Friday, 30 November 2007

I did it!

I got to 50,00 words and a few over, and I haven't finished my tale yet! So I'll have to keep going now. And the chance to slow down and practise some judicious editing is so tempting.

I can't believe it's over - it's been SO much fun. I've loved every frantic minute of it. There are two big TGIO (thank God it's over) parties on the weekend for all the San Diego Nano writers. There are about 700 of us. What an amazing organisation!
Booking through Thursday

This week's question:

Do you get on a roll when you read, so that one book leads to the next, which leads to the next, and so on and so on? I don’t so much mean something like reading a series from beginning to end, but, say, a string of books that all take place in Paris. Or that have anthropologists as the main character. Or were written in the same year. Something like that… Something that strings them together in your head, and yet, otherwise could be different genres, different authors…

I have done that, especially when I find an author whose work I really like. Barbara Kingsolver, Ian McEwan, Maggie O'Farrell, Jhumpa Lahiri, Carol Shields are some recent series I remember. I had to spread out the Ian Rankins — sometimes they were so gritty and bleak that after three or four I yearned for a little light in between.

I turned my good friend Susan in Melbourne on to Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey novels many years ago, and she in turn introduced me to Margery Allingham's Albert Campion. We both read them all, straight through. Years earlier it had been Agatha Christie, and the Cadfael Chronicles by Ellis Peters. Those authors tended to be prolific, and consistent, and once I enjoyed one, I was hungry for the rest — and oh! what joy to discover there were lots of them!

I've also enjoyed one non-author series: the Jhumpa Lahiri* books led me to read anything dealing with the Indian migrant experience in the US and the UK, and I read many wonderful novels on that theme, which remains a favourite. And in turn, that has led to choosing novels dealing with any kind of migration/re-location ... it's been great.

*Is JL's 'The Namesake' a good movie? I'm so scared it won't be ...

Thursday, 29 November 2007

The biology lesson

‘The flower makes pollen in the anthers, do you see?’ Massimo pulled the petals open, gently widening the flower, revealing the delicate strands of the filaments bearing the heavy, ripe anthers, drenched in their golden pollen.
He pointed with the pointy end of the brush. ‘This is the male part,’ he said, stroking the filament from its base up to the anther. ‘You see, Julia? Drawn in by the scent of her nectar, the unsuspecting insect cannot resist, and drugged with desire, he flies in to find the source of this great attraction and drink it in.
'I his helpless state, he brushes against the anthers, and they release the pollen, so …’ and he stroked the tip of the anther with the tip of his brush, which came away with a dusting of the yellow pollen. ‘Are you with me so far, signora?’

‘Oh yes,’ she whispered. ‘Please, keep going.’
He leaned in closer to her, the flower still wide open in his hand. ‘The anther and the filament are the male parts of the flower, but now we come to the female parts.’ He met her eye to eye, and she bit her lower lip as she looked up at him.
‘Please ... don’t stop,’ she whispered a little breathily, for effect.
‘The stigma, and the style,’ he pointed to each in turn, ‘are female parts. The style holds the stigma erect, out of the way of the ovary, here.’
He looked straight into her eyes again. ‘The stigma, when it ready to receive the pollen become sticky, so you see how it glistens? It is ready, and I just have to tickle it lightly, like so …’ and he brushed the pollen-laden brush delicately against the swollen, moist nub of the stigma.

At which point the whole air became so charged with tension, and the symbolism so overdrawn, that he and Julia collapsed against each other in fits of helpless laughter.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Today's NaNoWriMo tally ...
... is 41,200 words. So I've got slightly fewer than 3000 a day to finish - phew!
It's a powerful thing, this fiction-writing stuff. I fancy my hero like crazy! Massimo's not too bad either ...
Okay ... off to the Bondi quiz night and some healthy reality.

Monday, 26 November 2007

On ya, Maxine!

