Thursday, March 29, 2007

In search of the Bornean Peacock Pheasant

Copy edit dispatched today...

And I am off hunting for the Bornean Peacock Pheasant in the only place in North Borneo where it has been seen (one bird) in the 100 past years. Well, actually it was shot by the Museum there in 1996. (Museums always prefer dead birds, I guess, to living ones?)

I'll be back next Wednesday...

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

First person in Fantasyland

Firstly, there are some interesting comments on the previous post about writing in the first person. Check them out - some wise words there.

Worldweavers: Gift of the Unmage (Worldweavers)

Secondly, apparently I live in Fantasyland... least so Alma Alexander tells me. She took her latest book to the US Post Office to post to me here in Kota Kinabalu. My address has a lot of interesting words in it like Likas, Tuaran, Tenejal, Lucky...
...and the folk behind the counter wanted to know if this was a real place? Lol!

Actually I think my Tunisian address was more interesting. We lived on the
Rue Manoubi Jarjar. Now what does that remind you of...?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

So, what brought you here?

My site meter has some snazzy features, one of which is this: if you googled to get here, it tells me what you typed in. Now most people who arrived here that way have typed in my name or the name of one of my books, or the blog name. Obviously enough.

But sometimes ... these are some of the things that brought you here over the past couple of days:

"You live in the tropics"
Yep, I do. Not sure how that is going to help you, though.

"Skiving Isles"
Now that sounds like a lovely place to be. Especially when I am in the middle of a copy edit with a massively important deadline. Haven't a clue where they are, though - if you find out, tell me. I need them.

Fair enough, that's my daughter.

"Luck in being signed by a literary agent"
Takes more than luck, my friend...

"Koompassia excelsa"
For all of you looking blank, that's a rainforest tree.

"Animal Farm, Chapter One"
Yet another student who wants the internet to write a term paper for them...Not sure how this site will help, though. Why don't you go buy one of my books instead?

"What do you mix with temper paint for windows?"
I haven't the faintest clue. Although I admit I rather like the juxtaposition of the words "temper" and "windows". Especially when I am copy editing an MS that had its formatting thoroughly mucked up during the process of being emailed and opened by the publisher's computer system...

"Tiderider 45' yacht"
Nice. Wish someone would buy me a yacht.
But I do know where that comes from. "The Tainted" is partly about a tiderider who rides the tidal bores as a messenger...

"Wife 50"
Uh-oh. Mate, put up with it. She has to. And suggest she try HRT.

"Comments on book ending in trilogies"
Hey, the ending is the easy part to's the 1,500 previous pages that are a real pain.

"How to write in the first person"

"Traits of a good wife"
Boy, have you come to the wrong site. I can tell you something though: stop ironing your husband's shirts, and he goes out and buys ones that don't need ironing.

"Husband wearing wife's stockings"
WTF?? I kid you not, that was what was googled, and it brought them here.
Can give you some advice, though, lady. If that's the worst thing about your marriage, then you don't have a problem. Tell him to go buy his own, or to pay for yours.
Or move to the tropics. We don't wear stockings here.

And one last word: after the most recent entries, the most popular entry page for visitors is the post entitled "How to Beat Your Pregnant Wife".
Dear readers, you are one helluva strange lot ...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Special Moments

This is my week apparently for feedback from authors ... people who don't know me but have come across my work.

And it's a strange feeling. You see, I have spent the better part of life feeling rather ordinary, like most of us do, I guess. And along the way, I have admired certain people who are in the public eye, to one degree or another. Not too many politicians among them, I will admit, but there have been many, many writers.

I've admired their work, their creations, their ideas, their values, their talent. And as far as I have been concerned, they were out there in the stratosphere somewhere, about as far away as you could get from me. I admired from afar and read their books, but funnily enough it never occurred to me that they would read mine.

So when Kate Elliott , author of many wonderful fantasies that I've avidly read and admired for so many different reasons, says on a team blog named Deep Genre :

Glenda, I meant to mention some weeks ago that I am a total fangirl after reading your Aware trilogy... It’s fabulous. I loved it.

