Thursday, August 31, 2006

Where to write? Anywhere!

Deadlines are remarkable things. They have the power to make you take your computer on holidays and write just about anywhere.

My proofs of The Shadow of Tyr are due in tomorrow and I received such a lovely reminder in an email today, just in case I had forgotten.

No, I hadn't forgotten, really.

Here's the proof I worked on the proofs...
I took my daughter and her friend to climb Kinabalu last week, right?
We stayed in this building (day and night shots).

And while the two of them climbed, I sat at the desk with the rainforest intruding over the balcony, binoculars nearby in case any interesting birds flew by, and worked.

So, if there are any typos, blame it on a flyby at the critical time... :-)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Surviving on Pulau Tiga

Here are some pix to go with the previous post. All taken on Pulau Tiga, better known for being the site of the first Survivor reality TV show - but I knew the place long ago...

As you can see, it is still lovely. (Photos can be clicked on to enlarge)

The sunsets....

The beach....

The forest....

My daughter....

And now it's back to finishing the proofs of The Shadow of Tyr. Sigh.

Life's tough, isn't it?

Home again

Home being Kota Kinabalu. Just spent three days on Tiga Island (now apparently known more as Survivor Island). We used to holiday there over twenty years ago - when there was no hotel or mod cons. No tourists or ferries either. We'd go snorkelling in the bay facing the mainland where the corals reefs were pristine...and our footprints would be the only ones on the sand. No plastic rubbish.

Alas, no more. The reefs - in part - are a mess. Not quite sure what the problem is, but fish bombing might have produced those kinds of dead holes... People (hotel staff and guests) were fishing from the jetty, and I saw one fishing boat right close in shore. Did not see any Park Rangers or patrols. And there are several notices saying all animals are protected. Maybe fish and corals aren't animals?

Nonetheless, we had a great three days. The beaches are mindbogglingly beautiful, the island forest is superb and snorkelling over the remains of a reef is still a wonderful experience. There were stingrays and clams and fish galore - and one or two spots where there were still living staghorn corals. I do wonder though, why no Sabahans care enough to stop the devastation of the reef.

It is National Day tomorrow. Everyone is flying their Sabah and Malaysian flags from their houses and cars. That is how they show their love of their country, rather than by preserving the state they live in or the environment - not even in a Marine Park. Not even when coral reefs are so important to the survival of edible fish species. I guess I'm just a weird orang putih who has my priorities all wrong...

Maybe they'll be happier eating imported beef burgers.

Photos to follow.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Just to make you envious...

My daughter on the way up Kinabalu.

When I climbed Mt Kinabalu, back when I was in my late thirties, we had to take all our own food up with us. Nowadays they have a restaurant. And the food has to get up there this.

And then we came down from the mountains and went to the islands.

If you had a bad day at work and the weather was lousy, eat your heart out you poor things....

Friday, August 25, 2006

Back for a moment....

Came down from the mountain last night. Off to the Marine Park near Kota Kinabalu today.

My daughter - back in the early eighties - was the youngest kid to climb Mount Kinabalu under her own steam. (She made the top before I did that day.) She was on the front page of a local newspaper under the headline: "Tigress of Kinabalu", a tag which I am sure she wants to forget.

Now she has just done it again some 25 years later. Fortunately, the morning they made the peak was brilliantly clear.
This time I didn't go. Knees won't tolerate that kind of thing any more.

And now we are off to soak up some sun and sand and sea water.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Emerald City Review of The Tainted

Some time ago, Cheryl Morgan announced that she will soon be ceasing to publish her online zine and review site and blog, all to be found at . Which I was upset about, because I loved the site. If you wanted to know what was going on but live in a non sff environment on the far side of the world, well, emcit was a great place to drop by every day and find out. I loved her reviews, because I knew that if she liked a book there was a good chance I would too, especially fantasy. I even loved Cheryl's acerbic bite, especially of any idiocies that came her way. The site will be missed, and I do hope that our paths cross in the real world one day and we get to meet.

Anyway, she has, over the past year or so, reviewed The Isles of Glory trilogy and today her review of the final book, The Tainted came out. Read the whole thing here. (It does give away the ending of Gilfeather, though - so if you are still reading book 2, better not read the whole thing!)

She begins like this:
One of the best things about publishing
Emerald City has been to be able to watch new writers gradually improving, book-by-book. Glenda Larke is an excellent example of this. Reading through her Isles of Glory series ...has led to my becoming more and more impressed with Larke’s ability.

