Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Back from Melbourne

I arrived home from Melbourne last night. Had a fantastic week away, and really enjoyed the conference. It was also great to have the time with my mother.

I'll do a bit of a conference summary later, but in the meantime here's a pic:

L to R, Alexis Fleming, Jennie Adams, me, and Valerie Parv - at the conference dinner on Saturday night, which was good fun.

On Monday, Mum and I went out to visit my aunt in an outer suburb, and two of my cousins were also there, so it was great to catch up with them. Stephen is a wildlife artist - to see some great paintings, check out his website.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sad and happy

I heard this morning that a guy I know slightly hung himself on Sunday night. He was only 32 years old, a nice guy and a highly-regarded academic; what a tragic waste. I saw him just a few days ago - we smiled and exchanged a greeting in passing, as we normally did. We were only acquaintances, but it still hits hard. I keep picturing his face in my mind, and knowing that I'll never see it again keeps coming as a shock. I gather from the grapevine that a long-term, long-distance relationship he'd been in had recently ended, and it makes me very sad that, while men do care deeply about relationships, they far too often don't have the opportunity or the vocabulary that is meaningful to them to talk about the challenges and the pain.

On a lighter note, tomorrow morning I fly off to Melbourne, to attend the Romance Writers of Australia conference. I'm looking forward to it. I haven't been to Melbourne for years, and I haven't been to an RWAus conference before. I'm going a couple of days early, and my Mum is travelling down from Canberra to Melbourne tomorrow, too. She's not going to the conference (other than the Awards dinner on Saturday night) but we're sharing the hotel room and will do some things together in the non-conf time. As well as the conference, I'm looking forward to some quality time with her. My Mum is one special lady.

I'm doing a full-day workshop with Donald Maass on Friday, and three other workshops on the weekend - one on writing suspense, one on undercover cops, and one on historical romances for the UK market. Me? Excited?

I won't have much internet access for the next week - unless I find a handy internet cafe - so this blog is likely to be quiet. But I'll probably make up for it when I get back!

British top 100

The top 100 films in America has recently been doing the rounds, but I'd seen so few of them I didn't want to admit to it ;-) However This! Christine has just posted the British Film Institute's Top 100 films, and hey, I can bold a few of those! Mind you, there's a few that I saw on long-ago school holidays when our ABC used to show old movies at lunchtime, and I really can't remember much about them, but I'm sure I did actually watch them.

British Top 100 List

1. The Third Man (1949)

2. Brief Encounter (1945)

3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

4. The 39 Steps (1935)

5. Great Expectations (1946)

6. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

7. Kes (1969) Good movie, better book, but not up there to see if you're already feeling depressed.

8. Don't Look Now (1973)

9. The Red Shoes (1948)

10. Trainspotting (1996)

11. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

12. If... (1968)

13. The Ladykillers (1955)

14. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

15. Brighton Rock (1947)

16. Get Carter (1971)

17. The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

18. Henry V (1944)

19. Chariots of Fire (1981)

20. A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

21. The Long Good Friday (1980)

22. The Servant (1963)

23. Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994) First movie I saw with Hugh in it, before I realised he plays Hugh in everything.

24. Whisky Galore! (1949) Good fun

25. The Full Monty (1997) More good fun

26. The Crying Game (1992)

27. Doctor Zhivago (1965)

28. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) We're all individuals!!

29. Withnail and I (1987) Saw it in a movie theatre when it first came out, and I'm sure half the audience was smoking 'herbal' cigarettes. But it was one of those movies - and fun, it a weird, twisted kind of way.

30. Gregory's Girl (1980)

31. Zulu (1964)

32. Room at the Top (1958)

33. Alfie (1966)

34. Gandhi (1982)

35. The Lady Vanishes (1938)

36. The Italian Job (1969)

37. Local Hero (1983) Enjoyed - and the music was great

38. The Commitments (1991)

39. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) Brilliant. The whole cast were just perfect.

40. Secrets & Lies (1995)

41. Dr. No (1962)

42. The Madness of King George (1994)

43. A Man For All Seasons (1966)

44. Black Narcissus (1947)

45. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) Good.

