I talk to animals

Jack not eating my face off

I talk to animals.  Maybe I should be more specific.  You see, I don’t go around to any old worm, ant or cockroach asking them how their day is going.  No, I’m much more selective with my Doctor Dolittle tendencies.  My dog, Jack, for example.  <—-That’s him, over there to the left. The one with the crazyman eyes looking like he’s about to eat my face off (It’s not his best angle).  Yep, he’s worthy of the kind of Homo sapien to beast exchange I might participate in.  And in case you were wondering, yes, he does on occasion talk back.

You see, I’m that person who walks into a pet store and believes that every cute, little non-toilet-trained ball of fur is looking at me, and only me, begging to be taken home.  I’m fairly sure I was the nightmare child that begged and begged for a puppy, a kitten or a hamster.  One time I believe I actually hid my auntie’s new puppy down my jacket and hid in the back seat of the car for a reasonable amount of time thinking my ploy a great success.  Which, of course, it wasn’t.  Ahh, my days as a 7 year old dog snatcher now long passed, and yet I still have not grown out of my animal talking ways.

Jack and I have some good ol’ yarns.  He usually monopolises the conversation, telling me how much he needs a scratch behind the ears, shouting at me for not paying him enough attention for the last hour, telling me how happy he is to see me in the morning after 7 or 8 hours of no play.  Yep, Jack and I, we are quite the intellectual conversationalists.

Anyway, there is a point to this animal talking admission.  I realise that together with my post about talking trees you may be starting to wonder if I’m actually a bit of a loony, escaped from the crazy house, slightly ‘unhinged’. Yes?  Well, rest assured I’m about to defend my stark raving madness.  The fantasy fiction buff that I am, I’ve always noticed how many writers in this genre incorporate some affinity for animals in their stories.  Whether it be an ability to understand and talk to animals, or where the animals are spiritually connected to their human protagonists, or simply conveying a love and caring for animals as pets or companions.

I know that one prevalent convention of the fantasy genre is that the main character is often isolated or cut off from society in some way.  Harry Potter had his friends but they couldn’t always be with him or go through the trials he undertook.  And so there was his owl, Hedwig, to keep him company.  In the Farseer Trilogy series that I’m reading at the moment (see my previous post) some people have the ability to talk and bond to animals.  The main character, Fitz, is one of these people, and again, is in many ways detached from society.  His animal bonds offer him the companionship and friendship that he cannot find in the human company he keeps.  In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials every human has a daemon, which is essentially a person’s soul in the shape of an animal.  Isobelle Carmody is another animal lover, advocating, in her Obernewtyn Chonicles, for animals in such a way that a horse must agree and be willing to carry a rider.  Where animals are not owned or considered pets, but exist as equals amongst humans.

I’m sure there are many more examples, but I wonder at this manifestation of animal equality and the many stories whereby the humans have the ability to speak to animals.  Does it stem from some guilt at the maltreatment of animals over the centuries? Or is it some inner, subconscious response to a desire to realise such a possibility?  Perhaps I’m just looking to substantiate my predisposition to talking to animals.  Who knows?  What I do hope, is that in the very least it results in an awareness of animals – not so much as to offer them a seat at the dining table perhaps, but as living things just as worthy of the respect and decency that we expect for ourselves.

Jack says it’s time to play.  The beast has spoken.

~storytelling nomad~

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J.K. Rowling on the importance of failure (via Alec Nevala-Lee)

She really knows her stuff ol’ J.K….

J.K. Rowling on the importance of failure Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. Th … Read More

via Alec Nevala-Lee

My love affair continues…

Assassin's Quest - Robin Hobb

I think I’m in love.  The subject of my affections? Robin Hobb and her Farseer Trilogy. It’s a fairly recent love affair but I can just tell it’s going to stand the test of time.

I only yesterday started the final book in the series, Assassin’s Quest, so perhaps this might be a little preemptive, but honestly, I simply couldn’t imagine being disappointed by this writer.  She has such an economical use of language, nothing too flowery or long-winded, and yet the writing is still so amazingly colorful, intelligent and imaginative.  While I was waiting for Assassin’s Quest to arrive in the mail from The Book Depository, I started on another of her series – The Rain Wild Chronicles, and although I missed Fitz, the Fool and Burrich from The Farseer Trilogy, I found her writing equally impressive.  Not to mention, all her books have been recently re-released with beautiful covers, and although you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, feel free to judge away with these.

These books really have been a pleasure to read…easy reading without the simplicity.  It’s not one of those books where you find yourself reading a paragraph over and over to make sure you’ve understood what is going on (insert frustration here), but neither does it make the mistake of underestimating its readers’ intellect.  I believe these books to be an excellent example of how to ‘show not tell’, a writing principle that makes all the difference in a good book.

I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre…and even to those who don’t.  This is not a point-your-wand/alohamora/Hogwarts type fantasy, for anyone out there put off by that sort of thing.  It’s fantasy for adults, a story of intrigue, loyalty and a boy’s often agonising journey to becoming a man.

