Saturday, February 28, 2009

What's up for March

Well, Book 2 of the trilogy is due, for a start. But there are a number of other exciting, interesting and unsettling things going on at the moment and for the whole of March. Quite a lot of stresses, some of them good ones.
The result may be that my blogging will be a tad sporadic at times. I may not even be within internet range sometimes too. So be prepared not to see too much up here at times.

Never fear, I shall return...

The pix are just leaves taken on our morning walk. I love the patterns of the forest floor...

Friday, February 27, 2009

More from the palace in Yogyakarta

Here are some more photos from the Sultan's palace in Yogya. In the second pix, the yellow cloth signifies that the Sultan is in residence. He is the sole Sultan remaining in Indonesia who has both clout and respect (he is the elected Governor of the province), perhaps partly because his family risked much to oppose Dutch colonialism after the war - and that was a risky business, believe me...
I remember reading a book in my much younger days called "Revolt in Paradise" about this period and this area - written by the woman known as Surabaya Sue. A fascinating woman. She called herself by her Indonesian name, K'tut Tantri, but was born with the much more prosaic name of Muriel Pearson. She had Scottish-American-Australian connections. My mother bought the book because she remembered hearing her on the radio while she was in Australia in the 1940s drumming up support for Indonesian independence. You can read a little about her here. (Surabaya is not far from Yogya.)

The palace was built in the 18th century and was once much, much larger. It has been modernised from time to time, but the basic buildings remain the same.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shame on you, Astro...

...for the most appalling bit of stupid censorship ever.

Folk, did you know that the words "gay" and "lesbian" are in some way either so obscene that we must not sully our delicate ears with the sound of them? Or is it maybe that they are contagious? We hear them and instantly change our orientation, perhaps? Who would have thunk it! Astro, that's who. (Maybe, if that was true, there might be one whole lot less bigotry and vicious hatred against all those with non-hetero orientation...)

As you all know by now, the movie Milk about the life and murder of a gay activist won two awards at the Oscars, one for the screenplay by Justin Lance Blake and one for the actor, Sean Penn.

Here is part of the acceptance speech of Blake:
But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you...

And similarly from Penn:
"For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect, and anticipate their great shame, and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone...

And Astro, who screened the ceremony here in Malaysia, apparently censored both speeches by cutting out the words lesbian and gay. How incredibly silly can you get.

You can read the whole thing here, including a lovely piece of writing from a gay Malaysian who brought it to the attention of Bibliobibuli.

UPDATE (via Bibliobibuli)
In the interest of accuracy, it seems that it was STAR that actually did the silly censorship, and passed it on to its customers, including Astro.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The labour in the love of writing

My first book was written in pencil on a letter pad. It was about a bunch of kids on a farm (just like the one I lived on) having adventures, and it was never finished. I was about ten or so at the time.

My second was written in an exercise book with a fountain pen. It was illustrated, I remember. I was twelve and I did finish that one. It was a love story/historical novel set in Scotland (where I had never been),which I wrote just after I had just read a couple of books set, guess where, in the Scottish Highlands.

The next books were also handwritten, then laboriously typed on a lightweight portable Olivetti with the aid of a typewriter eraser, because back in those days there was no whiteout. If you made too many mistakes, you re-typed the whole page. Those books were set in Western Australia and I never did anything with them. I eventually bought a very old secondhand electric and used that until they stopped making the ribbon cartridges for it.

That was followed by a new electric that could remember a couple of lines of typing so you could correct them before it printed. I replaced that with a computer in 1981 or thereabouts - Apple 2C - and a dot matrix printer that printed text in one colour: the palest of greys. Green screen, Wordstar and two huge floppies that had to be used at the same time because the RAM was so small. The computer often crashed, and too bad if you had forgotten to save because there was no such thing as automatic backup, and if you saved the wrong thing, too bad, because you couldn't go backwards either.

I served my time, in other words. I am sure if things were that hard still, there would be a lot less wannabe authors around, because it certainly wasn't easy to finish a 70,000 word book, let alone one twice that length...

And yet all that was nothing compared to what Irish author Christopher Nolan went through to write some of the most beautiful lines in the English language. Unable to speak or control his muscles, he wrote laboriously tapping out one letter at a time with a pointer attached to his forehead.

He died last week, aged 43. And did you know that U2 wrote a song about him?