46. Oliver Twist (1948)

47. I'm All Right Jack (1959)

48. Performance (1970)

49. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

50. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) Meh

51. Tom Jones (1963)

52. 'This Sporting Life' (1963)

53. 'My Left Foot' (1989)

54. 'Brazil' (1985)

55. 'The English Patient (1996)

56. 'A Taste of Honey' (1961)

57. 'The Go-Between' (1970)

58. 'The Man in the White Suit' (1951)

59. 'The Ipcress File' (1965)

60. 'Blow-Up' (1966)

61. 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' (1962)

62. 'Sense and Sensibility' (1995)

63. 'Passport to Pimlico' (1949)

64. 'The Remains of the Day' (1993)

65. 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday' (1971)

66. 'The Railway Children' (1970)

67. 'Mona Lisa (1986)

68. 'The Dam Busters' (1955)

69. 'Hamlet" (1948)

70. 'Goldfinger' (1964)

71. 'Elizabeth' (1998)

72. 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips' (1939)

73. 'A Room with a View' (1985) I took my mother, hoping to persuade her to send me on a finishing tour to Italy - I even have a spinster cousin who would have been happy to chaperone ;-) Alas, it was not to be.

74. 'The Day of the Jackal' (1973)

75. 'The Cruel Sea' (1952)

76. 'Billy Liar' (1963)

77. 'Oliver!' (1968) Musical Version

78. 'Peeping Tom' (1960)

79. 'Far From the Madding Crowd' (1967)

80. 'The Draughtsman's Contract' (1982)

81. 'A Clockwork Orange' (1971)

82. 'Distant Voices Still Lives' (1988)

83. 'Darling' (1965)

84. 'Educating Rita' (1983) Excellent

85. 'Brassed Off' (1996)

86. 'Genevieve' (1953)

87. 'Women In Love' (1969)

88. 'A Hard Day's Night' (1964)

89. 'Fires Were Started' (1943)

90. 'Hope and Glory' (1987)

91. 'My Name Is Joe' (1998)

92. 'In Which We Serve' (1942)

93. 'Caravaggio' (1986)

94. 'The Belles of St. Trinian's' (1954)

95. 'Life Is Sweet' (1990)

96. 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

97. 'Nil by Mouth' (1997)

98. 'Small Faces' (1995)

99. 'Carry On Up The Khyber' (1968)

100. 'The Killing Fields' (1984) Remind me never to say that my life is tough.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


The dinner cruise out of Darwin harbour was wonderful - perfect evening, sunset and close to full moon, and superb, freshly cooked seafood.

It's a tough life, but somebody has to do it ;-)

Friday, August 19, 2005


I'm in Darwin. It's warm. Can't believe I'm wearing a short-sleeved shirt in August. There's a US Navy ship in port, and the town is booked out - lots of tired looking young men around this morning, and lots of raucous ones last night.

I have the whole day to fill in as my plane doesn't leave until 1.30am. This evening I'm going on a dinner cruise on the harbor in a sailing ship - one of the other women here for the meeting I went to is coming with me.

I did look at day tours but as we're talking Northern Territoy and vast distances, most of the interesting (Kakadu, Katherine) ones left at 6.30am. I rarely do 6.30am, and definitely not after only having 5 hours sleep the night before. (Plane times from Sydney to Darwin are mad - plane didn't get in until 11.30pm, and of course my luggage was the last off.)

The sun is shining, the weather is beautiful, and I'm heading off to do some sailor-watching sight-seeing research.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Fwapping away again

At 3.30 this afternoon, the boss asked if I could go to Darwin tomorrow. He was supposed to go but now can't, and none of the other team members can go. So, I'm flying off tomorrow lunchtime.

For those who don't know their Australian geography, Darwin is half a continent away. Next door to Crocodile Dundee country. It's also hot. They have two seasons - hot and dry, and hot and wet. I'll be going from one of the coldest places in Australia to one of the hottest.

I'll have a whole two days in Darwin - one taken up with meetings, the other one free to wander around (assuming I've recovered enough from late night flights).