Maxine McKew, a former Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist, stood for election as a Labor (ALP) candidate in the seat of seat of Bennelong, New South Wales. This seat has been held for 33 years by John Howard (Liberal), our prime minister for the past 11 years. But Maxine has ended all that!
Howard I hold responsible for Australia's international reputation as a racist nation. I also hold him and his government responsible for the gradual incursion into the national and local political scene of harmful right-wing Christian fundamentalists. I can't tell you how happy I am he has gone!
Costello will not run for Opposition leader, and we have to see if the trumped-up schoolboy Malcolm Turnbull will have a go. Let's hope so! Labor will win the next election as well, and with any luck we can be rid of Turnbull too by then!
The only shame is that the ghastly Alexander Downer didn't lose his seat. I heard him interviewed about his ambitions after being in federal government, and he was aked whether he would attempt to run for state parliament. "Oh no!' he winced. 'Look! You can't possibly be foreign minister for 11 years and then stoop so low as to enter state parliament, for goodness' sake!' I'm paraphrasing, but I'm not far short of what he actually said, the tosser. He never got it, did he?
Good riddance to the lot of them.
Australia can proudly reflect on the fact that it doesn't have a Liberal government anywhere! Yay!

:: While I'm in celebratory mood, here's a silly little soupcon for you from The Novel, so you can have a giggle. The scene: Massimo and Julia are having an evening picnic in the ancient olive grove beside The Big House. They've been prowling round each other for a few days now, and the sexual tension is stringing them tight. Now read on ...

‘We start with bread and oil,’ he said, holding the loaf to his chest and cutting off a thick slice for her.
‘This oil?’ she asked, reaching for her bottle.
‘Yes.’ He cut off the wax seal with his knife, drew out the cork, then poured the green-gold oil into a bowl for them to dip their bread.
A thick stream of oil slid down Massimo’s wrist as he held his bread to his mouth.
Without thinking about what she was doing, Julia reached over, took hold of his wrist and pulled it to her mouth, licking the oil over the base of his thumb and up into his palm. She did not look at him, but could hear his breathing deepen.
‘Waste not want not,’ she laughed slowly, his hand still in hers. Now, looking straight into his eyes, she took each of his oily fingertips softly, silently, just inside her mouth, one by one, well aware that this time she had stopped his breathing altogether.

Okay - there's a lot more that happens with those two and the olive oil on the picnic rug, but that's all I'm letting you know about for now!
I'm at 32,500 words or so, so I'll be romping across the finish line by Friday, I think!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

A new page, a new era: HOWARD HAS GONE! Woo-hoo! Wish I was home right now!

Friday, 23 November 2007

Booking through Thursday

This meme takes a different tack this week, linking to this blog post, whose author, Joanna, and co-contributor Brad are asking about “connecting words,” and they don’t mean conjunctions like “and” or “but.” No, what they’re looking for are unique, or treasured words that we’ve found out and about in our daily travels, words that might not be common usage, or often heard, but which struck a chord for some reason.

Being Australians in the US, almost everything we say seems to make people laugh, or scratch their heads. Our vernacular uses a lot of irony, is broad and nuanced, and hard to explain to non-Australians. We use colourful expressions that need translating occasionally, such as 'beaut', 'chuck a yewie (make a U-turn)', and 'it's my shout, mate (it's my turn to buy you a drink, buddy)'. And we get into trouble occasionally with words like 'pissed', which here means cross and in Australia means drunk; and 'root', which is something Americans do for their teams and in Australia is having sex (not very nicely).

One of the best Australian words, and one which is so useful and charged with meaning back home, is dag/daggy. Nerds in stretch pants and cardigans are daggy. Daggy means naff, unfashionable, unstylish. The literal definition of a dag is a matted piece of wool, usually flyblown and dirty, that hangs off a sheep's rear end.

:: At a weekly suburban paper I used to work for, we had a vocabulary of our own on production day. For example, if a story was a fraction short (or long) for its allotted space, it was 'a poofteenth out'; and a really strong headline was 'a grunter', or 'an overhead dick-dick'.

:: My family is originally from Norfolk, in the UK, and my grandmother, who was born in 1896, had some wonderful old expressions, which we still use at home. If the weather looked stormy, she would look at the sky and say, dramatically, 'It's dark over Will's mother's'.
If, as a child, I was curious and asked 'What's that?' or something of that nature, the answer would always be 'K-O-Y-H raspberries, and you're the first.' We still don't know what she meant!