Vale, Christopher.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Good news for Malaysian fringe children

Some of you will remember the flak I got from one (anonymous of course) blog reader when I wrote a post, on Children's Day, about Malaysian street kids. I took the original post down (and another post on yoga and Islam which also upset the same fellow) on the grounds that it doesn't pay to feed the trolls and I am too old to be bothered with someone who won't listen.

Ironically enough, I ended up being mainstream on the yoga fatwa issue. Sensible Islamic leaders and commentators intervened and the whole silly affair has been pretty much shelved, especially after the Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stepped in, telling the national news agency Bernama that Muslims could carry on doing yoga but minus the chanting: "I wish to state that a physical regime with no elements of worship can continue, meaning, it is not banned. I believe that Muslims are not easily swayed into polytheism." Which was what I had been saying. I guess my irate comment-troll is not very happy with the P.M. either now.

And then there was this in yesterday's paper, pretty much vindicating what I said about street kids too. This from Sunday Star, 22nd Feb, p9:

"children in education limbo due to uncertainty over their nationality can soon head back to the classrooms. That is, if their parents can show that he or she is a Malaysian with the necessary documented proof from the National Registration Department."

The Deputy Education Minister commented: "This issue had been repeatedly brought up in Parliament" and that "the Government has made a decision on it."' He also said, "We are simply abiding by Unesco's principle that children deserve an education."

Another Assistant Minister said he "had lamented the 'policy' among schools to turn away children who had the word "undetermined" written in the column for citizenship in their temporary identification documents."

Of course, one may still ask why a Malaysian citizen can have the citizenship of her child disputed when they, the parent, have documentation and the child was born within Malaysia, but I am not going to go there again. (Still, I can't help but wonder how many of those parents with "undetermined" children are cases where the mother is Malaysian and the father not (or absent altogether) rather than the other way around. I figure it's probably close to 100%, but that's just me.)

One could also wonder how many Malaysian Muslim prostitutes have the guts to register the birth of a child at the National Registration Department when it would mean they would be charged with illicit intercourse, which is a crime here for Muslims, with incarceration among the likely punishments. The child is always the loser.

I have turned off the comments, also in the interests of not feeding the troll.

The statue...

...was here. You can see it between the door and the mirror.And where is "here"?
The palace of the Sultan of Yogyakarta. And yes, he was at home.
Above and below: more shots taken from the same place, different perspective. More about the palace next week.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Guess where I took this photo?

A carved statue on a wall, about 50 cm tall (less than 24 ")
I've no idea what uniform this is - looks a bit like a cross between Spanish 16th century and the Swiss Guard...and I have no idea of why it was where it was or how old it was.

Friday, February 20, 2009

As I grow older...

...I find it increasingly difficult to see a reasonable recent photo of myself. After all, there is considerably less attractive material to work with as the years go by.

Here, however, are a couple of not bad ones at the opening of the most recent Rimbun Dahan Art Exhibition last weekend, taken by Bilqis Hijjas.Above: Self with the organiser of the residency, Angela Hijjas
And with another fellow Australian, Pam Bakhtiar.

I fell in love with the botanical work of one of the artists, Lauren Black. Take a look at the links above...
I wish I had the money to buy a couple. But alas, they are about the same price as I get in advance for a trilogy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A batik factory, Yogya

Below: beginning the process - measuring the design squares etc
Below: Putting on the hot wax for small delicate designs. Note the pots of hot wax over flame on the floor
Below:A close up
Below: For bolder areas of design, a table layout and brush are used for applying the wax resistOr copper stamps
Below: Weighing out the colour to make the dye
Below: Applying the dye
Below: Hanging out the cloth to dry in between treatments. Note the bamboo
Below background: the fire for heating the wax. Foreground - correcting the mistakes i.e. removing any wax in the wrong place and reapplying before dyeing
Below: buying the finished product

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When I'm not working...

I am reading Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama at the moment, and I must say I am impressed. A politician who would make a good novelist? Who talks honestly about his past? This is very good book, and was obviously a good book long before anyone knew where Mr Obama was going.

And it is soooooooo nice to know we have someone in the White House - who will impact my life whether I like it or not - with some intelligence and integrity. Ok, so maybe the integrity will develop a few cracks as present day democracy and politics make their demands. There will be evil compromises, because that's the nature of the beasts we have unleashed on the world with our lifestyles and economic structures and power plays and overpopulation and greed. But at least one gains the impression that this is at least a man who will think seriously about the moral implications of what he does. And that is a change.