In conclusion, read it! You know you want to…

~storytelling nomad~

Hello! I’m a word snob.

Ok, so I admit, I’m a word snob.  I don’t know how it happened really, but happened it did.  Perhaps it was the years of learning foreign languages, discovering that the slightest error in spelling or structure could completely change the intended meaning of a sentence.  Perhaps it was my mum (hi mum!) encouraging me as a little girl to read as many books as possible to improve my vocabulary, resulting in my paying particular attention to all the “big” words I didn’t recognise.  It’s just as possible that my early days winning spelling bees in English class gave me an irrational sense of authority over my other illiterate 5 year old class mates.  Whatever the reason, here I am today, a word snob.

But what is a word snob? I hear you ask.  Well, I’m pretty much that really annoying person that can’t help but point out when it should be their not they’re, or your not you’re.  I’m the one sing-songing “i before e, except after c!” and explaining the difference between than and then, too and to.  On the occasion that I read over my own work and notice one of these errors I find I am disgusted with myself.  How could you Katy?  Go sit in the naughty corner and think about your actions.  There really is no stopping my word snob ways.

Some people have told me to get a life, that “what does it matter as long as you get my meaning?” Well sir, I beg to differ! Our ancestors spent the time and energy transforming speech to text and I like to show some respect by at least getting it right.  I find nothing more irritating when I’m reading than seeing a to where there should be a too.  Yes, I get the meaning and know what it should be, but just by being there it has distracted me from the story.  It has me wondering, “how much were they paying this editor? Surely in all the proofreads and edits somebody should have picked this up?!” And then I reproach myself for making such an assumption and move on to; “well maybe it was a kazilion times worse before and the author doesn’t really know her to‘s from her too‘s and in actual fact the editor has done a brilliant job making it as good as it is.”  Whatever the case may be, when I’m thinking about this sort of stuff it means I’m not paying attention to actually reading and getting lost in my book…and that makes Katy a sad girl.

So, to avoid being the absolute nazi word snob that I have, on occasion, been known to be around my friends, I have found a means to vent my frustration amongst like-minded people.  I’m currently studying a Diploma of Book Editing, Proofreading and Publishing, and I swear to God it’s like the Where’s Wally for word snobs such as myself.  I get to use my trusty red pen, hunt down and assassinate those oversights and misprints like the trigger happy cowgirl that I am.  And then I get congratulated and given a mark for how many I take out. Pow Pow!

In my most recent tutorial, however, I came across a discussion that turned into a bit of a dilemma for me.  The rules were vague and I didn’t know what was right or wrong. Wordsmith ancestors! How could you let me down like this!? The matter in question was the use of further vs farther*, with the discussion question:

It has become common usage in Australia (and around the world) to use ‘further’ in place of ‘farther’.  Do you think you should correct this usage in proofreading jobs for all texts?  What do you think is appropriate?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I understand that the change and evolution of language is inevitable and often necessary, but am also a great advocate for preserving language for the benefit of future generations.  Just because a word is perhaps easier voiced, written or remembered than its original (the current trend in acronyms comes to mind: lol, omg) I don’t believe it should supersede it, as the origins of words can be lost this way and with them pieces of the history of language.  In researching the origins of further and farther, I found that they are simply variants of the same word, later distinguished as having slightly different meanings, so if either were to ultimately replace the other, it would probably make little difference to the history or future of language.  And yet, I am still inclined to differentiate between the two while a vague rule still exists.  Is this irrational behaviour, I ask myself?  Surely if the two are becoming more widely interchangeable then it wouldn’t really matter.  But then again, isn’t that just laziness?

We have so many words for each of the colours in the rainbow; the colour blue can be aqua, midnight, turquoise, baby blue, kingfisher blue…each offering a variation of the same colour.  Surely it’s the same for all words in language, with each slight variation offering a deeper understanding of the intended meaning within the text.  I mean, we could just stick with blue after all, but how boring would that be?  When I see words such as quite and quiet used interchangeably, despite their difference in meaning being greater than further/farther, I would not ignore the misspelling simply because it is common and their differences misunderstood or ignored.  Surely if there is some confusion over the use of a word, the more practice people are given, the more they will understand the differences within their appropriate contexts.  One thing I’m almost certain of is that negligence is not the answer to ignorance.

So when is it okay for language to evolve? For OMG to replace Oh my God? For further to vanquish farther? How long do we hold on to the doeth’s, the thou art’s of our ancestors? When does it become necessary to let the younger generations make language their own? And how important is it to preserve what we already have?

*farther is used for physical distance (How much farther?) and further for metaphorical, or figurative distance (I need to look further into this).