:: Added later: My mother, who was from Southampton, would look at a stormy sky and say 'It's as black as Nooka's knocker.' Which may be some reference to the door of hell — we don't know.

:: PS: I'm adding this the next morning, as I forgot to mention how amused we were when we realised that many of the Americans here in Southern California had never heard of a fortnight, and couldn't even begin to guess its meaning. Such a common English word that we use without thinking.
:: I also use the exclamation 'struth!' a lot, which even makes Australians laugh. It is an old Australian expression that you don't hear much, except around me! I use it because it's also an old English expression — 'a contraction of God's truth' — and my Norfolk grandmother said it often. I think it was the strongest word in her vocabulary.
Another of her favourite expressions, of surprise, was 'Well, stone the crows and chase the cows!'
I miss her and her colourful turn of phrase.
I swear a lot, and my grandmother would be horrified. It also shocks Americans, I was very surprised to discover, so I quickly learned to tone it down, hence the usefulness of a well-placed struth!
Go mad!

I'm at 20,781 words this morning, but I'm stopping for a long lunch. See you later ...

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Sea-legging it
Last night, David and I were invited to a reception on board the Australian Navy ship, HMAS Sydney (pic above pinched from the RAN website - sorry, guys!). It was a fab little affair, with drinks and canapes and a great and very funny welcoming speech by the commanding officer in whch he equated his ship - a 134-metre-long guided missile frigate with a crew of about 220 - to a sort of blokey souped-up ute with a great big engine and some really fun weaponry.
The officers were all in their formal blues, having left their hats here ...

... which fascinated me. I guess that left both hands free to hold their beers! There were lots of women officers, which was good to see, and the CO explained that the ship was supposed to come with two helicopters, and he'd asked for them, but the navy had given them a band instead. So they put on a special ceremony just for us ...

... with swords, marching, drumrolls and a gun salute, to strike the White Ensign and announce sunset. Then we all sang Advance Australia Fair, with tears in our eyes, followed by the US anthem. The diminutive woman standing at the microphone on the far right of the pic above is the Sydney's gunnery officer - you can just see (if you click for a bigger image) all the gold on the end of her sleeves.
I found a young officer to show me where the loo was, and he took me halfway to the pointy end of the ship, led me inside the washroom and showed me the actual cubicle. I almost expected him to put the seat down for me. Then, once I emerged, he cheerfully led me back to the party. Such a gent!

:: It was all over at 8pm, so David and I hastened back to the Bondi to join our regular team, the Space Bars, for the quiz night. And one of our team members was a very polite young lad from Ohio, Daniel, who is a enlisted man on the USS Princeton ...

... (pic pinched from the US Navy website - sorry guys!). This is a slightly bigger (40 m or so) ship than the Sydney, a guided missile cruiser with about 600 on board. Daniel has been with our team for two weeks, but the Princeton sails soon, so we'll have to wait for him to get back to San Diego.

:: Thanksgiving tomorrow!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

My NaNo word count ...

... is a little over 18,400. And I'm sprinting - which involves writing in bursts of 20 minutes or so, interspersed with other activities. The 'plot' — and I use the term loosely! — is all over the place as a consequence, but hey! Quantity over quality.
I lost a half-day yesterday because David asked me to copy-edit some Bondi material. It was a pack for presenting to people wanting to book functions. Some of the dishes on the menu were a scream: grilled pork lion, chili muscles, and our favourite, snoked trout.
And you know what's weird? Do ya, huh? I've started to read The Historian (having abandoned the trashy Diana Gabaldon potboiler, Outlander, because it was so offensive and naff), and on about page 50 two Italian characters were introduced: Massimo and Giulia. And they live in Siena! Spooky kind of cosmic, huh?
I'm sounding so Californian all of a sudden ...

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Tar babies

While we were in Los Angeles on Friday, we went for a look at the La Brea tar pits, which have fascinated David ever since he was a boy. They are an asphalt bog in the ritziest part of Los Angeles, famous for the hundreds of fossilised ice-age animals that have been hauled out of their sticky depths. A museum has been built there now.
Almost all of LA seems to be an oil field - there are those nodding-donkey drill things dotted all about the place. Natural asphalt still oozes from the ground in places near the tar pits, and this pond, which was an asphalt quarry at the turn of the 19th century ...

