Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in retrospect and what's on the plate for 2012

In some ways, 2011 was an important year. 
Here are some of the things that happened, in no particular order of importance:
  • Stormlord's Exile was proofed and published in US, UK and Australia. It received excellent reviews from bloggers, Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times etc etc. and so another trilogy came to an end. Sales in Australia have not been good, but wonderful elsewhere! Talk about irony...
  • Der Heiler (i.e. Gilfeather) came out in Germany
  • Guerisseur (Gilfeather mass paperback) came out in France
  • Corrumpue (The Tainted mass paperback) came out in France
  • I wrote a whole book, called The Lascar's Dagger*
  •  I travelled to Cambodia (Siem Reap and Angkor Wat with my elder daughter and family, and my sister -- also met up with my nephew there), and twice to Thailand (Krabi and Pattaya)
  • I travelled within Malaysia to Langkawi Islands, Penang, twice to Perlis State Park
  • I went twice to Western Australia to settle on a place for our retirement (which will happen one day), and we put a deposit on a patch of land in Mandurah
  • I had a book Stormlord Rising shortlisted for two awards (Aurealis and Ditmars). (As usual, it didn't win.)
  • Much to my genuine astonishment, I had a trilogy (the Mirage Makers) voted as the second most popular completed Australian sf/f trilogy (after Sean Williams' The Books of the Cataclysm)
  • I went to yet another fabulous Swancon. I look forward to going every year soon!!
  • The birding tourism project was completed. This year included writing the final report, giving some birding courses to guides and stakeholders in Fraser's Hill and Lake Temenggor, and taking part in presentations of the material and in a seminar. In fact, this was probably my retirement year, as far as a "normal" working life is concerned ... although one never knows. I haven't ruled more work out, but there's none in the offing. Which is pretty damned big, come to think of it. I have not always worked full-time, but I don't think there's been a year since ... um... 1959 that I haven't worked at all. Wow, 2012 could be my first year of unemployment (if you don't count writing of course...).
And of course, every year has its  downside stuff:
  • I was diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome
  • I was unable to sell the present work in progress on the basis of a proposal (sign of the times? I'm not the only established author to come across this one of late!)

What's up for next year?
 Who knows?
Here are some things on the cards that might happen, all being well:
  • Due out: Die Magieren in mid-January (The Tainted in German)
  • Due out: L'Ombre de Tyr in February(?) (Shadow of Tyr in French)
  • Sell the new trilogy Sorcery and Spice*
  • Re-publish Havenstar
  • Start building the house in Mandurah and sell the present house in Malaysia
  • Have both daughters visit us in Malaysia
  • Take a road trip to the Murchison/Gascoigne with husband and sister
In the meantime: Happy New Year!!

*Working titles

Friday, December 30, 2011

What I was doing Xmas Day

Proving I can work anywhere, any time. 
A photo from Perlis State Park (yeah, we went back there).
Note the leech socks as a precaution.
Also the binoculars and note book, in case something interesting passes by.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Seasons Greetings

To everyone, no matter what your faith.

I'm staying in the middle of the rainforest and had to emerge back to civilisation for a bit in order to telephone the kids...so taking this opportunity to hope all my friends and readers have a safe and happy holiday.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Twenty-one years ago we were on top of the twin towers

21 years ago, I went to New York for the first time. Husband was on duty travel for the UN, I tagged along. This is us with the Malaysian Ambassador to the UN at the time. The year was 1990.
Unfortunately the camera lens was dirty, hence the spot in the middle.
And, of course, what did we do? We went to the Twin Towers.
Husband
Me
Me with the Ambassador
Down on the ground again
Husband in front of the UN building.
Today husband was cleaning out some old files and he came across these. I've been to NY plenty of times since, including the time daughter was giving her defence of her Ph.D. thesis, but these photos are of the only time I went up the twin towers. The last time I saw them was a couple of months before they came down -- as I was flying out of Newark, I had a window seat. I remember thinking, lord, how huge they are in comparison to everything else around them...

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Wild animals are -- guess what -- wild.

Sad news out of Sabah. A young Australian tourist died while apparently -- if news sources are to be trusted -- taking photos with a flash of a single bull elephant in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve. From just 10 metres away.

I am so saddened by this whole incident. An unnecessary death of such a young person, with so much to offer the world.

She was a vet, and I find it a little surprising that someone so experienced with pets would not be a bit more wary of wild animals. If a domestic cute dog can bite when cornered and frightened...what is the logical expectation of a wild animal?

On two separate occasions I saw herds of wild elephants in Sabah. I also saw how they were respected by the guides of the Danum Rainforest Lodge. They would never have dreamed of deliberately getting ten metres from an elephant in an a tough off-road vehicle, let alone on foot. So what was the guide at Tabin thinking?? Or did the visitors he was guiding ignore his advice?

 Here's the photo I took of a herd of elephants at Danum, through the windscreen of a 4WD. The guide stopped the car and did NOT approach any closer. He knows the elephants.

Elephant culture is such that the boss of the herd is the matriarch. Males leave the herd in their "teenage" years and are henceforth never a permanent member of the group. They are known to be irascible and sometimes aggressive, also susceptible to "musth" or periods of testosterone overload when they are absolutely unpredictable.

Who on earth thought it was ok to step up to a bull elephant and take a photo? Sabah rainforest ain't no zoo!