And ends the review with this:
But you see the point. This is not the stuff of formula fantasy. Larke is not just telling a light and fluffy story of heroism, she is telling us things that she thinks are important. My spies in Australia tell me that her new series continues the trend of improvement. I’m looking forward to it.

The Tainted was a shortlisted finalist for the Aurealis Best Fantasy of the Year (2004).

Nuclear power and family matters...

There is still discussion going on here on my post below on nuclear power matters. I guess what the anti-nuclear lobby can't convince me of - not even getting close yet - is that there is a viable alternative. "Viable" being the operative word.

I am still trying to finish editing the proofs of The Shadow of Tyr - and the polish of Song of the Shiver Barrens is still beckoning.

But my daughter is coming tomorrow. Yay!!!!!!! So guess how much work I am going to get done in the next few days. I haven't seen her since I went to sff Worldcon in Glasgow last August and we then went on up to the Orkneys. Expect blogging to be sporadic over the next 10 days.

Photo taken by Trudi Canavan on the Orkneys: Paul Ewins, myself and daughter...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

More weird stuff....

Imagine this. You are English and live in London and want to go to Scotland. You get stopped at the border by the Scots and they ask to see your passport, and then tell you can stay 3 months - as long as you don't work.

Or perhaps you are a New Yorker wanting to go to California, or a Sydneysider hopping across to Perth...same thing; you get stopped at the border, or as you get off the plane.

Weird, huh?

That's Sabah for y0u. That's right...come to Sabah and you, a Malaysian, have to go through immigration. When I told my husband that I could stay until the middle of next year no problems, he refused to believe it and insisted that I go to the Immigration Dept to see if that was correct. So, muttering under my breath, I made the trek, and double-checked.

That's right dear - Me the foreigner can stay here in Sabah with less hassle than you the West Malaysian can. So there.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Witchdoctors get away with murdering Malay women

We give them respectability here. We don't call them anything as crass as witchdoctors. They are bomoh, and they even have the gall to recite Islamic prayers and talk about the will of God. Give them some gifts, or a donation (they rarely ask for a set amount, or even for anything at all), and they will happily lie in ways that will end up killing you if you believe them. And no one ever calls them to book. No one charges them with murder.

But some of them are murdering Malay women. And we let them get away with it.

Many, many years ago I went to a session with a bomoh in a suburban house near mine. Among the many there that night was a young woman who had just been told she had cervical cancer and she was to come in for treatment/surgery. Instead, she'd come to the bomoh to ask if she really did have cancer. He was in a trance, and told her she didn't have cancer, just gastric problems. I wonder about that women to this day. Did she believe him and not go back to the hospital? Quite possibly. Which means she's dead now. I should have spoken to her, and I didn't, although I did express misgivings to someone else there that night.

In yesterday's paper a Malaysian doctor (ethnic Chinese) was brave enough to stand up and say some things out loud that should have been said long ago. These are some of the statistics for the University Malaya Medical Centre that were quoted in the article (The Star, Thurs 17th p17).

40% of Malay breast cancer patients seek treatment too late , compared to
15% of ethnic Chinese Malaysians

Survival rates for breast cancer patients after 5 years:
For Malay women: less than 46%
For ethnic Chinese Malaysians: 63%
For ethnic Indian Malaysians: 57%

And why do Malays go to hospital so late?
Because the lying b***'s of bomohs have told them traditional treatment can save them with 100% certainty - without surgery, chemo or radiation. Of course, their chicanery doesn't work, and the dying women then go to hospital, too late for proper treatment. Many of these women, by the way, are educated. They just haven't learned to leave superstition behind.

Why do we let these murdering criminals get away with this confidence trickery?
Because they are culturally acceptable? Because they pretend a direct line to God? Because none of the dying, betrayed women do anything about it, but allow other women to die after them? Because Islam teaches acceptance and submission to fate? Perhaps someone can explain it to me, because it just makes me furious.

The odd thing is that because I write fantasy, there are some people who think that I believe in ghosts, the supernatural, and things that go bump in the night. I don't. I write fantasy, I don't believe in it.

The Demon-haunted World by Carl Sagan should be required study for every highschool student the world over. It teaches how to see through the nonsense to the fallacies.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

When my husband upsets a whole neighbouring country...