... has an oil-slick across its surface, which is broken every minute or so by the rumble of giant bubbles of methane that slurp their way up to the air from the murky depths.
The fossils they've found here, 10,000 to 40,000 years old, are fabulous: sabre-tooth tigers, mammoths and loads of plants.
A family of life-size replica mastodons has been installed in the pond just a few yards away from the whizzing traffic of Wilshire Boulevard.

:: We're off to a reception on board HMAS Sydney tomorrow night - fortunately it finishes at 8pm so we won't miss all the quiz night at the Bondi!

:: Dave is counting down the days until he can shave off his moustache (so are we). He's been growing it for Movember, a charity project to raise money for prostate cancer research. It'll end on Nov 30 with a party at Bondi, and the month's best mo will be judged by ... wait for it! ... one of the Village People.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Sounds like fun

This is another image from Hollywood - maybe the Stars get their dry-cleaning done here. And what do you reckon they fluff and fold? Do they clean it first?

:: I digress. It's a NaNo writing catch-up day for me, with tens of thousands of words to get down over the next few days. Having spent Friday in LA with Dave, staying in a friend's house in Westwood (Claremont to Beverly Hills's Peppie Grove), and all day yesterday hanging out with Lily and Will: talking, eating, playing music and watching the occasional episode of House; and then out for dinner last night at the Bondi, I'm in need of a day's solid word count.
We Nanoists had an encouraging email today from writer Neil Gaiman, exhorting us to keep going even though the bits we may be writing felt dull, didn't seem to be going anywhere, and deviated from our original sparkling plan (how right he is!).
We also had an email earlier in the week from the novelist
Sara Gruen (Water from Elephants), full of good advice on ways to get the word count up: write the exciting bits, write the parts that were fun - like the sex and the adventure - and then worry about the transitional stuff and the scene setting later, when we'd had a blast getting words down. Sara is writing with us - isn't that a scream?
So today, so I'm aiming to rattle off a couple of easy thousand. I'm sending our heroine off to a party, up at the Big House. She and Massimo, our earthy Italian squire, will end up hardly able to keep their hands off one another, so charged will the ambience be.
It's a lovely party, of course. It starts at twilight on the terrace behind the Big House, which is set high and looks over an olive grove that sweeps down to the river, and beyond to the cypress-spiked, vine-ridged and compound-adjectivally-described farmland on the opposite side of the valley. There's a band (with sax and strings), champagne is flowing, there are lanterns in the trees, everyone's in evening dress (Massimo, out of his jeans and in Armani/Zegna, looks even more rogerable), Harrison Ford hasn't put in an appearance yet (though he will, and he will be devastating ... but with someone, I think), the air is warm, the heroine's wearing silk, and there's plenty of eye contact and sexually-laden conversation. And, later, they are going to dance.
I wish I was there!

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Oh Leona! How could you?
David took me to gawp at Australian designer Leona Edmiston's boutique on Sunset Boulevard last night, not for her frocks, which are selling well, but because the last time he was there she had 'AUSTRAILIA' written on her front window - just like that.
Now her window is covered in quotes from famous quoters, and reviews of her stuff from Vogue et al, but I've never heard of this writer, have you?

Friday, 16 November 2007

My NaNoWriMo tally ...
... is 15,583 words today. And as today is officially halfway, that means I'm a little under 10,000 words short of where I ought to be. And that means I'll need to write 2295 words a day, every day, until the end of the month. Hmmm. I'm hanging in there!
Booking through Thursday

This week's question: how many of us write notes in our books? Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?
Definitely a preservationist. Through and through.
Though I do confess to having been so heartily pissed off about one slackly edited book that I started marking all the errors with a view to sending it back to the publisher and asking for a job (which I think I mentioned when the Thursday question was about attitudes to mistakes in books).
I will never, ever write anything in a book. I don't leave comments, corrections or marks in the margins.
I'll put my name on the fly-leaf if I'm lending a book to someone, but that's it.
That is not to say that I have not sinned.
At school, and at uni, we all used to write over the texts we were studying, imagining that one day we'd go through and rub out all our little translations and underlinings and notes.
It made us feel scholarly, I think, and part of a tradition - particularly at high school when we used school text books that had been through several hands and still bore their previous owners' arcane and faded commentaries.