...well, I was just bowled over. This was Kate Elliott, talking about MY books. In public. Oh, wow. All I'd done was leave a comment on a blogpost re manuscript submission, and that was the last thing I expected.

Kate Elliott, I think you are wonderful.

I have to go and sit down now.

Pix (taken a while back):

A writer's life. The temptation is that pair of flippers and the coral reef in the bay - and the reality is the deadline.

Back to my copy edit.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Fun with Fungi

All photos taken in Tawau Hills Park during the
Universiti Malaysia Sabah/Sabah Parks expedition.

No idea of what they are called - I just thought they were pretty.

The Biodiversity of Borneo:

Never has so much been destroyed
in so short a time
for the benefit of so few

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A review from Kate Forsyth

The Isles of Glory: "Sharp intelligent fantasy for those who like ideas mixed in with their action."

Kate Forsyth is an Australian YA and children's author of considerable experience and talent, so I am delighted to see that she enjoyed The Isles of Glory Trilogy.

You see, writers are really, really picky readers. We see through everything. The plot devices, the flaws, the weaknesses, we tend to see them all. We think uncharitably, "Hmph, I wouldn't have done it that way!" As we read, we note the structure and do an inward criticism of how the book was put together. In fact, my criteria for knowing whether a book is really good is this: I am so drawn into the tale that I read without giving a thought to how it was written.

So when a writer likes my work, especially one I've never met, I heave a huge sigh of relief.

Here are some of the things Kate has to say:

"Larke obviously relishes world building, and the cultures she creates are so original, in comparison to many fantasy worlds, that the whole series has a very fresh feel to it ..."
"...It is very interesting to see a little more of the different cultures as our heroes move from island to island. I really enjoyed these aspects of The Isles of Glory."

"The second book, Gilfeather has one of the best opening lines in recent fantasy fiction. I first met Blaze and Flame the day before I murdered my wife...."
"I was genuinely surprised by the ending of Book Two as well, another experience I always enjoy..."

"The Tainted...brings to the fore a narrative thread which has been a clever and sometimes amusing framing device in the earlier books..."

The writing style is "always very smooth and readable, and punctuated with a dry wit that helps lighten much of the darkness of the story. This is sharp intelligent fantasy for those who like ideas mixed in with their action."

Wow, thank you, Kate Forsyth. I hope I get to meet you at the coming Natcon in Melbourne so I can say thanks in person...

Kate's review is in the latest Aurealis Magazine which can be bought through this site.

Now back to my copy edit.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wanting to be published: is it a trap?

There's a great discussion on this topic going on over at Karen Miller's blog.

Here is part of what I wrote in the comments section:

I must admit I have never read fanfic and have no desire to do so. Nor do I have a desire to write it. In fact, I don't "get" it. One of the great joys in writing for me has always been world building. To use someone else's world - or even worse their characters - would take away 90% of the joy!

Sure, I wanted to be published, but that was never the obsession. And if I'd reached the end of my life unpublished, I would never have thought my life wasted. I wrote because I had to - that was the obsession - writing was and is an inseparable part of life. It has been since I was eight years old, or even younger. Does someone who reads a book, or goes sailing every weekend, or horse-riding, or swimming at the beach, or to the opera, waste their life? Of course not!

And that perhaps is the best advice I can give to a "wannabe" who is not sure whether they have what it takes to be a "got-there"! If you aren't loving the journey, if you ARE going to give up on the creative process after constant rejection, then you are probably in the wrong business and, yes, wasting your life. If the creation is what counts, then publication is just the icing on a cake that is already tasty. If creation is what counts and brings you joy, then you have a fufilled life no matter what happens.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that publication is what writing is ALL about. It's not.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Writerly stuff

Nice writerly things happening at the moment. Just had a long chat with my HarperCollins Voyager editor, which is always great. [I get literarily-deprived over here in Sabah sometimes, if you'll forgive the pun, so talking to someone in the business is always wonderful.] She has re-read Song of the Shiver Barrens, and is happy with all the last minute changes I made.