The other day my husband, Noramly, went back to Kuala Lumpur to give a talk on nuclear education and public information at a seminar in memory of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki nuclear bombings. He is, btw, the Chairman of the Nuclear Licensing Board for Malaysia - the regulatory body that keeps an eye on all nuclear energy applications for peaceful uses in the country - everything from x-ray machines upwards. He was at one time a Deputy-Director General of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

After the seminar during question time he was asked about what is required if Malaysia goes nuclear - which questions he answered. We didn't expect the furore that started up, particularly in the blogging world from our neighbour Singapore! Apparently it worries them to have a nuclear reactor anywhere nearby.

The most extraordinary comment was from someone who apparently decided there was some terrible symbolism at announcing Malaysia was going nuclear on Singapore's National Day!

" I see announcements regarding a potentially dangerous source of energy made on Singapore's birthday? Ironic, I didn't know that our neighbouring country's leader (sic) are not so smart that they dont realize the potential implications on announcing such information on certain dates. I'm not implying anything here, but to make such a controversial announcement on another neighbouring nation's birthday, think about it!"

Boy, have a news for you, my blogging friend. First of all, my husband is not exactly one of Malaysia's political leaders. Secondly, he made no such announcement. He merely answered questions along the lines of - why would Malaysia have to go nuclear and how many reactors would that entail if it did? Thirdly, he had absolutely no idea that it was Singapore's National Day, and would have thought it utterly irrelevant had he remembered. Singapore, alas, is not central to the concerns of most Malaysians. Sorry about that.

As usual, there is much emoting when it comes to nuclear issues. And very little common sense.

Do I want to live down the street from a nuclear power plant? Nope, not particularly. (I actually do live within spitting distance of a nuclear research reactor when back in KL - and have lived there for 20 years). But I would much prefer a nuclear reactor down the street than a coal-fired power plant, which kills far more people, and creates far more health problems and environmental damage. The truth is that a nuclear power reactor - one that is not designed to produce nuclear weapons - is clean and one of the least environmentally damaging forms of power that there is. The waste is easily stored and monitored, if only people would be sensible rather than emotional about it.

People, however, want to able to live in their energy hungry world and yet refuse to live with the consequences. People who live in, say, sunny California use clothes dryers, for heaven's sake. Lord, we even use leaf blowers instead of good old fashioned rakes. We use power like there was no tomorrow, continue to selfishly bring too many kids into the world already bursting at the seams, but no one wants to acknowledge the consequences - that sooner or later our present (polluting) sources of power won't be available to us. Use solar power, they say blithely, without ever having studied the difficulties and disadvantages of that; use wind power, hydro power...etc etc. Yep. Are you aware that a dam in Malaysia silts up in 20 years because of the tropical rainfall? What then? Are you aware how much land and biodiversity you drown when you build a dam? Where is your sense in all this?

Ignorant people refuse to study the problem unemotionally. Yes, I do know about Chernobyl. I was out picking raspberries with my children in the Vienna Woods the day the plume of radioactivity blew into Austria, unknown to us all at the time. But I am pragmatic and unemotional. If you want to live the way you do now, you have to take the risks that go with it. If you don't want risk, then stop using up the world's resources the way YOU do now. Weigh up risk and advantages and disadvantages and your responsibilties, and make informed decisions based on facts. Not on the idea that nuclear = bombs and is therefore bad. Not on the idea that a country like communist Russia - where they built cheapo reactors without containment, for god's sake!! - is the norm.

The future of our world depends on making decisions that are wise, and no wise decisions can be made by people using their emotion responses rather than the facts. I am not - note - saying that everyone should go nuclear. But as an environmentalist, I think it is the best option for some countries and - yes - for the world's environment. I certainly don't recommend building reactors without containment. I don't recommend throwing nuclear waste into the ocean as happened in the past. I want common sense and I want facts and responsibility. Then I'll decide.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

To many things to do all at once...

I had the proofs of The Shadow if Tyr, book 2 of The Mirage Makers delivered to my door this morning. These are the first glimpse an author has of how a book will look after publication - the layout has been done in the chosen font, the title/dedication/maps are in place, and so on. They come in double uncut pages.

And it is the job of the author to go through them, line by line, and check that everything is as it should be. It is usually the last look an author gets before the book goes to print.