~storytelling nomad~

Beginnings and Endings

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”– J. Pierpont Morgan

And so ends my first official week as a blogger.  23 posts, 13 subscriptions and over 500 hits later and I’m feeling pretty darn happy with my efforts (read: I’m awesome).  I even surprised myself in posting something every day for 8 consecutive days, an idea which I initially scoffed at.  I saw all the enthusiastic bloggers setting themselves a-story-a-day target, blogs about writing more, about writing every day, advocating to simply write write write and I thought to myself, ahh wouldn’t it be nice to have that much to say.  And yet, against all odds here I am, with my post a day and you as my witnesses that it actually happened.

Which brings me to what I have enjoyed most about this week: the comments and the feedback from fellow bloggers.  Oh! How my day improves when I receive that automated wordpress email, congratulating me that someone has enjoyed my post enough to click the ‘Like’ button.  I’ve been a uni student for quite some time now, and so admit to enjoying the guilty pleasure of being told, in writing, that I’m doing something right. High Distinction, 90%, good work, congratulations.  I don’t care how it comes, I just know I like it when it does. So sue me.  But for so long, writing has been more of a private passion for me, not something I was likely to share with anybody until it was perfect, until my best-seller was finished and ready to hit the shelves…and so feedback was evidently few and far between.  The self doubt was starting to get out of hand and I was ready to believe the little devil on my shoulder – that yes, my writing is rubbish and really there is no point even carrying on with this nonsense.

But alas, dear bloggers! You have renewed in me a confidence to carry on with the art, to make it better and to do exactly what I scoffed at in disbelief just one week ago … write write write.

~storytelling nomad~

My fictitious confrontation in hell

Today I received a text from a good friend which read as follows: Random Question for the Day – If you’re in hell and someone pisses you off, where do you tell them to go? My first reaction, was oh sh*t, what have I done? Followed quickly by the recollection of her telling me recently that she had begun each day asking people a random question, with the simple hope of being entertained by creative responses due to the nature of the questions.  So, in the hope of providing maximum entertainment to her well thought out question, I started thinking about where I would tell my arch nemesis to go if we were both in hell together.

Firstly, I tried to picture the subject of my planned fictitious torment. My mind drew a blank. I’m lucky enough to say that there’s no one I would wish anything truly evil on, having always lived by the philosophy that if someone is a negative influence on your life, then remove them.  Not in the hire an assassin/late night alleyway/exchange of paper bags filled with money kind of way.  Just, you know, distance yourself from them before they can do any real damage.  Result: sunshine and rainbows!

So, that was the unfortunate beginning to my life as a misery inflicting tormenter.  In an endeavour to create an evil fiend worthy of such disdain, I tried to imagine why said fiend would be in hell in the first place.  What gets you to hell these days? I’m guessing the ol’ lying, cheating, stealing, not being good to thy neighbour rules still apply in this century, yes? So far, I think I have just sent every interesting person on Earth to hell.  Doesn’t seem so bad.  Okay, so maybe the puppy haters will narrow it down a bit.  Yeah, that’s more like it, you monsters! What about a puppy hating, brussel sprout eating (I don’t care how good they are for you), planet polluting, illiterate half wit? Voila, one evil fiend ready to go.

So here we are, me and my evil fiend, hanging out in hell, and he happens to piss me off…he is evil after all.  I can’t say “go to hell”, for obvious reasons, which brings me back to the primary purpose of this rambling: what contemptible, but witty, response do I give him?  Now, I’ve thought about this a great deal since receiving that text earlier today, and I’ve come to the conclusion that no words in this reality could probably do the puppy hating, brussel sprout eating (again, I don’t care how good they are for you), planet polluting, illiterate half wit any real justice or the harm that he deserves.  Maybe I’m just too nice to think up an appropriate quip to measure up to his dark demonic ways.  Maybe I need to read some more in the way of crime and horror stories.  Maybe I am just smart enough to realise that being a jerk was probably what got him there in the first place, and in assuming hell is a pretty big place with all the sinners up here, I could probably stick with my current passive aggressive tendencies and just find some other hot flaming corner to hang out in.

Or…

I could impale him with a hot burning rod of fire screaming “die, jerk, die!” and see what he has to say about that?  I didn’t, after all, have to account for my own presence in hell…

~storytelling nomad~

My favourite place: Planet Earth

I consider myself lucky to have been given the opportunity from a young age to see a bit of the world.  It has made me appreciate not only what is beyond my own front yard, but has also made me recognise that you don’t need to cross oceans to find beauty in a place.  It amazes me how often people are so keen to travel overseas when some of the most celebrated destinations are just around the corner from their own home.  Such is life, it seems, that we always want what we don’t have.  I have included below four of my favourite photos, from places I have been that have taken my breath away.

The first, in the motherland, also known as England and the place of my birth, was taken from the bathroom window of my Aunt and Uncle’s early one morning just after Christmas.  Everything – the ground, the trees, the sky – was white, and it was absolutely breathtaking.

The second looks over the water at St. Helens, Tasmania.  Tasmania is grossly underrated for its beaches, which are some of the most beautiful I have seen in Australia.  The weather may be cooler than say in the Whitsundays, but the pristine crystal clear waters, definitely give Whitehaven Beach a run for its money.  Considering Tasmania is so often recognised as ‘the island’, it’s beyond me why people are surprised by the amount of beaches it has to offer.