I still have my old abused copies of uni texts with hideous pencil scrawls all through them. Ugh.
Thankfully, it was a habit peculiar to studying. My very own bought-by-choice books are sacrosanct.
Today (particularly since the invention of sticky Post-it notes), such treatment seems like vandalism.
I don't even like to break my paperback books' spines.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

New shoe-ettes

These will be for one of the other babies heading our way. They're experimental, so if they turn out, I'll show you how they look.
No more plot details - I can't bear it. Too, too bad. But I'm soldiering on - I'm trying to do 4000 words today so I'm catching up with where I should be. Everyone else is hovering around or just past 25,000, as we near the month's halfway point. I'm nowhere near that. Sigh!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Hot and bothered

A little over 9000 words so far - I got 3000 done today and will probably have to stick at this cracking pace to manage 50,000 by the deadline. Phew!
Sicco (as Karen so eloquently named him) has started feeling a little better. In my mind, he is looks a lot like Harrison Ford (left, a few years ago). So he's throwing her a lot of lopsided grins (just like that one). Which are having the same sort of effect on her as The Aubergine did when she was out in the sweet chestnut forest with Big Massimo.
Unfortunately, Big Massimo came back to the house triumphantly bearing a basket of veg (including the Aubergine) and discovered our heroine had a man in her bed, and he's - of course - got hold of completely the wrong end of the stick. So he's walked quietly back to The Big House for a manly sulk.
Meanwhile, Sicco has showered and cleaned his teeth (thank the lord) and, in spite of shaky pins, dehydration and not having eaten anything for 36 hours, is waltzing around the house wearing only a bath towel (heroine has washed the clothes he was wearing and left his suitcase out in the Fiat).
She stared at The Aubergine that had given her 'such a turn', acknowledging that she was overcome with l-u-s-t for Big Massimo, and has decided the best thing to do with it is get rid of it, so she's popped it into a moussaka (what else does anyone do with eggplant?).
So she's having a bit of a cook-up and thinking about how very, very sexy Massimo is in an earthy, musky sort of way, and how very very handsome Sicco is, in a very pale and interesting sort of way.
She's going to find herself hot and bothered and in a spot of real bother real soon - she hopes!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Shoes for Elle
I'm off to meet baby Elle for the first time this afternoon, so I've made her a tiny pair of felt slippers that will probably fit her for a day and a half!
They were great fun to make, and the pattern and very simple instructions (not much more than 'sew the bits together and decorate') can be found right here.
I started sewing on the machine, but the pieces were so tiny I ended up sewing by hand, which I always enjoy.
While I was finishing off this morning, I listened to a wonderful conversation with Barbara Kingsolver on BBC Radio 4, in which she talked all about The Poisonwood Bible, one of my all-time most admired books.

:: David and I went to the movies last night, and can thoroughly recommend Dan in Real Life, starring Steve Carell, who plays the Ricky Gervais character in the excellent American version of The Office. It's an entirely enjoyable romantic comedy, and one you could take your kids or your mother-in-law to see.
Most of the action takes place in a rambling, shambling wooden house right on the beach in Rhode Island - it looks gorgeous. We'll have to go east and see this part of the country. Afterwards, Dave remarked on how fantastic it would be to see rain like we'd seen in the film — a real drenching!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Back on track
Well, I managed about 2000 words yesterday on 'the novel', and, quite honestly chaps, I've no idea where I'm going with it.
My heroine started out all mousy and damaged and introspective. But now she's got a poisoned man staying with her (I still haven't given him a name) and, outside, in the sweet chestnut forest, she's just bumped into Massimo, from The Big House, who just loves getting his hands dirty. You see, he's just sidelined a great career (somewhere English-speaking) to return to the land of his ancestors and get elbow-deep again in Tuscan soil. Sigh.
And in so explaining, he hands our suddenly feisty (hate that word) heroine a simply fabulous, swollen, glossy, purple aubergine that, well, knocks her socks off! Or sets her mind reeling, or leaves her breathless. You get the picture.

