Sunday, September 30, 2007

Poaching: abstract versus reality

Pix 1: the Sabah Parks boat comes in with a poacher's boat slung across the back, and the owner on board.

I loathe poachers. I have seen too much of the damage they have done, and the callous way they tend to treat their environment, in this case the marine environment - fish bombing, cyanide poisoning, dragging nets over corals, and so on. And far, far too often I have witnessed the enforcement authorities turn a blind eye.

Pix 2: A second poacher's boat is being shepherded to shore with a crew of three

[Please don't now tell me that what they do is nothing compared to the legal depredations of big business and developers. I know that.]

Pix 3: poacher's boat. Note the back far corner...

Well, while we were in the Semporna Islands we witnessed the enforcement authorities at work, not only doing their job but doing it strictly, yet with compassion.
Yes, that's a fire on board the boat. They were cooking their tapioca in the wok (now removed from the fire). The burning wood rests on a piece of metal sheeting. Doubtless they would have thrown their catch on to the fire when the tapioca was cooked.

I actually had downloaded a stack of other photos (which takes time because I don't have broadband) and when I scrolled down this far, I found they had all vanished. So you are going to have to wait until tomorrow for the rest of the story of these poachers...

Sometimes Blogger can be very hard to manage. And does anyone know why half the directions for my postings are now auf Deutsch????

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The secret of writing a good book: aim to do it all.

One of my favourite fantasy authors, Guy Gavriel Kay, has been interviewed in the September issue of Locus Magazine, and he has - as one might expect of such a talented and interesting storyteller - some wise things to say.

"I've been saying for years that good fiction is interesting things happening to interesting people. In a lot of the commercial bestsellers (any genre, any form, any field), you're going to have interesting things happening to stupefyingly uninteresting characters, and in a lot of the lauded literary contemporary fiction you'll have carefully thought-out characters with nothing remotely engaging happening to them. But it's not a zero-sum game, not either/or. It's difficult to deliver both, but that's our mandate when we write."

In the above paragraph, he really sums up what writing an interesting story is all about.

There is another element, of course, which most of us take for granted: the writer has to be able to write a decent sentence; you know, with the commas in the right places and the words in the right order.

[Here's a bit of a digression:
Ask any published writer, and they will have tales of being approached by wannabe-published writers (often very young ones) shoving their stories into your hand or into your computer, when they don't yet have the elementary tools to write a story.

Here's a brief example lifted from the beginning of a story submitted for criticism that I read recently, and almost every sentence had an equal number of elementary mistakes:

“What did you just say”! He asked in a soft voice, "Marissa, you should ...." and so on. From the context, it is obvious that the "He asked in a soft voice" applies to the "What did you just say".
Ok, so the capital H is probably a function of Word making an automatic change - but what kind of a writer then submits a passage for criticism with it (multiple times) still like that? And how can you think you'll succeed if you don't know that inverted commas (quotation marks) go outside the punctuation of the speech? Or that an exclamation mark followed by "in a soft voice" isn't going to make sense? Or if you don't know what constitutes a complete sentence in the first place - see the comma after voice?]

You may possibly get published with a book that doesn't have interesting things happening to interesting people, but you will never get published if you don't take time to conquer the tools of your trade.

The other element of a good tale, to me, is a plot that holds together and is believable. Now, the non-fantasy readers among you may raise an eyebrow at that. How can fantasy be believable? Well, that's the function of a good writer: to make it so. (I could also add that the majority of the people of this world do accept the fantastic as real, on pretty little evidence, in their every day lives, but perhaps I had better not go there.)

And to tell the truth, I am constantly surprised at the number of novels that do get published even though they have plot holes so large you could sink a couple of oil rigs into them and still have room. The Da Vinci Code is a good example.

But anyway, here's my formula for a good novel:

Interesting things happening
to interesting people,
with a coherent, believable plot.

Conquer those four elements and you might just have best-seller potential. The first two make a great story, the third makes the great story a publishable book, and the fourth turns the great publishable story into a great book.