I'm looking forward to it - I enjoy travelling, and I've only been to Darwin once before, about 17 years ago. I haven't currently got any ideas for novels set in Darwin, but I'm sure I'll come up with one or two while I'm there ;-)

I won't be taking the laptop, though - just the good old fashioned paper and pen - so this blog will be quiet for a few days. Unless you all decide to have a party in the comments while I'm gone ;-)

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Belfry Collective blog

My amazing critique group, The Belfry Collective, has started a group blog, and today was my turn to post.

So, hie on over to the Belfry Blog

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Sentimental blokes

Yer-weddid-wife?" ... O, strike me! Will I wot?
Take 'er? Doreeen? 'E stans there arstin me!
As if 'e thort per'aps I'd rather not!
"I will," I sez. An' tho' a joyful shout
Come from me bustin' 'eart - I know it did -
Me voice got sorter mangled comin' out,
An makes me whisper like a frightened kid.
"I will," I squeaks...
Lying in bed this morning in the relaxed, cosy, dreamy state of an unhurried Saturday morning, I was thinking about male writers and romantic themes and I realised that, for all the rough, tough, laconic image of Australian males, there are some wonderful romantic stories written by them that have happy endings.

The quote above is from CJ Dennis' The Sentimental Bloke, a story in verse first published in 1915. The narrator of the book is a larrikin, a rough young man from the back streets of Melbourne, hovering, at times, on the edge of the law (his best mate, Ginger Mick has frequent 'stoushes' with the cops.) And then he meets Doreen... They're wonderful poems, written by a man about a bloke who falls head over heels, and have been popular for ninety years. I have fond memories of my Dad, when we were young, reciting the poem above, 'Hitched'. He can probably still recite it, word for word ;-)

D'Arcy Niland's Call Me When the Cross Turns Over (1957) is another book with a strong romantic theme and a positive ending. Barbie Cazabon 'was brought up in a man's world. She was dug out of this country and she'd be dug into it.' Jack 'Fascinatin' Kippilaw is a fighter, and the Human Buckjumper. The 'Cross' of the title is the Southern Cross, the constellation of stars, vivid in the night sky of the Outback in which Barbie travels. It's a great book, written by a man who spent years himself working and travelling in the Outback and the rural regions of Australia.

Then there's Jill and Guy Hamilton in Christopher Koch's The Year of Living Dangerously. And Neville Shute's A Town Like Alice, where prisoner-of-war Joe almost gets killed for stealing a chicken for the wandering group of women prisoners in Malaysia, and later goes halfway across the world to find Jean Paget when he discovers, years later, that his 'Mrs Boong' was never married, as he'd believed.

To be honest I haven't read a lot of more contemporary male Australian authors (Patrick White, Thomas Keneally, Tim Winton etc haven't really appealed to me), but certainly in the 50s and 60s Australian mainstream fiction, romantic themes, and male writers seemed to get along just fine.

(And I did mention that I managed to write this post without rereading the entirety of Call Me When the Cross Turns Over - but only just ;-) Did I mention it's a great book?)

Friday, August 12, 2005

Long weekend

It's Friday night, and I'm having Monday off, so that means I've got three whole days ahead of me to write.

Okay, so it won't actually be three whole days - tomorrow morning the DH and I are going to Guyra, about 60km away. Guyra's a much smaller town than ours, but it has a wonderful wool shop, and our town no longer has one. I need some circular knitting needles for a jacket I'm knitting, and a ball of yarn to use as contrast heel and toes on some socks I'm knitting.

This is, however, writing related, because strange though it may seem, knitting socks helps me write. Yes, yes, I know it's crazy, but I don't write fast, I write thoughtfully, and giving my hands something to do while I'm staring at the screen occupies the bit of the mind that wants to be 'busy' and stops my fingers from clicking on the web browser, or the email, or anything that takes me away from the wip. I can only knit plain things while writing, and socks are perfect - plus I get bonus hand knitted (and often handspun) socks, which I luurrve. The current socks are a variegated commercial yarn, but there are two balls of handspun merino that are telling me to hurry up and free up the needles.

So, a trip in the countryside up to Guyra, lunch with the DH in the cafe there, and then home to write. And knit. For three days.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I worked out how to do pictures...

Jaffa, The Princess Dog, was looking particularly cute last night.