Now, today's challenge is to get her to stop fondling the veggies and get back to the house and minister to the poor queasy fellow in her bed (she put him there for proximity to the loo; she's not in it with him, yet ...)
And who is she going to fancy more?
And should I, as I had intended, complicate matters even further by introducing Augusto, the urbane gallery owner from Rome, who wants to exhibit her squisito botanical watercolours (that will soon be turning very market-garden) in his fashionable little gallery somewhere near the Piazza Navona ... ?

Caps off to the Magnificent Seven

I promise I won't endlessly post video clips from YouTube, but I just had to share a laugh with you over the latest VB ad from Australia. For the uninitiated, VB is Victoria Bitter, one of the best and most popular beers in Australia. Unfortunately, we're not serving it at the Bondi because of distribution problems: we just can't get our hands on it.
After you've looked at the ad, you'll see a row of little screens at the bottom of the YouTube screens, and one of them on the right is all about how they made it.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

The Golden Compass

Oh, I just can't wait to see this movie, which opens on December 5 - brought to you by the same crowd who did The Lord of the Rings.
The trailer for The Golden Compass looks wonderful. Check it out ...

Happy birthday, Lily!

Lily, our daughter, turns 20 today. So now we have a son in his thirties, a daughter in her twenties and a son who is still a teenager. The pic at the top is of Lily as Frida Kahlo, for a Halloween party last week at her house in Olympia, WA, where she's at college. This pic, though, is my favourite of the two of us, and it was taken in Chicago two years ago - when Lily was still a mere teenager ...

Happy birthday, Lil - don't get too cold up there on Mt Rainier this weekend!

Friday, 9 November 2007

Booking through Thursday

Today's question:
Would you say that you read about the same amount now as when you were younger? More? Less? Why?
I read heaps more now, by choice, than when I was younger. And I owe it all to D.H. Lawrence and Australia.
As a kid in England in the early 1960s, I had a teacher who forbade us to read Enid Blyton, not because of the gollywog wars or Noddy's closet homosexuality, but because he said she was formulaic and snobby. Anyway, I did as I was told, and have very fond memories of The Borrowers, and Frances Hodgson-Burnett's two wonderful tales, The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, all of which I read with my mum.

High school had an incredible workload, and one or two hours' homework every night was normal. My first high school books, in Upper IIIE, were John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (what?!) and Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Heavy stuff for a ten-year-old, but a grand start, in hindsight.
From then on, we picked up speed and galloped through lots and lots of required reading. I can't remember all of it, but there was the usual line-up: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Goldsmith, Sheridan, Bunyan, Milton et al. Then there were French plays and novels, read and discussed in French, and Virgil's Aeneid and Caesar's Invasion of Britain in Latin.
I remember my friends reading plenty, but for me, there simply wasn't enough time for recreational reading. Plus all these books belonged to the school, so you never got to live with them for very long.
Epiphany came in Australia, in 1970, when my parents were shocked to discover they had to buy all our school textbooks and stationery when we enrolled at the local high school. So I came home with a fabulous pile of books and just started reading: Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence. This was 4th year high school and the theme of all the Eng.Lit. reading was childhood. So there were wonderful novels like Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Man Who Loved Children, Catcher in the Rye and The Go-between, and a heap of poems and short stories.
And there was a reprieve in French. In England we'd been studying Camus and Descartes; in Australia we read Asterix comics and Le Petit Prince. Piece of cake.

I had much more reading time, now, and Lawrence, I thought, was the most wonderful, wonderful, insightful, sensitive, best author in the whole world.
I've had my head in a book ever since.

Aw shuck, guys ...
Thanks for all your lovely comments and emails about 'The Novel'. I blush.
It is just an exercise, though, so don't expect too much!
Once you've signed up, NaNoWriMo asks you to categorise your work, and so it's going to be 'chick lit', though in a mindsurge of foolish ambition I started out shooting for 'mainstream lit', for which I attempted a Joycean stream-of-consciousness cathartic ramble that went on for about 1500 words and left me feeling like a stunned mullet, so I retreated to safer (lower) ground.
As my characters are my age, there really should be a category for 'chook lit'.
I've managed to get my woman and my man to meet -— and,
of course, they're in Siena! — and now I've gone and given the poor guy food poisoning, so there's lots of rushing off to the loo, and stopping the Fiat so he can throw up over the poppies, or in the sun-kissed olive grove. Really, I may not be cut out for this caper at all. It's going to be hard to get her to fancy him now she's seen him at his lowest ebb, and in a streak of realism, I've given her house dodgy electricity and dreadful plumbing ...