The copy edit for that same book has just been delivered to my door, and I am neck deep in that. [Have you any idea how humungous a 160,000 word book is when it is in A4 sheets, double-spaced courier font?? I had to move my workspace from the writing desk to the dining room table...]

And my agent has sent me a email saying how much she LOVES the synopsis/book proposal for The Random Rain Quartet. Yay!

Pix: Roots on a forest path, Tawau Hills Park, Sabah.
Or, if you are a fantasy author/reader, something quite different...long live the imagination!

Monday, March 19, 2007

More on fantasy and mainstream critics

Two great links sent me by a friend pertaining to the previous thread on fantasy readers and mainstream critics...

The Guardian

and The Financial Times

And the photo is from the Tawau Hills Expedition - me and a tree. I like pix that make me appear petite.

(Expedition was a joint project between Universiti Malaysia Sabah and the Sabah Parks, who kindly allowed me along.)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The fantastic is indeed fantastic

If you don't read fantasy, you need to read the comments section of the previous post.

If you do read sff, read them to cheer yourself up.

Pix: another from Sebatik Island, Sabah. This one is a picture of the mangroves. Any wonder that I love swamps?

Taken during the Universiti Malaysia Sabah / Sebatik Island MoU visit.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

What is 'literary' anyway?

I hate being on the defensive about writing fantasy. And yet I find I am, all the time.

When people find out I am a writer, their first questions is: 'What sort of books do you write?'
I am tempted to answer, 'Very good ones', or something similar because I do get sick of seeing the interest die the moment I reply 'Fantasy' , to be replaced with a look that says, 'Oh, trashy stuff.' (Unless they think I mean porn, in which case I get very strange looks indeed).

It truly is amazing how many people who would never dream of reading fantasy are so sure it is crap. I'd love to know why they have arrived at this conclusion. (If there is someone reading this who feels that way, please come and tell me why ... I am genuinely curious and I promise not to bite your head off).

Yet it seems even 'literary' sf authors get hit with the same contempt, so what hope have I got? Over on Langford's Ansible March issue is a story about the UK writer, Iain Banks, who writes both 'literary' works and SF. (I love his work, both kinds)

Langford reports:

Iain Banks's new book... is variously described. An invitation to the related `The Herald Sunday Herald Book Series' event calls it `his first literary novel in almost five years' -- as distinct from illiterary novels like The Algebraist (2004)?
Private Eye's phrasing is `Banks's first "proper" novel (as opposed to the sci-fi stuff he turns out under the name of Iain M. Banks) for five years.'
And Radio 4's Saturday Review, after acknowledging this author's habit of alternating the `terrestrial' and the `intergalactic', went on to say: `
The Steep Approach to Garbadale
is his first novel for five years ...'

Apparently, you see, when an excellent literary novelist writes sf, he suddenly stops writing well and writes such trash that it doesn't even qualify as a novel. Or he doesn't write a novel, he "turns out stuff".

Other literary writers who suddenly write a fantasy actually write "magical realism" or some other catch phrase, because of course such a wonderful writer couldn't possibly write fantasy, could they?

When I first had books published in Australia, they were unavailable in Malaysia, because I couldn't interest the publisher's distributor in supplying them to book shops here - Australian books, he said, were too expensive for the Malaysian market.

But I was being well-reviewed in Malaysian newspapers, so I approached a bookshop in Bangsar. I also wanted a bookshop I could send people to when they asked where to buy copies. I offered the proprietor a win-win solution. I was willing to supply the books, and he didn't have to pay me until they were sold. He refused the offer, and told me that he didn't stock non-literary works and the kind of people who read "those" kind of books (i.e. trashy fantasy?) didn't come into his shop anyway.

While saying goodbye to him, a customer caught sight of the sample book I had brought along, started talking to me - and bought the book from me, right there in the shop where "people who read those kind of books" weren't supposed to shop, right under the nose of the proprietor.

The next time I was in that bookshop, I saw he had copies of Harry Potter all over the place. Sigh.

It seems an obvious thing to say, but shouldn't every book be judged on its merits?
It seems equally obvious, but apparently also needs to be said: shouldn't you read a book first before you judge its literary merit or otherwise?