In days gone by, when typesetters set the type letter by letter, this particular process was of paramount importance because mistakes could occur by the hundred. Nowadays when the basis for the "typesetting" is the digital copy the author supplies themselves, it is not quite so bad - but the handwritten changes made at copyedit have to be checked very, very carefully, to make sure they all made it into the final version. And if you want a mistake free book (well, as close as one can get and still be human) it pays to do a careful check of everything.

The book is due to come out in January, so we are well ahead of schedule.

But I am three-quarters the way through my first major overhaul of the next book, book 3, Song of the Shiver Barrens. And I desperately want to get that out of the way, so I can send it on to my beta readers.

So I am vacillating. What to do first? Book 2 - due back at HarperCollins asap - or Book 3, due at HarperCollins on September 4th which is when my editor gets back from her overseas vacation. (Well, she called it a vacation, but I note that she went out of her way to meet my agent for the first time last Friday. I am waiting in trepidation to know what was discussed then...).

And my daughter - whom I haven't met in a year - is due in next Monday. Oh for a cloned me...

Monday, August 14, 2006

501 and going up: Dennis's Big Bird Year

Remember this?

Well, Dennis dropped by yesterday and we all had dinner together in a restaurant on the edge of the sea as the sun went down. Not that we could see much - the haze has arrived with a vengeance in this part of the world.

As usual, Indonesia says its not their fault, and Malaysia says it's not our fault as open burning is against the law and of course Malaysians don't do that sort of thing. Hah. Not even the photographic evidence bestirs a single Malaysian regulatory body into actually stopping anyone, let alone arresting them and charging them...year after hazy year after hazy year. Asthma patients die, cancers start as everyone breathes in tiny burnt particles so small you cannot see them. And it's nobody's fault. We are all smoking a pack a day at the it or not. And nobody is responsible. One if these days they'll catch this guy Nobody. In the meantime Malaysians ignore the problem with a shrug, indifferent even to the health of their children.

Anyway, back to Dennis. He has just seen his 501st Malaysian bird species for the year - a Barred Eagle Owl - and today he was off after the Blue-naped Parrot at Tanjung Rhu. Fantastic!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Better bored...

"Well, I'd rather be bored than dead." - My daughter, contemplating a return flight next week, America to London, without a book in her hand luggage.

Same daughter, comtemplating a 35 hour journey from Virginia to Malaysia with a rambunctious two-and-a- half-year-old in December and without any toys, books or dvd player of teletubbies and Thomas the Tank Engine: "The flight attendants can't throw us out of the plane, can they?"

Friday, August 11, 2006

As others see us...

Sometimes I get some intimation of what people think about writers - and it's not quite what one may expect.

Here's a question from a poster on a Message Board about sff:

is everyone a potentual writer?

Is it jus me or r there many would-be writers out there, it occuered to me that many people could think up a good story and be a good enouth writer to get it published but many do not have the connexions needed am I right.

And here is part of my somewhat acerbic reply:

I am an Australian, but I have lived most of my adult life (since I was 24) in Malaysia, which has no sff publishers, or fan clubs, or spec fic writing classes. I never went to a sff con. I never met another fiction writer, editor, publisher, I hardly ever met someone who read sff! I wasn't on the internet and exchanged no emails, nor read webpages by any of those people. In fact, I was a real innocent abroad. I never even attended a course on how to write.

All I did was read and write and hone my skills. ALOT. The book that got me an agent was about number seven or eight, I think. ONE MILLION WRITTEN WORDS LATER. At least. (I started at 13, after all)

And finally I sent off my work. I had no idea how to write a query letter or what one should say when one submitted work. But I do know how to be polite, and I had enough common sense to know what is relevant and what is not. And I READ ALOT of the kind of books I was writing - fantasy.

I got a copy of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, ran my finger down the pages of agents, came to the first one that said they took fantasy, and wrote a letter.

I don't have the letter in front of me, but it said something along the lines of: "I enclose the first 3 chapters of a fantasy novel entitled X, of Y number of words. If you are interested in reading the remainder with a view to representing me, the book is already complete and I would be delighted to send the whole MS. I have only had non-fiction articles published prior to this. " (I did not send samples of these articles, or say what they were or where they were published. They were irrelevant.)

I sent it off and waited. And in due course the agent read the whole MS and took me on.

Contacts? Connections? What contacts? What connections? I had none!