(If she was a heroine in one of my stories, she'd have to be a Princess. Her sister, on the other hand, would be a Bombshell heroine.)

Reading characters

It no longer surprises me how two people can read the same book and come away with two totally different views of it. Because of this, I rarely take much notice of book reviews. If there's one thing that I've learned over the years, it's that reading is a very subjective process and that we bring our own interpretations to everything.

For about ten years, I ran a lot (well over a hundred) of selection skills workshops for a number of organisations - mostly two-day workshops. Before I seriously turned my hand to writing novels, I created characters for the practical exercises in these workshops and wrote detailed job applications based on those characters. Workshop participants, in groups, considered a set of three applications and had to decide which applicants they would invite to interview - and justify their decisions in terms of the selection criteria for the job.

Easy, right? Each group is considering the same set of information, using the same criteria.

Um.... no. In just about every single workshop, each group of 3 or 4 people came up with entirely different choices. And not just for one set of applications. I created others, for different characters, for different positions - and the same thing happened. Individuals and groups interpreted exactly the same information in VERY different ways. Administrative assistants, scientists, managers, academics: no matter what the position, one group would think applicant A was the most brilliant, perfect applicant - and another group in the same room would think that Applicant A wasn't worth the three seconds taken to discount them. And so on for each applicant.

Granted, I'd carefully created each character and application so that there were both strengths and weaknesses, but the interpretations and assumptions that were made about the applicants were amazing. They were always very effective exercises, of course, because they DID demonstrate very clearly that our reading of such things is incredibly subjective - and I used that to then teach techniques to make the selection process less subjective.

I learned a lot from those exercises myself. Firstly, that I enjoyed creating characters and was good at it - it was wonderful to see, time and again, senior managers and university academics (NOT the world's most excitable people!) getting excited about characters I'd written, and thoroughly enjoying the exercises. That really gave me the encouragement to seriously try writing. But secondly, I learned that no matter how much you give people, things will always be open to interpretation, and that often people will 'see' your characters quite differently to how you envisaged them.

Yes, it's true that there's a lot more scope in a novel to reveal your character than there is in a job application, but you only have to read a range of reviews of the same novel to see that the truth still holds - the reader will always interpret through their own lenses of assumption, preference, and experience.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Canberra bushfire legacy

I'm back from Canberra - tired, but glad I went. It was good to have some time with the family.

Canberra is a beautiful city, known as the 'Bush capital' because it is surrounded by wild space including the huge wilderness area of Namadgi National Park to the west of the city. Just on the edge of the city were large (non-native) pine plantations. I grew up there, spending much time in the national park, at the Cotter River reserve, visiting the Observatory at Mt Stromlo, and walking in the extensive pine forests.

In January, 2003, a huge bushfire swept through Namadgi, then through the pine forests - on a day that was so hot and dry and windy that the firestorm raced through 15 kilometres of bush and pine forest in about 20 minutes - and then destroyed 500 homes not far from where my parents live and where I grew up. I wasn't there at the time, but I spoke on the phone to my parents as they were preparing the house in case of flyng embers, when fires were only 2 streets away. Fortunately, the wind was blowing those particular flames away from them - but embers from the fires destroying homes (including my cousins' and some friends) a suburb away were dropping all around them.

I've been down to Canberra a few times since, and I can't get used to the changed landscape. It's hard to describe to those who have never seen the city, because its design is unique, but in the areas I travel most, from my parent's place to the city, or to the northern suburbs, you travel around the edge of the city - through what were once pine forests. And now there's nothing but wide empty space, and tiny fledgling seedlings. In the bush areas, the gum trees (eucalypts) are regenerating, but it's not the same as it was - and the mountains to the west, which I always loved catching glimpses of, you can now see more often - except they look grayer and... different. When I was down there last year, I went into Namadgi National Part, and walked around for a while, and although there was new leaf growth on the trees, many hadn't survived the intense heat, and the new growth on those that had was close to the main trunks, with ghostly, dead outer branches. And it was very, very quiet - the wildlife populations were drastically affected by the blaze and the destruction of habitat and food.

I love those areas, the way it was, and I feel the loss of them. I can't get used to the strangeness of it. The land will recover - is recovering - but it will take time, and some places will be forever changed.