How does one define 'literary' anyway?

I think it was Miss Snark who said something along the lines of:
Literary novels get good reviews and commercial novels get good sales.

And one of her readers said something like this:
A literary novel impresses you with the beauty of its prose rather than its story.
In a commercial novel, the story comes first and if you are noticing the prose, you've got a problem.

My book group used to argue a lot about this. About the only definition we could agree on was that of a 'classic' as a book that was going to last beyond its immediate generation. Something that was going to continue to be read 30 years and more further down the line.

Anyone have a good definition of a 'literary' work?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

If you want to be a writer, read this first.

Getting off a ferry in Tawau Port

Some days back, I wrote about our very, very slow journey on a large wooden tongkang with a 75 hp engine from Tawau, mainland Sabah, to Sebatik Island.
Needless to say, on our return we decided to catch the regularly scheduled ferry along with the schoolkids and islanders - which took half the time. Now a ferry that runs every day at set times is going to arrive at some kind of passenger terminal, right?

Picture One: we approach the passenger terminal.

Picture Two: we are about to dock

Picture 3: we contemplate the dock, which is the roof of the boat tied up to another boat which is docked...

Picture 4: the scramble begins. The owner of the boat roof (take a look at those cracks), begins to have hysterics, unfortunately not caught on camera. All those people you see in the background are standing on his roof, about to be joined by those two in the foreground...

Picture 5: scramble over the fishnets and down a makeshift gangplank to...

Picture 6: the fishing boat next door which is being unloaded

Picture 7: Walk around this second boat to the steps, climb the steps up to the next deck...

Picture 8: and, still carrying all your expedition equipment and baggage, get out on to the dock...

Picture 9: which is actually the dock for the fish market...

Picture 10: go through the fish market...

Picture 11: ...and get ambushed by all the kids who just love to have their picture taken, especially on digital cameras where they can get instant feedback and see what they look like!

And so ends the saga of getting off a passenger ferry in Tawu Port.

I love Sabah.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Harriet Klausner under seige

It has just been pointed out to me that Harriet the Prolific is being gunned down big time over on the site. [see here]

It seems a group of disparate people have got together to disparage and shatter the "HK" myth (I kept reading that as Hong Kong which was a bit disconcerting.) They are posting their opinions on the comments section of the latest reviews done by the redoutable Harriet. She did, after all, post 44 reviews for March 11th which does seem, um, a little on the prolific side. And that's not apparently unusual for her. Gives a new definition to speed reading, doesn't it? As one of the commentators points out, it would take her a whole day just to pen the reviews - and that's without reading the books.

Outsourcing (perhaps HK really does mean Hong Kong?) by publishers trying to boost sales seems to be the explanation put forward.

What does disconcert me a bit is that the commentators are extraordinarily vitriolic in their comments about the thousands of books "HK" is supposedly reviewing - they are all trash. I am not sure how they come to that amazing conclusion (unless they can do a Harriet and read tens of books a day). Perhaps it is merely the process of being read by Harriet that is sufficient to condemn a book as worthy only of being consigned to a third world loo?

I guess there are just too many supposedly literary types out there to whom the word "genre" implies "evilly bad", and in this case it means science fiction, fantasy, vampires, thrillers, romances, chick lit, detective tales, erotica, police procedurals, media tie-ins, historical novels, family sagas, mysteries, comic novels - in fact everything from "An Irish Country Doctor" to "Speed Dating". Harriet, after all, reads them all...

Quite obviously, there is no single Harriet Klausner doing all this. Which raises the question: who's paying? Would any publisher bother? Why? Does a Harriet Klausner review carry such weight that it would boost sales? Are they kidding? (The average author reaction to any Amazon review, let alone Harriet's, is that they make very little difference one way or another.)

There is one thing the commentators have got right, though. This shouldn't happen.

This kind of "reviewing" is dishonest, it devalues all reader reviews and makes a mockery of the whole process. Every genuine reader reviewer out there should be up in arms - it insults them. The whole thing is unworthy of Amazon or anyone else involved.

