Tuesday, December 29, 2009

T'was The Night Before Christmas...

...and all through the house, 
Not a creature was moving,

Except for my son who, on Christmas eve, decided that it was time to start walking. There we were, down at the lovely little beach house we'd hired for the week, and suddenly Toby is strolling across the kitchen. Literally like that. One second he's crawling and cruising around the furniture  just like always, and the next he's standing in the middle of the room looking at us all and wondering what all the fuss was about.

And since then, he's been on two feet as often as possible.

So now we have a toddler. For real.

It's really strange - yesterday while tidying my study I was looking at some photos from a year ago, when he was just a tiny little squidglet of a baby, and it's hard to believe that this little fella toddling around and getting into everything is the same person. I've been looking forward to him walking all year - looking forward to the independence and increased interactivity that it brings with it. But now that it's happened, there's also something ineffably sad about it. I hadn't expected that at all.

So... on to other news. We had a lovely week down at the coast. It involved beaches, swimming, lots of reading and sleeping and playing games and eating. Christmas day we cooked a nice lunch, and called families, and just generally had a mellow time. Our internet access was basically non-existent, which was a great excuse not to even think about work. The dog got to go to the beach, which she loved. Toby came to like the beach, although at first he was a little reluctant about the entire experience:

But he soon came around:

Now we're home again, and have another week until work opens again, which I intend to use to get a few outstanding jobs done around the house. I've also got vague plans to do some writing. I've got the first five thousand or so words of something new done, and I'm hoping to make a real dent in it over summer. It's tentatively called 'Orion: The Hunter' and it's a high pace, just a little silly, action adventure mystery - really different to my last couple of books, and is proving a lot of fun to write. I'll post a few more details as it progresses.

Anyway, the boy is awake, so now my day begins in earnest. Hope you all had a lovely festive season. 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Random bits of News

Happy holidays, everyone! A bit later today, our little family is off to Tathra, on the south coast, where we'll be spending the next week keeping to a vigorous schedule of surfing, eating freshly shucked oysters, catching up on reading, playing with the dogs on the beach and generally just kicking back. I've also got grand plans of really getting into the writing of a new project which I've been waiting for an opportunity to launch into for about six months now. I may or may not, depending on the vagaries of Optus mobile broadband, have internet access, so this may well be my last post for a week or so.

So - writing news first. I'm finally, and utterly, done with  Daywards. After a fairly mammoth effort this week, I got the final proofs back in the mail on friday afternoon. Hopefully this means that I'll never have to read that book again. Not that there's anything wrong with it, you understand - actually I'm really proud of it, and really happy with it as a conclusion to the trilogy but, as all the writers out there will know well, by the time I'm done with the final read through of any of my books, words cannot describe how completely over it I feel. Either way, it's done now, and on time, too. 

Next bit of news - we got a new family member for christmas. One of these:

For the uninitiated - it's a Roomba. A vacuum cleaning robot. I think I might be slightly in love with it already. We call her Betsy. She's awesome. If you, like us, have a toddler and the only dog on the planet disinterested in cleaning up under the high chair, then I cannot recommend one of these enough! Basically, this was Min and my christmas present to each other. The only problem with it is that it's supposed to be a labour saving device; just set her going and get on with other things. This idea falls down, though, because once Betsy is in action, it's just about impossible not to sit there watching - it's so damn hypnotic. And clever, too. Climbs small steps, goes around corners, table legs, untangles itself from carpet tassels etc... Actually, it makes me feel slightly inferior, intellectually. I got a little worried when she started following me around the house shouting 'EXTERMINATE, EXTERMINATE', but Imogen tells me that's a normal part of her programming...

In any case, have yourselves a merry little christmas, if I don't get a chance to post again before then. Hope yours is filled with family and friends.



Friday, December 18, 2009

And, because it's nearly holidays...

Here are the muppets. Singing Bohemian Rhapsody.

Relegated to Parent Class

Got back from a few days in beautiful New Zealand on Tuesday. This was a holiday that Imogen won during her maternity leave, when she took to entering lots of competitions. We took Toby and my sister-in-law, Kate, who is both an awesome 13 year old, and an awesome baby sitter.

Which led to some interesting new experiences.