:: I've just finished reading this and I heartily recommend it.
It's the perfect combination of a great story, a little history, and lots of fascinating information about life on a train circus in Depression-era America.
There's a fantastic cast of eccentrics, as you would expect of its setting, and a far from ordinary main character with whom you can feel quite safe as the narrative takes you into the dog-eat-dog world of showmanship, poverty, prohibition, crime, corruption, madness and cruelty.
But it's far from unrelenting negativity. There's also a love story threaded through it all, providing much-needed warmth in the chilly world Ms Gruen has created so well.
This would be a great book club read - lots of themes, parallels and references to chew over.
(Please note Costco price sticker!).

:: David is growing a moustache as part of Movember, which raises money for prostate cancer research. All the Bondi guys seem to be doing it, so it's going to look very 1970s in there once growths start to mature. Dave's is looking pretty tatty at the moment - and there are still 22 days to go.
Dave's incipient mo makes him look like a cop (remember Homicide, and Matlock Police - Reno 911?), and I offered him $100 to shave it off, but he wouldn't be in it. I reckon this Movember lark gives guys a legitimate reason to try to grow a mo, and (a) see if they can, and (b) satisfy any curiosity they may have about how it might look and what colour it's going to be. Dave has silver-white hair and his mo is coming out the same colour as his eyebrows: dark. It's not a good look, but bless him.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Fortuny socks

At least, I have it in my head that these are Fortuny colours. This is the first sock of a pair for my dad, who has a pair I knitted for him and has worn no other socks since, so I thought he'd better have some more. This is lovely wool from Australia, and very fine, so these should be okay for summer, and not too hot.

:: Feeling a bit cloistered at the moment: writing my novel (!) is taking a lot of my thinking time (hence the knitting) and a lot of my other time as well. So everything else is on hold. But it's coming along. As soon as I finish this I shall be back to it and the churning will begin.

:: Now that I am a novelist (!), my day has completely changed. In the morning, I walk the dogs, tidy the kitchen and then settle down at the computer. In the afternoon, when Will is home, I do all the domestic stuff. Well, when I say, 'all the domestic stuff', I sort of mean tidying up and maybe vacuuming, or folding the washing. Nothing too strenuous! I do so hate housework. Hate it.

:: Off to the Bondi tonight for another of our famous quiz nights. Dave had a call from someone connected to the Australian Navy last week, saying HMAS Sydney was on its way to San Diego and to be prepared for 50 to 70 Australian seamen who were all dead keen on taking part in a true blue Aussie quiz night. So much fun!

Monday, 5 November 2007

Happy birthday, Mack!

It's our grandson's fourth birthday. Dave and I had a little chat with him on the phone before he was off to open presents. I miss him dreadfully! Now I'm hanging out for pics of the big day.

:: Didn't write a thing yesterday - so I'm about 5000 words behind already. What am I thinking?

Saturday, 3 November 2007

1, 2, 3 laugh

Okay - I'm supposed to tell you all that I'm writing a novel. That way, apparently, the fear of humiliation, should I collapse in a heap of failure, will keep the muse singing.
I have in fact enrolled in NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month (though it is international). The idea is that you banish all preciousness, rid yourself of any compunction over lack of finesse, and write like crazy all month, finally submitting 50,000 words by November 30.
That's 1666.66 recurring words every day, on average.
It will be crap, of course, and I am struggling against the very thing the organisers warn you not to do - go back and fiddle. The point is that you may end up with 50,000 words of arrant nonsense, or, if the stars are aligned properly and the muse isn't a con-man, the draft of something that could be tweaked into shape.
Either way, the goal is to write like the clappers, not to expect to produce a best seller, and have fun.
I managed almost 1000 words today. And yes - they are pretty bad! But, I must say I absolutely loved the discipline of it - a fresh page on Word, a comfy font, double-spacing ... and away I went.
More tomorrow ...