{My theory, btw, is that there was once a real Harriet Klausner...}

Monday, March 12, 2007

Want to explore Indonesia anyone?

I have added some more comments on synopsis writing to yesterday's blog.

Poor Indonesia, they seem to lurch from one disaster to another. Including ferry disasters. Here's a photo we took in Tawau of several ferries loading up for Indonesian destinations. Note the baggage on top like an overloaded bus, not to mention the definite tilt on the lefthand vessel. Double click if you want a better view.

I think I'd rather walk.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

How to write a fantasy trilogy synopsis...I think

Ok, I have spent four days on this darn synopsis, (actually for a quartet rather than a trilogy). Which is ridiculous. I can write 5,000 words on a good day, and it has taken me four days to write a summary of just over 2500 words? I am now trimming it down...aargh. This has got to be harder than writing 25,000 words.

Here's a few hints for any other poor sod who has to do this.

Firstly, if you are writing a synopsis, you have probably already got the interest of an agent/publisher. So you don't have to worry too much about a startling grab-me hook. You have to do two things instead: make the whole story sound interesting and show the publisher/agent that you know where you are going with it. (Your ability to write good English is a given, right?)

Secondly, do NOT think that you are going to hold back the ending because "I want the editor to be knocked endwise by the twist when s/he reads the book". A synopsis is just that: it tells the person reading it the story, in summary, and that includes the ending.

Thirdly, the problem peculiar to fantasy is that none of the fantastical bits are going to make too much sense in summary. "But the Redduner left his zigger cage on the pede..." may be a crucial incident in the tale, but it is going to mean absolutely nothing to anyone out of context. Worse, it all sounds a bit stupid. So how to get around this? In the actual book there's a slow unfolding of how the magic works and what it does; in a synopsis you have to explain very briefly, and NOT show.

So what I do is start the synopsis with a few paragraphs under a subtitle of "The World" or "The Land" or something similar, where I describe briefly what makes this world unique and how its magic works. I end this section with a bit on the trilogy's themes (nothing too heavy handed though. I'm a storyteller first.) And I hope to make this section really interesting because I suspect it will do more to sell the books than the truncated version of the story that follows - although that will now make sense, at least.

Fourthly, I deal with each book separately. I turf out all the minor characters and try to sketch in the bare outlines of the story, enough to be coherent, not enough to muddle. You can't do much to show your skill with characterization, but I feel it pays to put a bit in about a couple of the most important characters. Here's how I describe the villain of the piece: ...a cold-eyed pede rider named Shanim, known for his unquestioning loyalty to Devin and his indifference to suffering, either his own or anyone else’s.

Anyway, I can tell you one good thing that came out of this exercise. I know exactly how Book 4 is going to end now. I always knew what I wanted to achieve by the end - that is, I knew the state of the world and the position of the characters at the end of the quartet - but I couldn't quite get a handle on the climactic ending that was going to get me there, [what Russell Kirkpatrick calls "a typical Larke climax" of cataclysmic instability a la "Gilfeather", "The Tainted", "Havenstar" and "Song of the Shiver Barrens"].

Now I have it, and it's a beaut.

I hate writing synopsis, but they sure do help to get your thinking straight. I am on top of the world tonight - hey, this quartet is gonna be good.

Photo: Sebatik Island, Sabah.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

So where do you come from?

Here's a couple of more photos taken on Sebatik Island.

My elder daughter reckons she can't think of anything that would prompt her to leave a comment on a stranger's blog. Come to think of it, she won't even do it on mine.

I guess there must be many of you who share her reluctance, because there's a heck of a lot of you drop by and never say a word.

So today's blog is for you, the unknowns. The last 100 visitors here came from 16 different countries:
UK (25)
Australia (24)
US (15)
Malaysia (11)
and also Canada, India, Spain, New Zealand, Philippines, Finland, Hong Kong, Sweden, India, Brazil, Germany and China.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Raptor watch

I stood at the foot of the lighthouse and looked out across the Straits of Malacca. One can see Indonesia on a fine day, someone said. Not that day: in the distance the horizon blurred into sea haze, and hence to sky.