Do you tell your doctor - "well, anyone can be a doctor, can't they? We just don't all have the contacts to get into Medical School." Have I got news for you. The ability to stick a bandaid on a cut does not mean you have the potential to be a doctor. The ability to write a few words on paper doesn't give you the potential to be a published novelist.

Maybe I am being silly, but if someone were to say to my face - "Well, you are only published because you had connections! Anyone at all can do what you do." - I would feel insulted and be very very rude to such a person. How dare they say - or even think - that the years and years of work I put into learning my trade, into writing and reading and learning, before I was finally published, didn't count for anything? That 'anyone' can do this? That all you need to get published are 'connections'.

Was I a bit hard on the poor fellow? As I say, it is extraordinary how many people think writing is easy, and there is some kind of conspiracy that keeps all but those "in the know" from being published.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Perfect? hmmm...

My blog appears to be down, so I wondered if writing a new post might sort of get it up again. Which probably says a lot about my knowledge of the way things work. I never said I was a geek, did I? Me, I was born back in the days when they didn't have plastic, let alone computers, and I've been trying to catch up ever since.

Mr Marketing Man got back to me and said the photo of the madwoman with a stick insect was "perfect". Which probably means that he took one look and decided that there was no way they could market me as the sophisticated elegant writer who dines at Four Seasons wearing her Chanel suit and her Jimmy Choo's with heels so high you need a step ladder to put them on.

Hey, I can chat in four languages and identify a few thousand birds at a glance - you can't have everything, ok?

And here's another photo of a disembodied Kinabalu and some vegetable stalls, taken along the main road in Kundasang. There's a war memorial here which is one of the saddest places on earth - in one of the most beautiful.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Young adult : what's the criteria?

Someone asked on the comments section a couple of days ago: what's the criteria for a work to be classed as "young adult"?

I know pretty much zilch about the subject, but I suspect there is no precise criteria. Rather, an editor - or an author - will make a decision, and if the marketing people agree, then that's the way it will go. I suspect that there are times when everyone is caught out by what happens next. I mean, they had to put out "an adult edition" of Harry Potter! Huh? It had a different cover - so adults wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen reading it?

Trudi Canavan's "The Black Magician" trilogy was not really marketed as a YA in the beginning, but once the book hit High Street in UK, it was obvious that it was having huge success among the slightly younger reader. A YA edition was brought out - exactly the same text, but with a different cover, and pushed to bookshops as YA, which would probably place it in a different section of the store.

So what is it about a story that makes it YA, not adult?

Perhaps YA authors can comment! But here are some of my guesses:

1. Language - not too much of the more vivid curses
2. Age of main protagonist(s) - not quite adult
3. Plot not X rated - if there is any graphic sex, it will be more of the "this is the first time for me too" variety.
4. Probably deals with at least a few "coming of age" issues, if only in passing. Such issues are often the main concern of the book.

And what's the difference between children's literature and YA?

1. Age of main protagonist(s) is younger
2. Language even more circumspect
3. No sex and probably not too much kissing either!
4. Issues will be the kind of thing that is of interest to the targeted age group.

Of course, when I was a highschool teacher, way back when, the kids could run rings around me in their knowledge of graphic swear words, not to mention slang for every conceivable part of the anatomy and the variable uses the said anatomy could be put to, and what you called it when you did...

But even so, YA books are unlikely to be raunchy. Young Adults have to be protected from that kind of thing, after all.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Whew. Song of the Shiver Barrens is finished

Well, that's a lie, of course. All that's finished is the first draft. The first two-thirds have been revised any number of times, but the last one third needs a mountain of work still - and it is due in to HarperCollins by September 4th. Hmm.

Still, the relief is colossal. This will be my seventh published book - coming out in Australia next year and 2008 in the UK.

I was working on the ending at Mesilau last weekend. Imagine this - I wake in the morning and there is a bird looking in through the window at me from the balcony railing. It's a Sunda Whistling Thrush. Only a birdwatcher would understand the extraordinary nature of that statement - this species is not renowned for hanging around balconies.

I watch, entranced, and when it's gone, I step out onto the balcony - only to find myself inside a wave of laughing-thrushes.

They are everywhere around me, squabbling their way from branch to branch, ground to tree to the railing, gleaning insects like vacuum cleaners from the tree ferns that grow next to the staff quarters we are staying in.