Mainly, watching people try and work out how our 'family' fitted together, given that Min is a bit younger than me. This was amusing. Especially when people started asking thinly veiled questions to try and piece us all together.

It was also the first time I actually realised that Min and I, whether we like it or not, are now members of 'parent class.' (During our trip to the U.S earlier this year, Toby was still young enough not to be too much of a problem. Now he's a wriggling, wilful, and quite impressively strong 1 year old, things are a little less... passive)

So, I hear those of you without kids ask, what's parent class?

Parent class is what you get when you show up anywhere with a one-year-old and a teenager. (Though in all fairness, I think the one-year-old is the kicker, here...)

It means we automatically get the back seats on planes. Literally the last row on the way over to NZ, and the second last one on the way back. With all the other parents. And babies. Crying, screaming babies.

It means that when we arrived at the hot springs that we'd driven an hour to get to, only to be told that they have a 'strictly no-body under 14 policy' that all we could do was smile and get our evil hellspawn children out of their relaxing environment as fast as possible.

It's not all bad, though. Turns out that for the most part, NZ is a really kid friendly place to visit.

Being in parent class means that we didn't have to join a single airport queue once we left Australia - every time we reached a line of people, within seconds a nice official would pull us out of the line and pop us right through; customs, immigration... everything.

We had a lovely experience one night at the hotel restaurant, when we left Kate in the room with the sleeping baby, a DVD and room service dinner, while Min and I went down to the restaurant for a 'date'. We were greeted by the restaurant manager who'd noticed that we'd only booked for two, and realised that - in her words (and accent) we'd managed to 'Dutch the kuds for the Evening', and gave us free champagne in the lounge in celebration. This was followed by a lovely meal, including possibly the *best steak I have ever eaten*.

Parent class is good in that, when your child launches himself across an airport gate lounge, grabs the wheely luggage of a complete stranger, and starts pushing it around in circles, people generally just smile and give you sympathetic looks.

All in all, travelling in parent class was a lot of fun.

Can't wait to do it again.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Walk by Sydney Harbour

Last friday, I travelled up to Sydney for a meeting, and took the opportunity for a rare walk beside the sea. (well, harbour.) Like all good tourists, I took a few photos...

Standing amid the bustle of Circular Quay is one of my favourite places in the city. The business of the ferry terminal, the underscore of restless water, the rumbles, groans and growls of the ferries, the mutter of indifferent traffic on the Cahill expressway all bring this little corner of Sydney to life.

As you walk towards The Rocks the Opera House keeps vigil across the water . Even though it's the most touristy act in the country, it's impossible not to stop, stare, and spend a moment or two revelling in the sweep of those curving roofs.

Further around the point the Harbour Bridge looms over The Rocks, throwing its morning shadow far up the waterway, a dark band stilling the sparkle of the harbour.

Monday, December 7, 2009

And, in Review...

I had an exchange of opinions on Goodreads recently, over a review of my friend Karen Brooks' new book Tallow - and it's got me thinking.

Firstly, I'm not at all proud of my initial response to the review. Partly because I've always tried to maintain a strict policy on not commenting on books I've been involved in, and also because the reply I posted was snarky, pompous and more than a little unjustified. And the reviewer in question was nothing but gracious in reply, which she certainly didn't have to be.

It bought to mind this discussion over Adele's review of Wings some months ago. I also weighed briefly into that one, but not so stridently, this time in defense of the reviewer (and looking at it now, the antagonist of that particular discussion has deleted all his posts, which isn't overly helpful...)

All this has got me re-considering the whole notion of authors and reviewers, and the relationship between the two.

It's a vexed issue, obviously. For me at least, when I finally complete a book, I always try and have a moment where I very consciously 'let go' of the work; Usually when the first completed books arrive on the doorstep. I'll open the box, take out a book, leaf through it quickly, turn it over a couple of times, and then very carefully put it on the shelf with the first copies of all my others. At that point I'll think something along the lines of: "Okay. It's out there now, and there's nothing I can do about it, so there's no point caring." And from that moment on, I do my best to adopt an attitude that nothing which happens to that particular book - either good or bad - matters.