Far below me, a steep tree-clad slope tumbled into water and a coral reef. Every so often a turtle would surface for air and then drop away into murky depths.

We were waiting. And waiting. Bored with the sea watch, most of us looked at other birds in the surrounding remnant forest - resident sea-eagles, scarlet minivets, tiny falconets, dollarbirds doing their aerial dance that earned them their other name: rollers.

And then someone said those magic words: 'There's one!"

It took me a while to see it - a speck against the water far below. Flapping, flapping, flapping. Growing larger by the minute. And then another behind it, and another. A line of birds approaching like the straggling vanguard of an army worn out by battle. And we were looking down on them, not up.

And battling they have been, trying to power their bodies across water, when they are built for grace, for gliding on the thermals and the rising air of a land mass.

The first bird is panting, its beak open in the heat. Then he stops the laborious beating of his wings and the uplift of warmed air from the cape catches him gently and lifts him. He tilts, and banks over us in lazy circles. Can I see relief in that glinting eye as he passes me? What does he think to see us there, watching him with our binoculars and telescopes, recording his passing with a pencil stroke in our notebooks, or a click of our counters?

He is not home yet; he has just come from Indonesia and is bound for Japan or northern China, or Russia maybe. His journey is 10,000 kilometres long and he has another couple of months to go, back to the place where he was born. He might be shot at, trapped, blown off course, drowned in the sea. Or he might nest and raise young and be back this way again in October.

My eyes fill with tears. He is magnificent, somehow noble in his thoughtless instinctive dedication to return to his birth place. He is symbolic of all that is right with the world, and symbol of all that could go wrong.

It was my first raptor watch, twenty-five years ago.

This year I won't be there. And I am saddened. you live in Peninsular Malaysia or Singapore, then you should be in Melaka this weekend, at Tanjung Tuan, at the edge of the beach in the Ilham Resort grounds. You should be there to watch this. Even if conditions are poor for arriving raptors - and that does happen - there are a ton of things for you to see with your whole family, including grandma who can sit under the trees (and see the raptors too when they pass overhead). There are competitions for kids, and talks, and telescopes to look through, guided walks to go on, something for everyone and most of it is totally free or available for a ringgit or two. If you aren't there, what the hell's the matter with you?

For more information, look here:

All photos supplied by the generosity of Malaysian Nature Society members.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

I hate writing synopses...

I loathe, despise, abhor, abominate the necessity for writing synopses. Right now I am writing this blog, rather than write a synopsis.

But as the final book in a trilogy winds down towards publication date (at least from the writerly involvement point of view), the ugly spectre of Glenda writing a synopsis hovers yet again...

My publisher's editor has not written me an email saying that there are just one or two small things that need altering (all editors have a penchant for understatement), so I can only assume she is satisfied with The Song of the Shiver Barrens. My agent has hounded the accounts department, and the cheque for the delivery of the MS is already in my bank account and partially spent (bless both agent and HarperCollins Oz for their efficiency.)

Which all means that Song of the Shiver Barrens is well on its way towards its July publication. And with that, The Mirage Makers - a project that has been with me since 1992 - comes to a close.

Ok, so there is still the copy edit to be dealt with, and the proofs to read after that, but this is the period when my agent begins to speak of selling the next trilogy. The one that's only partially written... "I know you're very good at these synopses from your previous work,' she writes. Huh. She must know how much I hate doing 'em and thinks a spot of fulsome flattery will fuel my fingers at the keyboard. Yeah.

I mean, how can you condense the plot of three books - or four in this case, because it's not a trilogy but a quartet* - into a one or two page synopsis??? How do you impress an editor with the depth of your characterization, the twists and turns of the spectacular ending, the sensawunda of your spendiferous world?

It would be bad enough having to write the synopsis of a novel set in, say, suburban US/UK/Australia. At least you could say something like "Philip Twitterton, a mild-mannered glass-blower from Sydney, has just murdered his ex-model wife with a box of kitty litter, and is now wondering how to remove - in secret - the smelly, bloated body of the 400 pound woman from his apartment..."