What do you think?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Bohey Dulang - Semporna Islands Marine Park

Actually the real name of the Marine Park is the Tun Sakaran Marine Park (the name of a past political leader), but I didn't actually hear anyone call it that...

We went there courtesy of Sabah Parks, able to stay in their facilities, taken by their staff in their boats - a real privilege not given to the public. We were part of a scientific team from the university (UMS). I cannot thank the Park Staff enough for this wonderful experience.

The islands of the park are mostly part of an ancient volcanic rim; the crater is now filled with sea water and corals. The island we stayed on is called Bohey Dulang, or Water Tray. That picture of a rock on the beach near where we stayed (taller than a man) is part of the volcanic evidence...

The first pix are the whole park area from a distance, then closing in...

People who lived in the park before are permitted to stay and use the seas in sustainable ways; fishing is not permitted by outsiders.

The red-roofed building at the foot of the cliffs is the Sabah Parks complex, where we stayed.

Today's post is just to whet your appetite. More to come...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

HEART of the MIRAGE available in Kuala Lumpur

So here I am back in Kota Kinabalu, recovering...I am scratching from monstrous itchy patches all over (reaction to sandfly bites I think).

And the trip was not without incident - Noramlyed a couple of times, if you count being somewhere off the coast of Sabah, poised between the Sulu and the Sulawesi Seas, with both boat engines not working on a rough day...

But I'll keep that story for later. I shall be putting up photos of the trip in the days to come.

In the meantime:

Kitty tells me (bless you, Kitty) that the Orbit edition of book 1 of The Mirage Makers is now available in MPH in Kuala Lumpur - so go look for it. Buy it. It's called Heart of the Mirage and you will find it in the Science Fiction and fantasy section of the larger MPH stores. If it is not there, they will get it in for you.

And here's the progress for the new book (yes, I did some writing of Drouthlord while I was away):

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
168,232 / 180,000

6.5% left to do, or under 12,000 words. Actually, it could be even less, as I am hoping to come in under 180,000 - which would leave me some wriggle room for additional material in the rewrites.

I shall be looking for some serious beta readers by end of November.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I'm back from Semporna

Here are some photos taken around the Port of Semporna, south-eastern Sabah. (see map previous post)

1. Note the banks of lights on the squid boat...

2. Water village

3. Note the logs floating on the right, on their way to the sawmill.

4. Children pulling boats - they are diving for tin cans on the ocean floor for recycling.

The Kalimantan Fisheries Company- with some washing drying on a saw-horse, and on the end of the jetty, the tails of stingrays and the swim bladders of fish.
Expensive delicacies....

7. Photos of the tourism centre and hotel complex all built over the water.

8. Is a picture of the dog that was sitting right outside the tourist complex. Does no one here realise how repulsive tourists, at least Western ones, think such a sight is? What is the point of a lovely tourist complex on the one hand, if a few paces away, the tourist sees something that makes him think we are heartless and uncaring?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sabah Park Blogging Session

Today I am up in Kinabalu Park HQ giving a small workshop on successful blogging for a few park staff - so expect to see a lot more blogs about Sabah Parks from the people who attended!

I am actually typing this while the session is going on...

And here they all are.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Semporna Islands Park, here I come...

Leaving for the islands in the next hour. Well, actually I have to give the workshop in Kinabalu National Park and World Heritage Site first. We will be staying in the Warden's cottage for 2 nights, and then on to Sandakan for one night, and Semporna the next day.

Then three nights in the islands - Bodhey Dulang Island (literally Water Tray Island) followed by Sipadan. Unlike the normal tourist these days, we will be staying overnight at the latter dive site. Especially interesting to me because of the birds... And the snorkelling. I don't dive and have never had any wish to learn.

The blue line is our route across North Borneo...and to think when I first came here, too many years ago to count, there was no way of driving across the island.

I will be back next Tuesday, and may manage to get online in between whiles, but don't bank on it.

Shadow of Tyr...coming soon in UK

I see that the cover of The Shadow of Tyr is already up on Amazon here, so I guess I can post it here too. I love it, love it, love it.