Moving on to Venice.  I love that place so much I’ve been there three times.  It really is the most unique tourist attraction in the world.  There is no one monument, place or exhibition that draws you there, it is just the city itself.  Simply walk down any street that doesn’t head directly for the Piazza San Marco and you won’t be surprised to find yourself lost and alone…which frankly, is the best way to explore Venice.

And, finally, a place very close to my heart is Amalfi, along the Amalfi Coast of Italy.  It has to be my favourite place in Italy, quite possibly in the world.  Although, be warned, I may be slightly biased.  See my travel story Belonging in the Published Stories section to find out why.

English Countryside (view from my Aunt & Uncle's house one winter)

St Helens, Tasmania

Canals of Venice, Italy

Sunrise in Amalfi, The Amalfi Coast, Italy

~storytelling nomad~

“F*ck you Autumn!”

"f*ck you Autumn!"

I’m pretty sure, to the point of being certain, that this tree is saying “F*ck you Autumn”.  Not that I often go around assuming the private conversations or filthy language of inanimate objects, but, well, this one really seemed to be trying to say something.  While the other trees are fighting Autumn with their still lush greens, and others embracing it with their warm reds and golds, this one right here, this one is not having any of it.  I believe it transpired as follows:

***

Mr. Tree: What’s this?  I seem to be changing colour.  My leaves are drying up and I’m getting quite the draft up my lower trunk.

Fellow Tree: But of course!  The sunny season is withdrawing and we now prepare for the big white. Welcome to what the tiny two leggers call Autumn! It seems you are an early bloomer Mr. Tree.

Mr. Tree: It gets worse?!

Fellow Tree: Oh yes, but look how handsome you are.  You wouldn’t happen to be free for a sway in the breeze later would you?

Mr. Tree: Huh? Look, I’m really freaking out about this big white, slash, Autumn business you’ve just dumped on me.  What use am I like this?! How can I shade the tiny two leggers, or house the little flying animals that sing, or filter the air? This is really inconvenient you know.

Fellow Tree: Just go with it Mr. Tree.  You look hot.

Mr. Tree.  I’m not hot.  I’m bloody cold, and now you’re telling me it’s going to get worse.  Well, F*ck you Autumn.  I’m not interested in any of this in between nonsense.  I want to be at my best dammit! [Cue shedding of leaves]

Fellow Tree: *gasp* But Mr. Tree! What have you without your looks?!

Mr. Tree: My dignity!

***

I sympathise with Mr. Tree, I really do.  I often feel that if I can’t be my best, show my worth and exhibit my finest leaves, then well, I’d rather not show anything at all.  I think this often makes me try harder, and attempt to better myself and my writing, because I only want to be my best.  But what I often forget, like Mr. Tree, is that sometimes, even when you’re not at the top of your game, someone out there like Fellow Tree, might appreciate it and even on occasion like it more for what it is.  So, even though I respect Mr. Tree for wanting to be his best, for defending his dignity, I do believe it’s just as important to embrace the ‘flaws’, the bits in between greatness and defeat. After all, someone out there might just love you for it.

N.B. No trees were harmed in the making of this story.

~storytelling nomad~

Bones of the wicked

I had a crack at the Word Pool exercise I mentioned earlier in the week (see Stuck for Ideas?).

Bones of the wicked

I smile. He laughs.
We dance in the night.
We fly with the angels,
The stars in our sight.

But darkness remains.
He shouts. I cry.
He conceals the evil,
The truth. The lie.

I tremble. He sniggers.
I fall to the floor.
My body is heavy,
It serves me no more.

The shadows, they threaten.
He tenses. I’m rigid.
In him I discovered,
The bones of the wicked.

My pool of words were:

Void
Existence
Energy
Light
Bone
Art
Courage
Intelligence
Affection
Hate
Skate
Hollow
Wicked
Laugh
Tremble
Shatter
Bake
Cool

And my combinations:

Courage is skating
Energy laughs
A hollow intelligence
The void trembles
A cool existence
Hate’s light
Bones of the wicked
Affection bakes
Shattered light
Void art

~storytelling nomad~

Writers’ Festival envy

Emerging Writers Festival

Kicking myself that I’m not in Melbourne for the Emerging Writers Festival.  It looks a treat for the senses.  It’s at times like these that being a poor student nomad really tries my patience…and yet, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Sigh.  Anyone out there I can live vicariously through? Anyone? Hello?

~storytelling nomad~

A writer? Where?