Nice hook(s) and loads of information in the first sentence.

But how about this: "The Four Quarters are in trouble. The Droughtmaster is dying and someone has been murdering the young Drouthlords..."

So what? you may ask. Somehow I have to convey how and why that is important to both the land and my young hero, when it is going to take me half a big fat fantasy to explain...

Besides, how the hell do I know what's going to happen in book four when I haven't finished book one yet? I sort of know, but the details are hidden in the mists of the future, and will only be revealed with I immerse myself in the world of the Four Quarters and talk to all those characters now rattling around in my brain planning their betrayals and triumphs.

Oh, and if you want to help, go out and buy The Mirage Makers. That way, it won't matter how lousy my synopsis is; my sales figures will be so spectacular, the publishing houses will be clammering at my agent's inbox to buy the rights to The Random Rain Quartet.
See? You too can make a difference...

I hate writing synopses.

*The Random Rain Quartet consisting of:

Book One: Drouthlord
Book Two: Droughtmaster
Book Three: Waterpainter
Book Four: Rainmaker

Another sunset from Sebatik Island

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Kill them books! Quick, before they enlighten you...

Criminals in Baghdad have just blown up the book market. They killed a lot of books as well as people.

Some people fear knowledge. They know it sets people free. They know it enables us to make up our own minds, instead of swallowing their hate and bigotry unquestioned.

A few brainless librarians in the USA ban kids' books that contain the word "scrotum";
Nazis burned books;
Communists banned just about anything that looked interesting (in the hope that brains would die of terminal boredom?);
Right-wing Christian nuts stop their kids from reading about wizards;
The Malaysian government censors ban anything that looks iffy to their literary-challenged minds.

In Bagdad they blow up books. The only difference is the matter of degree. Loss of stimulation that prompts the ability to think for oneself on the one hand, loss of life as well as the books on the other. It is all tragic. It is all a step backwards.

Some people cannot see that a closed mind has no value, and certainly no virtue. How can there be virtue if you have never seen an alternative? Never been allowed to think for yourself?

Savoir c'est pourvoir

Before and after pix pinched from the Malay Mail newspaper via Bibliobibuli

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

So what happened to the other boat?

Photos: Wallace Bay, Sebatik Island.
1. Note the Astro dish for satellite TV.
2. Tides go out a long way...
3. Dig that crazy building...
4. Sunset, Wallace Bay.

We arrived at Wallace Bay, had lunch, settled in, did some birding. Hours passed. Night was falling...and the speedboat with the other participants had not arrived. They had been sighted, briefly, shooting past the jetty some hours earlier, oblivious to the frantic waving of the expedition organiser. But now here it was, growing dark, and no sign of them.

What had gone wrong?

Well, firstly, they made the mistake of turning left out of Tawau Port.

No one explained to them that you can't go around Sebatik Island that way to get to where we were staying.

Why not? Because half of the island belongs to Indonesia, that's why... That was mistake number one.

Mistake number two was to ask for directions.

How can that be a mistake, you ask? Well, it is when the place you stop at to ask happens to be the police/immigration base - on the Indonesian side of the island, and you don't have the right papers.

You are researchers? the man asks in disbelief, waving the sub-machine gun. Then how come you don't know where you are?

Good point. The boatman should have done some research. Like looked at a map, perhaps...

After much time, many lame explanations and some grovelling apologies (not that they had much choice, after all), they were released and headed off in the right direction. Sort of.

But then along came the consequences of mistake number three - they really didn't know where they were going.

They had heard vaguely the name of the place that they were supposed to be visiting the following day, thought that was where they were supposed to be heading, and set off in that direction. That was when they sped past Wallace Bay. But this other place is actually a mangrove islet with no settlement. And the tide was falling...

Three hours stuck on a mudflat. No food. No loo, and one of your number is a woman. I am so glad it wasn't me...

They finally arrived at dusk, when they had thought they were going to get there before us. They'd been Noramlyed, for sure.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Banana Boat to Wallace Bay anyone?

