa?

Writing isn't always plain sailing, and if you're struggling let me know - I'll fire some useless analogies your way, and if I can help I will - but when the sea's calm and the wind's at your back, it can be the most liberating journey, and the view is sublime.

You may depart, I hope you had a pleasant voyage!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Web feat

Today I made my first submission to a webzine, recommended to me by none other than Women Rule Writer - see fave blogs over there on the right - Nuala Chonchúir :

and you wouldn't believe how difficult I made it for myself.

I have about twenty short stories to choose from, but could I choose one to submit?
I have no idea.
All I know is I wanted the story, this story, my story, to epitomise me and what is special, different, me, about my writing.

They all capture different facets of what I think is good about my writing, but this is my first public foray with a short story (aside from uni critiques, and my now famous family story gifts), and I wanted it to be special.

So I gave the submission a story for itself. I'm not sure if this made my writing any better or worse - didn't give myself much time for revision, or that long pause for reflection either - however, when I read it back, out loud a few times, I liked it.

I wrote it pretty quickly, it was just there, waiting to 'pop' out, and it got my heart going writing it, and I always think they're the ones that are the best for me. Over-revision and doubt have ruined many a piece of writing for me. I have dared myself to be less cautious with this; I hope it pays off.

As it has turned out, it is a sort of hybrid magic realist/prose poem/short story - try selling that one to a publisher!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Publishing is serious business

It seems some of you may have had problems leaving comments on my last post, so here's a new ramble, with the hope that the blog gremlin has gone.

***NEWS FLASH***comments box now set to appear as pop up...seems to have fixed the problem! Thanks to very talented tinterweb expert Husband Of Mine (HOM).

I have learnt some new stuff this week. And it made me laugh.

I have for some time been trying to get to know the ins and outs of the publishing world, in preparation for when I need to know it. I may never save to memory all the alphabetical abuse that passes for book sizing, but one term I am never likely to forget is French flaps. I discovered them whilst reading a post at the talented Nuala Ní Chonchúir's blog:

except of course I had seen them (have books with them), but didn't know they were blessed with their own marvellous name!

I have much to learn, I concede, and the learning would be easier if everything still left to intellectually lift were as toe-ticklingly teenager titillating as this! Made I laugh it did.

So, I am actually a very serious and mature writer, don't ya know. I'll prove it: wrote myself a plot this weekend for my latest project. Whether I'll stick to it is another matter entirely, but it feels good to have made an assertive start.

I've had this idea for some time now. I knew my protagonist from the off. I had several ideas for what story I wanted to write too, but when it came to scribbling the storylines out, my character was poohpoohing ( I prefer my poo with an aitch and no gap) them until I stuck with the one that best suited her.

So I'm about ready to start writing, and that's the very reason I haven't. I'm going to think a while longer, and see if a better story comes along. See who pops by to make friends with my gal. See what a bit of restraint makes me see.

See, I told you I'm learning!

(And for those of you who want to view the results of my very sensible publishing research, read the following: )

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What does it signify?

I wrote a short story this week. I didn't intend to, but I'm not going to say no if one pops into my head and asks politely to be transcribed. The strange thing is, when I read it back, it didn't seem like the same story that had been in my head. Words are like that. Sometimes I think that's the property I like best about them, then, other times, it really bugs me.

It's back to that slippery chain of signification: you know the one? Sure you do. The theory that goes something like, every time you use a word, you move further away from the true meaning of what the thought of the thing was. But we only have the words we have (except I'm working on that), and are limited to a certain extent by them.

So, to explain more (forgive me if you know this already, I majored in soporifics), say you want to describe a thought, and we have a word for it, so you write 'house', only that's not quite what you had in your thought, so you write 'home', only that's not it either, but now you're two words away from what you thought: you're two links down that signification chain.

There is, as there always is, a more technical and accurate explanation. But, if a word never really does capture the meaning of what we mean, what does it matter?

In a week or two I'll go back to my story and one of two things will occur, possibly: either it will seem like a talented literary alien, from the planet Aliens of Literary Talent, has written it - in which case I shall be perplexed yet thrilled - or I will recognise it as a bracelet of my own clumsy making: words slipping down the slurry covered signification chain, and landing at my own hand.

Hullo! Aliens, are you there?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I've had a week of some disappointment, tempered with some kind words, some harsh words, some honest words, and lots of great advice; for everything but the disappointment I have a writer named Andrea to thank. She has a terrific blog:

which is shrine to all things style, and literary, and obviously some of the style rubbed off on the literary because she is about to have a book published!

And I have had a week in which to think, what if?

What if I couldn't be a writer? What would I do? What could I do?

I'll start with the last question.

I could be a painter: I paint, I'm not too awful, I could do that...maybe...if I had to...but I like to keep that as my hobby, my pass time: it helps me unwind, helps me to think, helps me see the words to paint my stories - writing and painting are both art. I write in pictures anyway, writing is much more than words to me.

I would probably continue to look after my kids, be a stay at home mum until my youngest starts school and then go into teaching - the thing I was meant to do some years ago - the thing I took my highschool maths five times for (I have dyscalculia...numbers and I have a strange relationship: I'm like an accidental, A sexual patron in a strip club - numbers are the strippers who dance around me, I'm not allowed to touch and I don't get them). I would teach...if I had to...I would enthuse a generation with the love of words, I would infuse their senses with the love of language...I would amuse them with my love of books; 'this one smells like a good 'un' I'd say.
It would come back to writing somehow.

If I couldn't be a writer, I couldn't be a painter, a teacher, a mother; simply, I couldn't be me.

I will write because I have to. It's what I have done since I was as old as my daughter is now, and I took my story to show my teacher and she said, 'but they're not your words' - but they were. To get one of my stories published would be a huge buzz, an achievement, and a way - besides my children - to achieve immortality. I would jump up and down until I felt sick and dizzy, and shout 'weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!' I would run with barefooted jubilance down the street, and exclaim, 'they are my words!' And then I would go back to being me; and write - quietly, because my books would be shouting.

If I never get a book published I will write.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Back to the drawing board

Good news or bad news first? Ok, bad news: I received a very thoughtfully worded rejection this morning. Good news: my query letter works! There's always an upside!

I am now going to send out a different manuscript to some other agents and this time I won't get so excited if someone asks for a partial (...bit like asking for a semi isn't it? Not much I can do with either option!) When I am over my disappointment with my failed MS I will read it again (can probably recite it backwards now) and see if/how I can make it better. Onwards and they say (I should like to know who 'they' are in these lexical instances). Well, in the words of Robert the Bruce (does anyone know if he actually said this?): "if at first you don't succeed, try, try, and try again. This quote is the only spider related thingy I like!