I read a blog today about someone who was surprised to be introduced by her friend as a writer, a scenario I could relate to.  I love my friends.  They are a supportive, encouraging, funny bunch of people, and I’m truly fortunate to know every one of them.  And yet, I have been known to berate them when they introduce me to people with: “This is my friend Katy. She’s a writer.”  I will smile politely through gritted teeth at this with a certain grace, but when I have them alone I beat them to a bloody pulp and scream at them to beg for mercy.  Not really.  But I will say something along the lines of “No no no! You can’t call me a writer.  It hasn’t happened yet! I’m not getting paid for my writing! My book isn’t finished!” Or similar.  Basically, I have always thought that to be considered a writer, you need to be published.  Now, when I think about it logically, I realise just how ridiculous that is.  Duh, Katy.  Obviously there are loads of writers out there who haven’t been published, who probably deserve to be.  Admittedly, there are also people out there claiming themselves to be writers, sending in absolute garbage to publishers (my days working at a major publishing house can attest to this) who are not getting published for a very good reason.  Even so, I know just from looking through the writing blogs on the wordpress.com site, that there are plenty of people out there who I would identify as writers, who may sadly never get the chance to be published.

I liken it to the philosophical riddle: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If a writer writes and never gets published, is she still a writer? Um, are you stupid or something? In the event that you are – like my inner paranoid writerly self – stupid…then the answer is, of course, yes.

At the Melbourne Supanova this year, I spoke to Australian fantasy author Jennifer Fallon and expressed my concerns about making it as a writer and how I would know if it was time to try a different life long dream that I might actually succeed in without failing miserably and finding myself at the peak of my youth with nothing to show for it except a blank page and no money and a room full of rejection letters and…  Pause.  Breathe.  Where was I? Ah, yes.  So, she gave me two excellent pieces of advice:

1.  She could not guarantee that I would be published if I kept writing.  But she could guarantee that I wouldn’t if I stopped.

2. She told me that even when she was a checkout chick, she was a writer.

I think these are very sage pieces of advice that apply to any aspiring writer.  Firstly, you need to be viciously persistent and never give up.  Giving up is a sure way to fail.  Period.  And secondly, that a writer is a state of being.  Whatever else it is you do to pay your mortgage, put clothes on your back and feed little Felix or Jack or Poochiepoos…that there, that’s your job.  Your occupation.  Your money-making, food-on-the-table, 9-5 day job.  Some people are lucky enough to have writing as their job.  But even when you’re not getting paid for it, even if no one will publish you, even if you never show another single soul out there what you have written, if it is who you are, then you my friend, are a writer.

~storytelling nomad~

NaNoWriMo 2011…Can it be done?!

1 novel, 50,000 words, 30 days...can it be done?

It’s a while away yet, but I have just signed up for the 2011 National Novel Writing Month challenge.  I not long ago found out about this ambitious and exciting program, and must say, I’m more than a little intrigued.  The goal is to write a 50,000 word (or more) novel between the 1st and 30th November, and share your progress with other NaNoWriMo-ees.  Because of the exceptionally small time limit, it’s about quantity, not quality, with the aim of getting writers to just write, and save the editing/rewriting/drafting for later.

As one who has had an idea for a novel circling around in my head for quite some time now, perhaps this is the kick in the ass I need to just, well, get it done.  But I wonder, am I setting myself up for terrible disappointment? Could I really write 50,000 words (or more?!?!) in 30 days?  I’ve never been one to shy away from a looming deadline, in fact I usually embrace the last minute cram (thank you tertiary education for that little gem of a skill), but I have my reservations about this one.  Can it be done? I would certainly be more than a little chuffed with myself if I managed to do it.

Anyone else up for the challenge? Perhaps we could find encouragement in our solidarity, joy in our success…or quite possibly (and very likely) solace in our failure?  Sign up at http://www.nanowrimo.org/

~storytelling nomad~

How to know when the critics are right

For writers, I think one of the hardest things to overcome in order to succeed, is their critics.  Considering that writing is a relatively solitary activity, it is often difficult to make that big scary step towards sharing your work with others.  It is a widely known fact that writers regularly suffer from what I call, the it’s-not-ready-yet complex.  Redrafting and editing seem like tedious tasks, but somehow we thrive on the tweaking and rewriting, always under the pretence that we can make it better, that it’s simply not ready to be shared with the world yet.  At the end of the day, there’s no way to really know when a piece of writing is finished, or ready, but eventually we take the plunge and the deed is done.

It is at this point that we are granted with a fairly brief moment of relief.  Hoorah! I never have to look at it again!  This moment of ecstasy is shortly followed with absolute fear at the knowledge that we must now await the onslaught of our critics.  What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like me? Or worse, what if no one reads it at all?

I have found that writers often choose writing as a career/state of being/lifestyle choice, precisely for the benefits of being able to work independently, to engage in a creative art which doesn’t require you to make speeches in front of a load of people, and to know that your work will be judged independently of your age, looks or social standing.  I believe that generally speaking, a writer’s primal instinct is to create, and to create alone.  Unfortunately, a writer must have its readers, an audience as such.  In writing courses, it is drilled into you that you must ‘know your audience’, ‘know your readership’, ‘know who you’re writing for’.  Kids, adults, fantasy enthusiasts, sci-fi buffs, romance addicts, crime fanatics.  Knowing your reader helps with your tone, your point of view, your language.  And yet, despite the fact that we write for an audience, we are often reluctant to share our work with them.