Subtitle: Being Noramlyed* again…

There’s an island off the southern coast of Sabah called Sebatik. As the sea swallow flies, it’s not that far from the famous diving island of Sipadan, but it’s closer to the coast and the town of Tawau. My sister and I have just come out of the forest and want to head to Wallace Bay, a village on the west coast of the island facing the mainland. Getting there, though, was a fascinating experience in how NOT to travel…

Start the journey not knowing which wharf the boat is leaving from, and your fun begins. Try the ferry wharf, the fish market wharf, the customs’ wharf, the marine police wharf, the fisherman's wharf, and anything else that looks as if it has boats, until you finally end up on the, um, well, banana boat wharf?

It is nearly nine o’clock, one hour after due departure time, but we have found more of our group and they assure us we are at the right place. Really.

The folk who drove us there disappear to look for their boat; they have a vessel with fast engines and expect to arrive several hours before we - who are about to board a borrowed vessel - can. What they don't know, is that they have already been Noramlyed. They started the trip with us, after all.

The port is bedlam, and our boat is not there. There is actually no wharf – just gangplanks linking seawall and boat decks. So we wait.

We pinch a few cocoa beans from a gunny sack and eat the chocolate seeds. Delicious, crunchy. Bananas and salt sacks, a heap of kitchen gas tanks, young oil palm plants and a wheelbarrow loaded with long beans - even a washing machine - pass us by, to be shouldered or humped on to one or another of the long wooden “tongkangs." A bridal party flutter past in shiny silken colours, fingers thumbing handphone keys in silent chatter.

In spite of the occasional modern touch, the scene - smells, produce, noise, heat, colour, sweat - is straight out of Conrad's "Lord Jim." I am half expecting a red-faced, sweating white man in a topee to come striding up to berate the Lascars... No, maybe that's a bad image, considering what happened to Lord Jim's ship. And anyway, the sweating, red-faced sahib is me, although I can't find anyone to berate.

Finally our tongkang arrives, but cannot find a berth along the crowded waterfront. We wait some more and finally our boat nudges its way in and we load up. It’s a strange vessel; like most tongkangs, it is wooden and looks homemade. This one has such high sides it is hard to see out – bit like the traditional depiction of Noah’s ark, except the super structure (which is, in fact, only the loo) is at the stern, not amidships.

We are all on board within minutes, but still we don’t sail. All the fuel has to be put on board. Carried on. In jerrycans. The boatman siphons the first lot into the fuel tank, starting the process by personally sucking the fuel along a plastic hose. He then smokes a cigarette.

Then when that is done, another plastic hose is connected from the shore to bring water on board into two large plastic barrels. Finally we are off. One of our female passengers has a stomach ache and disappears into the loo.

Oops, we aren't quite on our way even now. We have yet to negotiate a number of boats of varying size and speeds, scurrying along like water beetles through the port. Then we stop. And anchor. We wait and wait. "What are we waiting for?" one of the expedition members asks one of the two crew on board.

Seems one of the crew is not coming with us. He needs his bag - which is in the loo. We wait some more. And some more. Finally the loo is vacated, the man retrieves his bag, and disappears towards the shore in a small boat.

Still we don't leave. What now? someone asks. Seems the boatman sent crewman to buy him some cigarettes. The boatman puts his head down on the jerry cans and snoozes. I wonder if you can get high on petrol fumes.

Eventually he has his cigarettes. The anchor is raised - slowly - by hand. Very slowly. and finally we are off. Only thing is that this tongkang is a heavy vessel. And it has one engine. One outboard engine. A 75 hp engine at that. It takes us fifteen minutes just to clear the port. We could already see Sebatik Island, even before we left the dock. For the next two hours, it grows no closer.

Three hours later we arrive in Wallace Bay. (That's us in the last pix abandoning the boat at the Wallace Bay jetty).

And if you want to know what happened to the other Noramlyed boat, I'll tell you tomorrow. Believe me, they got the worst of the Noramly curse.

*a term invented by my daughters' long suffering men, to cover what happens when you travel with a member of our family...