In one way, I blame these plentiful wild animal TV shows, where we are shown details of a bug strolling across a lion's mane, giving the impression that the cameraman was within stroking distance of the lion king. Believe me, she was not. The modern cameras these guys lug around can take that same shot from 500m away.

Worse still are the animal wanglers, wrestling everything from snakes to fish to crocodiles into submission in the name of "science" (pah!) as if they were cute cuddly teddy bears. They either have a death wish, or they are supported by a whole team of people with cattle prods and stun guns and tasers and anaesthetic darts and nets and poison antidotes.

Wild animals are ....WILD. You keep your distance.

Yeah, I know there are greedy opportunists selling you bags of peanuts so you can give them to the monkeys at some tourist spots. DON'T. Worse still, don't give the bag to your cute 3-year old daughter to feed that monkey (which I have seen stupid Malaysian parents do). Have you had a good look at the canine teeth on an adult macaque lately? They are as long as my thumb.

I've spent many weeks in the rainforest, camping in flimsy tents, walking the trails knowing there were tigers in the vicinity, seeing the leopard and bear tracks, having the orang utan throw things at out boat in anger because he thought we were too close (we were actually too far away to be hit), seeing the cobras and the vipers. I am not particularly nervous, but believe me, I don't do anything stupid either. It's wild out there.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Using the moments between now and next...

I have always maintained that I can write anywhere. If I was the kind of writer who could only create in a silent study with the door closed, I'd never have been published.
Me with my Mac in Perlis State Park a few days back
The formative writing years crafting my skills were to the background of children's squabbles, and constant interruptions. Later, the years as a published writer coincided with my career working on projects to do with the ornithological component of the Malaysian rainforest. That meant loads of travel -- by boat, plane, car or on foot with a backpack; staying everywhere and anywhere, from 5 star accommodation complete with imported Dead Sea salts in the marble bathroom (I kid you not), to a tent in a peat swamp complete with bears raiding the food in the middle of the night (not kidding there, either); from bathing in a stagnant water pool half a kilometre away down a steep slope, to sleeping on bare concrete floors in a hut full of sandflies.
This the the row of chalets where we were staying In Perlis State Park
 Fortunately or unfortunately, editors in far off places don't care what an author does in other facets of her life -- they want manuscripts handed in on time, copy edits done in a turn around of two weeks, proof reading completed in a couple of days. So, a wise writer with another job learns not to be too picky about writing environments and to write in airports or trains if that's what it takes, copy edit by candlelight if need be, and do the proofs at lunchtime in Starbucks. Or worse. (I seem to remember reading somewhere that Jane Austen wrote at boring family  gatherings by standing at the mantelshelf scribbling in her notebook, but I can't remember the reference to check it...)
The view out of the back door after rain
Luckily, our recent trip to Perlis State Park up near the Thai border was a lovely place to write. My husband was taking students on field work; I tagged along and wrote.
The chalet in the evening
What better place than on that little porch overlooking the stream? (Usually the water is clearer than that, but it was raining.)
The view out of the front door
The journey to Perlis is long -- more than 500 kms -- but most of it is straight highway and a smooth run. so when I wasn't driving, I wrote, achieving about 1,000 words going up and a similar number on the way back.
From the back porch
View from the bedroom window
Sometimes seats and table for writers are provided...
Ok, so on this trip I lucked out!
It's not always so good. But learn to use a few minutes here, and a few minutes there. Learn to shut out the noise and the curious glances. Learn to write when you aren't necessarily comfortable, when you have to watch out for the leeches (yeah, Perlis State Park after rain was rife with them, even in the chalet!).  Becoming a published writer isn't easy, especially for someone who already has a job. It takes time and effort. So learn to use the moments in between here and there, between now and next... 
They mount up, those minutes -- and so do the words.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Fun with Fungus

 Almost all taken by my husband, all found in Perlis, most in Perlis State Park. I always think there is something sort of fairytale-like about fungus. Maybe it goes back to those childhood books - illustrations in "Alice in Wonderland", or that picture of the fairy sitting on a mushroom in "The Little Green Door to Fairyland"...
From the huge (above) to the delicately small (below)
 And above we have the not yet mature intruders in a pot plant
And here they are again, a little later, in their adult splendour.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Some animals from Perlis State Park

Warning: if you can't tell the difference between a centipede an a millipede, don't pick them up. Millipedes are relatively harmless -- unless you want to eat one -- have 2  pairs of legs per segment, and are vegetarians. Centipede bites are nasty, they are carnivores and have one pair of legs per segment.
**Please note the correction on the frog species as per the comments from Budak in Singapore
Pill millipede (can roll itself up into a tight ball)
Millipede -- Narceus?
This is probably a unknown beetle instar (larval stage)5mm. Found on a fungus.
**Copper-cheeked frog Hydrophylax raniceps
Forest snails
The Three-striped Ground Squirrel getting into the rubbish bin...

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Forests of Perlis

Because it's pretty...

Photos 2, 3 &4 show different lianas, creepers. Unfortunately the ordinary Malaysian doesn't even know what these are, believe it or not. There was a photo of one in The Star newspaper the other day, calling it a strangler fig. Sigh. This country is one of the top biodiversity hotspots of the world, and the average Malaysian never sets foot inside  a primary forest. If the do, they don't actually SEE anything, or understand what they see.