Obviously we are hard-wired to want to succeed in life, to be good, the best even, at the things we do.  So, after we have spent hours, weeks, months, years, slaving away at our work in progress, refining it and cherishing it like a newborn child, we, like a new parent, want everyone else to see how wonderful it is too, and if they don’t like it, well inevitably we take offence.

Now, back to the underlying question: how do we know when the critics are right?  Well, to begin with I’m the first to admit that I hate receiving negative feedback, but I realise that if there’s a problem with my work which readers are noticing, whether it be a grammatical error or a character flaw, I kinda need to know about it.  I understand this because deep down I know that if the readers aren’t happy then I’m doing something wrong.  This does not, however, mean that we need to change and edit every suggestion made to us by our critics.

I take you back to the concept of knowing your audience and writing for them specifically.  If you are writing a young adult fantasy novel aimed at current readers of books like Twilight, then you cannot expect to win the hearts of say classic literary buffs.  You might want to write a book about your family history, where your audience makes up less than a handful of people, and no-one outside that small group will ever be interested in, or enjoy reading it.  This doesn’t mean your writing is no good, it just means that you haven’t won over a readership that essentially you didn’t write for anyway.  I’ve had pieces of writing that some people have hated, and others have loved.  I’ve read stories that I’ve loved and that others have hated.  It all comes down to the old adage that everyone is different.  How can we possibly please everyone with our writing when not everyone likes the same thing?  Hence, finding your audience, and trying to keep them happy.

Ideally, when you receive feedback for your writing, take it all on board and try to stay objective.  It’s difficult to hear people finding fault with your hard work, and a lot of the time it might just be that they’re not who you’re writing for, your audience.  But, a lot of the time, these are the people who are going to end up helping you make your writing better.  If you receive recurrent feedback about a particular issue, theme, character, paragraph, then it’s probably worth at least taking a look at.  Get people who would be in your target audience to read over your drafts and see what they think, too.

In the meantime, remember that the positive feedback is equally important in improving your writing, because in my opinion, that’s when your readers are telling you that you’re doing something right.

~storytelling nomad~

Stuck for ideas?

When I began my writing course last year, my biggest concern was not whether I could write, but whether I had enough, if any, good ideas to write about.  I was sure I couldn’t be the only one, in fact, my lecturers must’ve been pretty sure too, because they introduced us to an exceptionally helpful book which now holds a prime position on my writing desk.  The Writing Experiment by Hazel Smith provides experimental and practical strategies and approaches to creative writing.  First of all, this is not a ‘how to’ book on writing.  As we all know by now, there is no single, correct way to write and everyone is different. Rather, it is a practical guide to experimenting with words, language and ideas.  From this book I learnt that we have infinite reserves of resource material for writing, we sometimes just need help tracking them down!

The most helpful section in the book for me has been Playing With Language.  As far as I know, we speak about 20,000 words a day, so surely we can string a few of those together to make something special, right? An example of a word exercise in the book is Phrase Permutation, where “the position of the words in relation to each other is changed within the phrase or short sentence, usually radically transforming the sense.”

Eg.
the death of the author
the author of death

An excellent example of phrase permutation is shown by Australian poet Myron Lysenko.  I think this word play is amazing.

UNDER THE TREE

They stood
under the big tree
and talked slowly

Under the tree
they stood
and slowly talked big

The big tree
stood slowly
and under they talked

They stood big
and slowly talked
the tree under

The big tree talked
and they slowly
understood

Another fun exercise was the Word Pool, where you “create a pool of words and then combine the words into unusual and striking combinations.”  The example in the book had the following words in the word pool:

time
clock
step
excrement
vomit
bicycle
word
fidget
blood
drift
mouth
loss
squat
sense
wail
ladder

Then, the words are combined to make unusual, evocative or striking combinations, the idea being to think outside the box.  The combinations given from this word pool included “time squats”, “sense wails” and “words fidget”.  It is anticipated with this exercise, that the combinations might lead you to an idea, theme or title of writing.

This book has loads of exercises like this, to get you creating things out of nothing.  I like it because it’s engaging and practical…there’s no nonsense about 10 step plans to writing a novel or any garbage like that.  It’s simple, creative exercises, generic enough to apply to any writing form, but specific enough in its execution to get some solid results.

You can check out more about it at The Writing Experiment.

~storytelling nomad~

Procrastination As Always (via Dreams Of Late)

I love this…

No, hold on, that line of text is not wrapping correctly and it looks funky when I preview it.  The words bleed over onto the side color of the page.  I’ll have to change it.  Hold on a minute, novel.  I’ll get to you.  There, it’s fixe…nope, hold on.  One more click, yes…there it’s done now.  How the hell am I expected to have people read this blog when it looks like crap?  It’s not professional.  It’s not how I’d like to represent myself. F … Read More

via Dreams Of Late

A Girl Who Reads (via Rants, Raves & Recommendations)

“If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.” Source. … Read More

via Rants, Raves & Recommendations

Read the whole thing at Date A Girl Who Reads by Rosemarie Urquico

The Book Depository – amazing online bookseller

The Book Depository and I have only recently been introduced, but we are fast becoming the very best of friends.  Without sounding like spam, a company promoter or a total nerd (of which I can confidently deny the first two), this gem of a site not only offers some very competitive book prices, but also FREE delivery worldwide.  At the moment they also have 10% off everything throughout the month of May…yay for us!