I raise my eyes, and there is Kinabalu, presiding over the forest like a great artefact forged in some god's furnace and then abandoned to the elements. The rainforest beseiges it on all sides, but has to admit defeat. Kinabalu rears its head above the tree line, forbidding, ruggedly neutral. Lord, did I once climb that thing back in the days before my knees gave out? A red Langur sits in the crown of a tree, impassively ignoring the view, grooming his bright red hair. The sun catches him and he glows.

Anyway, I spent the weekend there, writing on that balcony, alternately battling with words and being distracted by Indigo Flycatchers and Sunda Bush-warblers among the vegetables in the garden, mountain squrrels and tree-shrews scampering up and down the steps, and the cloud coming and going over the mountain face. Sometimes those jagged peaks seem to be disembodied by cloud, floating in the air like some unmoored celestial land of fantasy.

It was cold (1,800m in the tropics can be damp and freezing), there was no hot water in the bathrooms, and I loved every minute.

And now I have a book to polish.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Dato' doctor, doctor, doctor, doctor, prof...

When I lived in Vienna, I was always amused by the way the Austrians - and I guess German society in general - loved titles and used them liberally whenever possible. Professor Doctor X...or was it Doctor Professor X? Can't remember now. Wives even took the titles of their husbands. My own doctor was married to a doctor, and her nameplate proudly proclaimed Doktor Frau Doktor...

Anyway, I dunno what they would now make of the disreputable fellow in this photo taken last weekend at Mesilau, hugging a pitcher plant Nepenthes raja, (which looks like a small toilet with lid, for an elf with pretensions). He didn't pick it by the way!

He is a Professor.
He has a (well-earned) Ph.D. in chemistry.
He has a title awarded by the state (Dato').
He has an honorary D.Litt. awarded by his alma mater in Australia for services to internationalism (he was the Deputy-Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency for a number of years).
He has another honorary doctorate from the National University of Malaysia (UKM) for his services to the nation and to that university.

And now we have just learned he is about to be awarded a third honorary doctorate, from University Malaysia Sabah (UMS) at the beginning of next month for, I guess, his services in setting up the first campus here in Sabah many years ago.

Syabas, Noramly. I am proud of you.

Computer troubles

After one day of sharing a computer with my husband, I took mine to the dealer for repair. He quoted a sum of money that suggested he thought that at least the last three of my books had featured on on the New York bestseller list for multiple weeks. It was also more than I would require to buy a new laptop.

By a nice bit of lucky coincidence, there was a computer fair in Kota Kinabalu last weekend with all kinds of good deals for the impecunious and poorly paid. We had actually arranged to be away over the weekend, in the National Park again, but I insisted that we return in time to visit the fair. So after a peaceful sojourn at the foot of Kinabalu, we fought our way (not kidding) into the fair hall at the shopping mall to look at what was on offer.

And I am now back in business. At less than the price of repair of the old one.

And now I seem to be spending my time downloading endless stuff that appears to be necessary for the successful operation of my day. As I was aware that my last computer was approaching terminal dysfunction, I had managed to save most essentials - but all emails vanished into the nether regions of the irretrievably lost, so if I seem to be ignoring an email you sent, please resend.

In a desperate hurry to escape the crush of the computer fair, I may have made a poor selection of computer - this one has a wide screen. Which skews all pictures slightly. Fine if you are tall and slim. Disaster if you are short and, um, dumpy. Viewing pix of myself ensures I am both dumpy and grumpy...

Friday, August 04, 2006

No such thing as Writer's Block?

A friend emailed yesterday. She had been telling me for ages how hard she was finding the writing of her new contracted book - it was coming along far too slowly and each page had to be wrung out of her. Where, she asked, had all the joy in writing gone? In addition she was often unwell with a chronic health problem.

Enough to have many writers toss the keyboard across the room and moan that they have writer's block and can't write any more...and some do just that. Othes stop writing because they are scared of failure, particularly if they have had a phenomenal success and don't think they can repeat it.

But my friend is 100% professional. She kept on writing. Struggling every inch of the way - but she did it, hoping that in the end what she produced would be good.

Yesterday she wrote to say that she had an epiphany - saw where she had been going wrong and how to correct it. The zest returned, the joy was back. And with it the speed of production...

I know how she felt. I've been there too. I've thought at times that a book I was working on was crap, that nothing was going right, that the flatness of my prose would be obvious to a reader - but I ploughed on. Because that's what you do when you are professional about your work, whatever your work may be.