Another great cover from Larry Rostant (the cover artist) and the design team at Orbit, who produce the best covers in the business, bar none.

And there on the front cover is a terrific quote from another of my favourite authors of unputdownable books. Kate Elliott did the one for Heart of the Mirage, and now I have Karen Miller - love these guys.

And just look at the art work. We have the Tyranian city of Tyr in the background, but the cracked sky above is that of the Mirage.

And there's the winged spear and symbol of Tyrans - but look, the shadowed pattern to the right is the pattern of the Mirager's sword (see the cover of Heart of the Mirage). And if you look carefully, you will notice that the wing to the right is dark and broken and drooping. Tyr is in trouble - Ligea is on her way to extract revenge for the wrongs done to her....

That is one heck of a good cover.

And just to add to my cup of Amazon goodies, I see that they have put up the first advert for the French version of The Aware here. No pix as yet, or release date, but ah, those magic words: GRANDS FORMATS.
Yep, my first trade paperback (i.e. large size), and it comes from J'Ai Lu...
C'est formidable...

The title? CLAIRVOYANTE , book 1 of Les Iles Glorieuses

Life is so exciting. And today I am off to tropical isles...more about that in another post if I have time before I go.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Bit more progress....

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
163,287 / 180,000

Percentage revised:
Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
138,910 / 180,000

More than three-quarters!
I'm getting there...
Tomorrow I will be up in the mountains at 6,000' which is always good for the creative juices.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fasting children in Ramadan

There was a news item in a daily newspaper here last week, extolling the achievement of a local nine-year-old boy. He was apparently going to attempt to fast for the whole of Ramadan. Last year, aged 8, he achieved a so-called half-day fast.

[For those of you who may not be aware of what fasting is all about: briefly, it includes going without food and water from sun-up to sundown for a lunar month. The purpose is to turn one's thoughts to one's spiritual life, and to feel compassion for those who do not have the necessities of life.]

The boy's parents were proud, the newspaper reporter obviously thought this was an achievement of merit.

Sorry, I think it stinks. And I think his parents need a lesson in parenting, in childcare and in compassion. Are they really thinking of their child, or just enjoying boasting about him and getting his picture in the newspaper?

Islam says that fasting is for adults, not children. One assumes this is for obvious reasons: a growing child's body has certain needs - like water in a hot climate like ours. Send a kid to school, where he races around with his playmates without thinking that he has to last the whole day, and he could get severely dehydrated, putting a strain on immature kidneys. Doing this for day after day after day for a month, and you could be sowing the seeds of kidney disease in later life.

I would like to see religious leaders speak out against this kind of unholy abuse of children. I would like to see religious teachers in schools condemn to their students the whole idea of "half-day" fasts (which have no merit anyway) and not to condone any other attempt by children to emulate their adults in fasting month. I would like Muslim doctors to speak out and tell parents what the consequences can be.

Encouraging a child to fast is unIslamic, surely. I lived in an Arabic Muslim country for 2 years, and parents there were horrified at the idea of children fasting, and certainly would never have encouraged any childish attempts to do so.

Progress report

Probably won't get much writing done today, as I have to do the powerpoint presentation for the workshop I am giving in Kinabalu Park. But here's an update:

Here's the length completed as of now, compared to the estimation of final length:
(YAY! Up over 90%!)
Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
162,234 / 180,000

Here's where I am up to going through reworking the MS. (Remember the words yet to be written aren't going at the end, but in the body of the book.)

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
129,525 / 180,000

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Guess where I am...

Just hopped off yet another plane. I am now back in Sabah. And next week I am giving a short course to staff of Sabah Parks up at Kinabalu National Park.

Payment is in kind...A trip.

I am going to the islands off the east coast, where I have never been before.

Eat your heart out, you poor folk chained to your office desks; next week's blogs will be about Sipadan Island and other places from
the Land Below the Wind.

Other people dream about tropical islands and deserted coral sands - I go there.

*Evil laughter...*