A nifty little feature that they have is the ‘wishlist’.  Basically, if you see any books you have your eye on but don’t want to purchase immediately, add them to your wishlist. Seems pretty standard, right? You’d think so, except that it’s not.  Not only does it keep a record of all the books that you’re looking to buy, but it sends you an email when they’re on sale…which, from what I’ve seen so far is fairly regularly.  As a uni student/struggling writer/book-purchasing enthusiast (read: addict), I’m the first to admit that I’m always out to save a dollar or two, so I’m totally digging this particular wishlist feature.

Check them out at The Book Depository

Fly my pretties, fly! Because now there’s really no good excuse not to satiate your book buying addiction.

~storytelling nomad~

The Lighthouse

The light shines on the raging water as the jagged rocks below are put on spectacular display in the fractured darkness.  Their edges jut out of the sea as if snapping at the waves with razored teeth.  Darkness falls.

A brilliant beam of light slices the rain and exposes a woman standing precariously on the cliff.  Her shoulders sag, whether it be by the weight of her wet, heavy clothes and pressure of the striking rain, or by some other nameless torment.  Darkness falls.

The lighthouse sets its orbiting eye onto the ocean’s black horizon, erasing the stars with its superior glare.  The waves tear aggressively at the hungry rocks as the woman takes a step towards the light.  Darkness falls.

~storytelling nomad~

Newcastle, Australia

Newcastle – some love it, some love to hate it.  I, for one, am a lover not a hater.  For my Travel Writing subject last year I had to write a piece on the city that I lived in (at the time), and try to capture some of the energy and stories of that place.  It’s not a brilliant piece of writing by any means, but it does make me nostalgic for the town that was, until very recently, my home for 16 months.

N.B. the photo header for this blog is also of Newcastle.  It was taken last year at Nobby’s Beach.

Looking towards the lighthouse, Newcastle

Newcastle

Newcastle by summers day is typically bathed in sunshine, fresh sea breezes cooling the lazy trickle of bare footed locals and visitors heading to and from any one of the local beaches.  Situated on the East Coast of Australia, it has the rare luxury of being a regional town that also offers all the benefits and amenities of a big city.  Historic Hunter Street stretches over 3 kilometres from the West, extending almost to the sea at the East end of the city. The Cultural Centre, now home to a museum and writer’s centre, once upon a time was the local Police Station, hosting the city’s worst sinners in tiny cells still intact and complete with scratches on the cold stone walls. The streets off Hunter Street are also home to a number of hostels, but the scantily clad backpackers from all over the world spend little time in them, instead treasuring their close proximity to several breathtaking beaches.  Men and women of all ages run eagerly with surfboards under their arms, passing businesswomen and men on their way to work, yearning to catch the first waves of the day.

Near the East end of Hunter Street is Nobby’s Beach, where begins the Newcastle Breakwall that extends right out to sea.  Walking along the historic structure tourists can be seen admiring the glistening water, the horizon lined with distant red coal ships waiting to come in to the harbour.  Locals jog past, savouring a spectacular view for their daily exercise. Cyclists ring their bells to alert their approach to a family taking a stroll.  A group of young friends point to the distance, unsure if they’ve spotted a simple break in the water, or a commonly sighted whale or pod of dolphins.  A couple wander serenely, their German Shepherd beside them happily puffed and extraordinarily drenched from spending the last hour at the neighbouring dog beach; a playground where humans happily observe the joy of their canine companions pursuing dogs three times their size up and down the beach, snapping at the waves and chasing tattered tennis balls.  All of them are at risk of taking off with the enthusiastic wag of their tails.

As the sun sets and the night becomes cooler the streets become bare.  The markets in Hunter Street are packed up, with little left but the aroma of wood fired pizzas, fresh flowers and the sparkle of a sequin on the pavement to verify their earlier presence.  The backpackers retreat to their hostels, and cafes and restaurants light candles to welcome hungry diners. Scents of Balinese cuisine, international flavours, and fresh seafood make mouths water, and sun kissed faces enjoy drinks looking onto the moon glistened waves of the sea they earlier bathed in.  Hunter Street Mall becomes strangely silent, waiting for the late night crowds to pass through on their way home from one of the local pubs, their singing and merriment occasionally disturbing sleeping residents nearby.  Eventually darkness envelops the streets and silence prevails once more.  The wind carries only a distant sound of the roaring waves.  A tiny speck on the horizon earlier in the day, the titanic presence of a coal ship now slips silently into the harbour, the disguise of night finally failing as its soundlessness is betrayed by the tremendous blare of its horn.