If it doesn't get shortlisted for an award? Doesn't matter. If it gets hammered by the reviewers, or not reviewed at all? Doesn't matter. If someone on Goodreads or Amazon etc... gives it a 1 star review and doesn't bother to explain why? Doesn't matter. For that matter, the corrolory also applies: if it does get shortlisted, or even wins an award - doesn't matter. (It's nice, of course, and always an honour, but in terms of my own opinion on the value of the book, and on the quality of the writing it just. Doesn't. Matter.)

In part, this is a defensive position to take - if it doesn't matter, it doesn't hurt. Given the enormous amount of both physical and emotional energy that goes into the writing of a 100,000 word novel, it's good to cautarise any potential scars before they occur.

In part, though, it's also pragmatic. Or logical, if you prefer. By the time I put a book out there, I know I've toiled over every single word in it. I know I've lain awake at nights unknotting problems in the plot and characters. I know that I've done everything within my power to make the book work for me. If it doesn't work for someone else, then at least I know that this wasn't for want of effort on my part. Therefore to a large extent, other people's opinions of the book just don't matter. Makes sense, really. If a book I've written gets pasted by a reviewer, it's not going to make me like that book any less, or regret the time and energy I put into it. Similarly, if it wins an award, it's not going to make me think that work is 'more worthy' than anything else I've written. (or, for that matter, anything else written by other people.)

When I do my little 'letting go' I remind myself of the fact that there are books I haven't liked. There are books I've hated with the passion of a thousand burning suns. Books I've failed to complete, despite the recommendations of people I respect.

I remind myself that this is what reading is all about. It's part of the deal you make with the reading public - and that as a writer you have to respect the right of readers to dislike your words, and to express that dislike, in whatever medium they so choose.

At the same time, it's also important for reviewers to separate the work from the creator in their reviews and most reviewers are very careful to do just this. It's also just as important for reviewers not to hold back, to be honest about the work, and to be specific in their objections or praise.

I remind myself that, just as writers owe it to their readers to 'let go' of the work, reviewers owe it to their readers to be honest. And again, most reviewers I know and respect are very careful to do this.

I remind myself that we live in the age of web 2.0, where opinion is everywhere, and where everyone has the opportunity to put their feelings on just about everything out there. Hell, here I sit, blogging away my opinions in what is, I realise, a horribly self-indulgent manner and medium. In a few moments, I'll hit the button at the bottom of the screen marked 'Publish Post' and in doing so, I'll accept all the responsibility that term implies

So I remind myself that I shouldn't be surprised when, every now and then, though, the guards slip down - often with no malice intended, and I remind myself that the battle lines between writers and reviewers can be quickly drawn. A wry observation here, an unprocessed sentence there, all sent out into the emotionless, text driven world of the internet and then - pow - the rules go out the window.

I remind myself about a couple of well known examples:

Earlier this year, writer Alice Hoffman had her say about a review of her most recent work.

And then there's the now infamous Anne Rice Meltdown on Amazon.com (You may need to scroll down to find the bump of this post. My understanding is that Anne Rice's identity as the author of the post was confirmed as authentic)

While my post over at Goodreads wasn't me springing to the defence of one of my own books (I haven't gotten to that point yet, touch wood) it has nevertheless made me reflect upon the position that authors are expected to take in regard to open forums like Goodreads and Amazon. Certainly, the best and safest response is to say nothing at all, and to respect the rights of people to express thier opinions. After all - when you put something out in the public eye, you have to accept that it's now open to criticism.

That's why I adopt my 'letting go' policy and remind myself that 'it doesn't matter.'

Except, of course, it does. Always. Deep down inside, there's always a tiny little bit of you that wants everyone to love your story just as much as you do. That wants people to know how much of your mental energy this thing absorbed. That wants people to acknowledge that just the simple act of writing down a story of any type is an achievement in and of itself. Even if it's badly done. Even if it has sparkly vampires in it.

For most writers, for most of the time, it's easy to keep this little bit of you down there. Pushed aside and disregarded, or perhaps occasionally bought out to play in the company of other writers after a glass or two of something red. Every now and then, though, it gets off its leash, and the results are never good.

Never good, but understandable, I think.

So thanks, Paulette, for your very measured and gracious response to my unnecessarily snippy comments. And for your very thoughtful revision of your review.

Because it does matter. Really.


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