And sooner or later, it all comes right - the joy returns, the mistakes are corrected, the plot zings. That would never have happened if I'd stuck the book in a drawer and packed the computer away.

Are there times when you should give up on a particular work? Probably, if you are still learning your trade. The novice wood carver who ruins his piece of wood has to throw it away, after all.

But for someone with a proven track record to say they have writer's block is a different thing altogether. It's the job of a professional to work until you get it right. A professional should have the tools to do that, to take the synopsis and rework it into something different if the first approach didn't come out right. To take that flat, lifeless chapter and turn it sentence by sentence into something that sings.

Writing is more than just a brilliant idea. It's work, just like any other job.
Writer's block? I have no time to think about it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Jennifer Fallon

I'm a fan of Jenny Fallon's. She's a fellow Voyager Oz author who has made quite a splash overseas with her fast-paced, intricately plotted sff adventure tales. I know thst when I sit down with a new Fallon I'll stay up late - always thinking just another few pages...then all of a sudden it's 2 a.m.

She writes great heroes, and has the knack of making you forgive them just about anything. And her one-liners are superb. She's also a fun person - to go shopping with Jenny is a fantasy experience in itself. She came and stayed with me in Kuala Lumpur on an all too brief visit, which is when this photo was taken. (Don't you love the halo?) Anyway, why I am writing this is to draw your attention to Jenny's blog, which is both hilarious, and informative about life in the wilds of Alice Springs, central Australia. Check it out sometime.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Of Blurbs and Babelfish

Every time I have a book about to be printed, the editor asks for a blurb for the back cover. I put hours of thought into it, and come up with something I think is both tantalising and honest. Invariably, it is changed by the marketing people. [On one memorable occasion with a US edition, they managed to get it quite wrong, and altered the plot substantially.]

Blurb writing is, its seems, a very specialised art form, more to do with markets than plots. Which should mean, of course, that every book published just falls off the shelf into the shopper’s basket, because the marketing people are applying their genius… Hmmm. Something wrong with that senario.

Anyway, having nothing better to do with my time except finish book 3 of The Mirage Makers for a deadline at the end of the month, I started trying to work out what they have said about The Aware on the Russian version. As far as I can make out, they used every fantasy trope they could find to describe the story, completely missed everything that made the book different, and thus made it sound as banal and as appetising as boiled tripe. Of course, that could have just been the Babelfish translation, which is about what you might expect if you stuffed a translation fish in your ear. There was one lovely line about how "a thin peace is better than a good quarrel" but otherwise, I'd give the book the miss on the basis of what is apparently written on the back of the book!

Then I read the most glorious translation of some comments about the blurb on a Russian language forum.

Reader 1: "It nauseated and it does not be desirable to read the book. By mind I understand that the annotation to the book for sure no relation has, but nevertheless, it will turn the soul.

Wow. the marketing people really managed to put off that reader and upset her soul as well. I think, btw, babelfish muddled 'annotation' and 'text'.

Fortunately another reader replied as follows:
Reader 2: Yes, does not convey the annotation. But not bad thing, I you assure. Main heroine is class aunt, not the fact that these soplyachki of gurovoy Samoylovoy. I recommend.

Thanks, reader 2. Although that bit about samoylovoy for some reason made me think of hotdogs. Samoyed saveloys anyone?

Lovely Reader 3 then chipped in, and - apparently referring to herself as 'it' - said:
Good work. It began to read - it thought that it will be mediocre. But it is further better :-) . Emotionally it is anxious and there is above how to think.

My mind boggles. Blaze is a class aunt? It's an emotionally anxious book?
I think I am going to take the babelfish out of my ear.

For Russian speakers, the original forum comments and blurb can be read here.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Alien sex

Now that title got you interested, didn't it? One of my husband's photos from Kinabalu Park last weekend.... Now I know what keeps him out till all hours of the night when we go to nature parks. Alien sex orgies.

Many thanks to everyone who gave their input about the author photo - you are all wittier than I am! I liked the comment about that skinny green dog of mine, and as Karen (politely) put it - who'd have once thought we'd obsess about such things...there was a time when all we worried about was whether we'd ever manage to get published.

Anyway, photo 2 has gone off to marketing guy, and I am now waiting in trepidation to see if I get a return email gently suggesting that authors with small green dogs was not quite what he had in mind.