~storytelling nomad~

Review: Inception

Inception
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Rated: M15+

I am mildly curious at the anxiety that creeps up on me when I consider expressing my opinion of the film Inception, foreseeing riots, hate mail and possible exile. My concern is that the majority will poorly receive my theory that this recently released American blockbuster is, well, grossly overrated.

There, I said it.

Now, before you start steaming from the ears and shaking your fists at me in rage and disbelief, perhaps you might ask what would bring me to such an outrageous notion?

Firstly, you would probably be delighted to know that the aforementioned sentiment in no way signifies that I either disliked or felt great aversion to the film. Rather, I enjoyed it and was only acutely aware of the loss of feeling in my backside during the near two and a half hour mind-marathon. There is no denying director Christopher Nolan’s film-making talent. Most recently praised for his excellent execution of Batman: The Dark Knight, he loads Inception with rich scenes of roads folding upon themselves as the characters actively build and transform their dream world in their minds. The laws of gravity are excitingly absent as fight scenes take place on corridor walls and ceilings, making it fascinating to watch.

All this as we follow a fine performance by Leonardo Di Caprio as Dom Cobb. His job is to enter dreams and steal ideas from them, a process known as extraction. The trickier part comes with the planting of an idea in a dream, known as inception. A sub plot surrounding his wife (Marion Cotillard) leads us to discover the reason behind his spinning-top obsession, essentially used as a ‘totem’ to determine whether he is still stuck in a dream or not based on the spinning-top continuing to spin, or not, respectively. Back-up performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock from the Sun), Tom Hardy (Star Trek Nemesis) and Ellen Page (Juno), are impressive, even if their scripts offer the viewer little in the way of empathising with any of them. As far as sci-fi thrillers go, this one was certainly worth the meagre $8 I spent on my ticket.

Nevertheless, now brace yourselves, I am genuinely mystified by declarations of “masterpiece”, “genius!” and “instant classic”, in reference to Inception. Perhaps being one of the more superior cinematic mainstream blockbuster releases of late, people are rather taken aback at the notion of not being spoon-fed their entertainment and find that their brains getting a work out during a causal trip to the movies quite a remarkable concept. Furthermore, despite the fact that having the masses leave the theatre with the incredible urge to discuss at length “what the hell just happened!” with great delight being a feat in itself these days, I am still unconvinced that this all amounts to an “instant classic”.

The question ‘what is a dream?’ is not a new one. Neither are movies that rack at the brains before the slightest inkling of comprehension settles in. The Matrix amazed us all at the end of the last millennium, pushing the boundaries of cinematography and profoundly amazing audiences with a complex and solid plot. Mulholland Drive comes to mind as another exceptional but particularly baffling movie which required more than one viewing to ascertain what had gone on and to pinpoint exactly at what stage I had been fooled. Even another of Nolan’s movies, The Prestige, with exceptional performances by Hugh Jackman (X-Men) and Christian Bale (Batman), offered a tricky plot with a superb twist at the end to make the audience “ooo” and “ahhh”. The point is, there are more than a handful of movies out there which make you really think, ask you ‘what is reality?’, and which require a second viewing because of a sly twist or unresolved clues. I just don’t think Inception is up there with the best of them.

To begin with, the levels of the dream are so over-explained that it leaves little work for the average mind, even if you’re only half paying attention. I’ve heard many people announce proudly that if you don’t think the movie is utter genius, then it’s simply because you haven’t understood what’s going on. Although I was not aware that the ultimate motion picture of all time is defined by its ability to render an audience utterly clueless, my primary concern is, that I’m fairly certain that I have understood what’s going on. The inception team are hired by big shot Saito played by Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Batman Begins) to enter the layers of a man’s dream one by one to plant a seed of an idea in the deepest level, so that when he wakes up he thinks he came up with it himself. The three levels of the dream in question were easily identified by a van, a corridor and a lot of snow. On top of all that, there’s a limbo land where you get stuck if you don’t come out of the dream, or you die in the dream.

Blah blah blah. We get it! And I think most people don’t give themselves enough credit to realise they get it too, or, if they do, they are inexplicably fooled by the very last scene which in my opinion is not an extraordinary twist, but your average cliff-hanger, which with a little thought people may realise really could only result in two scenarios, neither particularly impressive or mind-blowing. Unfortunately, I think more worthy of discussion is the comment Nolan makes on how we know what is reality, which is eclipsed by the majority of audiences who see the ending as a magnificent twist that puts the entire two and a half hours, rather than the more applicable final five minutes, into question.

I’m sure there will be die hard fans lining up to tell me exactly what it is that I have missed. But, until a more convincing argument than “I had no idea what just happened…genius!” comes along, I am prepared to remain relatively entertained, mildly thought-provoked, and most of all mind-blown, but less by the film than by the hype behind it.

~storytelling nomad~