:: Speaking of finesse ... I bought a copy of Georgette Heyer's An Infamous Army (Sue M. recommended her books, and this was the only one on B&N) and get a load of the back cover blurb (you may need to double-click on the image to see it properly):

Miss Heyer would not be amused ...

Friday, 2 November 2007

November 1 - Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Booking through Thursday
This week's question is:
What with yesterday being Halloween, and all . . . do you read horror? Stories of things that go bump in the night and keep you from sleeping?
Horror is not one of my favourite genres because I'm too much of a wimp! That being said, I have read some wonderful scary stuff.
One of the best/worst was Magic, by William Goldman, the chilling story of a ventriloquist's dummy that ... I won't say any more because of you like horror and you haven't read this - you must! Just the mention of 'ventriloquist's dummy' sends a shiver up my spine after reading this.
I also thought The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris, was a fantastic thriller - fascinating but frightening. It's really worth a read even if you've seen the excellent movie.
I once watched a TV drama, The Woman in Black, which was, quite frankly, so utterly, completely terrifying that just thinking of it still gives me the heeby-jeebies if I'm at home alone at night. I mention this because I've been told that the book, by Susan Hill, is even more of a scare than its TV adaptation. So if you're up for it, give it a go!
The Saffron Kitchen

Hmmm. It took me far longer to read this short novel (257 pages) than it should have - a bad sign.
It's a good story - another mother and daughter drama, like William Boyd's Restless (with which this compares very unfavourably indeed).
Having been forcibly expelled from her home by her father, an Iranian woman attempts a happy sort of a life in London with, eventually, her English husband and their daughter. But, in middle age, after a crisis (which is unsatisfactorily explained), she is drawn inexorably back to her bleak, primitive village in the mountains, abandoning husband and daughter. Wanting to restore her family, and to know more about what has driven her mother to leave, the daughter follows her mother to Iran.

There's a love story, plenty of tension as we get some inclination of the mother's trying to reconcile her middle-eastern-ness with her middle-class English life, and some quite finely-drawn images of England and Iran.
But, you know, it just didn't do it for me. Which is a shame, because as an English-born Australian now living in the US, I'm a sucker for tales of displaced people.
Events that were actually milestones in the characters' lives were too quickly dealt with - in fact, there were problems with the pacing of the whole thing. It badly needed tempo changes.
While I did like the daughter, I'm confused about my attitude towards the mother, an immensely unlikable character whose failings, you feel, the author really intends you to understand and forgive.

And it irritated the bejaysus out of me that all the Iranian characters talked in language so overly lyrical and loaded with lesson, wisdom and intensity that it was almost biblical. In fact, much of the writing was awkward and uncomfortable, with oddities that jarred, like:
"Her face was full of anxiety and oily sweat."
"She returned his gaze as she always had, unblinking, each in their own stillness, as the children filed in."
"The shouts came from Bijan Ku'cheek, who clung to a hole in the wall as a stout woman tried to drag him towards the truck." (How can you cling to a hole?)
"Mashhad isn't how it was. It has no community anymore. they're even building an Underground. I think a way of life ends when people must travel in the dark, beneath the trees and the sky, to go about their day." (Groan.)
Enough said - on to better things.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Have a great day ...

... and a sugar-encrusted night! I'll be getting my lolly collection all ready. No Tootsie Rolls this year - last year all the trick-or-treat kiddies picked around them and I had about a kilo left, which almost saw the year out - until Mighty Max arrived from Australia and worked his way through 'em like a hero!

:: The image above I have reproduced with kind permission of Hello! Lucky cards, of San Francisco, whose fantastic greeting cards I snaffle whenever I see them in Trios, my favourite design store in Solana Beach.

:: I'd show you the pumpkins Will and I carved last night, but he's stuck them on the roof and you can only get to them by climbing out of his window. In keeping with the understandable tension here about fires, we put little battery-powered lights in them, specially designed for Halloween pumpkins, that flicker and gutter like the real thing.
Isn't 'gutter' a great word in candle parlance? I like it and will go directly to look it up and discover where it's come from.