Last weekend we went to see Valkyrie. And once again I was impressed. I expected to see lots of Hollywood and Cruise smiles, and mashed facts in the interest of drama. Instead I saw what appeared to me to be a good cinematic representation of a slice of history. It has been a while since I studied and taught that period of history, but I thought it amazingly accurate considering the time limitations and the medium and the number of people involved.

I did read one review that criticised it for not including a better overall picture of the larger context, and another that sneered about a portrayal of all those good nazis being a whitewash of history. Unfair criticism, I feel. This wasn't a movie about the Second World War or the Nazis or the Holocaust or Hitler. It was a movie about a plot to kill Hitler, how it was conceived and why it failed. It centred on one character, Stauffenberg, played well by Cruise.

My one criticism was that somehow it missed out being gut-wrenchingly poignant and I can't put my finger on quite why. I went in expecting to come out sniffing, and came out dry-eyed.

And here's something you may not know. One of those involved in earlier plots, and who went to Ravensbruck as a result of trying to help a friend involved in this one, was a man called Peter Bielenberg. His wife, Christabel, was British and she wrote a remarkable book about the experience of living in Germany from 1935 until after the war. Even more remarkably, she was instrumental in getting her husband out of Ravensbruck. Quite a story.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Isles of Glory, books 1 & 2

I have just had some nice news: in Australia, both The Aware and Gilfeather have gone to yet another reprint. It is so great to have a publisher who believes in keeping their authors in print.

Thanks, Voyager!

The Aware was first published in 2003
and Gilfeather in 2004...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why books get rejected

When a wannabe-published writer reads the stats (only between 1-5 of every 5,000 completed MSS gets published by a respectable publisher), they start to despair.

But then you realise that most of the submitted MSS deserve to get turned down, or their authors deserve to get turned down - and you can feel a bit more cheerful. Or at least you can if you are a sensible writer who is professional about your submissions and your writing.

How do I know most deserve what they get? Read here (via) or here (via) for a start.

The truth is that most wannabes, having spent hours, days, years, on an MS, can't be bothered to take a few minutes to read the submission guidelines for an agent or publisher. Instant fail, deservedly so.

Same if they don't know how a MS should look when you submit it. No excuse for this, not nowadays. Even I, in pre-internet days in a small developing nation, could find out this much.

Says Malaysian editor, Eric Forbes, "Most of the typescripts I receive are not only badly written but lack content or substance."

In the first link above, Colleen Lindsay, literary agent, lists the reasons she rejected 20 MSS, which boils down to:
About half of them had not read the submission guidelines, or had ignored them, and therefore did not meet her requirements. You don't attach something to an email if the recipient asks you not to, for a start. Oh, and don't forget to spell the name of the agent correctly, ok?
Of the other 10:
5 didn't actually write a query. They waffled on about other things.
1 was rejected on the lousy writing of the sample pages.
1 sent mutiple submissions to other agents (a no-no).
1 wrote a YA novel which is even longer than my current fantasy for adults. Nothing says "clueless" better than that.

....and two were good enough but not what she was looking for. One of those was referred elsewhere, the other was asked to submit other work if she has any.

And what is my advice for those of you who do all the right things and still get rejected? Well, if you are sure your writing is up to par because plenty of critical, non-family members (preferably people who do a lot of writing and/or reading of the genre you are writing in themselves) have told you so:

1. Keep sending out.
2. Start writing something else.
3. If you receive any kind of feedback, then rewrite and try with a new version.

My own feeling is that lots of writers get too hung up on perfecting their very first finished novel. Well, you know what? Not too many first novels actually get published. I'll make a complete stab in the dark and say that half or more successful established writers have early novels (quite possibly more than one) stashed away on top of their wardrobes. I have eight. (Ok, my first finished book was written aged 12, so I started early.)

Writing is a process. You get better as you go along.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

This Weird World

Today's paper was full of amazing stuff.

In Saudi Arabia they apparently believe that St Valentine's day is not just silly commercial hype originating in the US aimed at trying to sell stuff to a gullible public buying into the idea.
In fact in Saudi Arabia, the day has been so imbued with evil, it is banned altogether. Right down to not being able to wear red, or buy anything red (including roses) for several days ahead.

When I was at the dating age in Australia, by the way, Valentine's Day was pretty much unheard of, or dismissed as terribly American and a bit suspect, like Halloween. I don't remember that I ever received a Valentine, or was taken out to dinner on Valentine's Day, or given a red teddy bear or whatever the hyped thing was back then. I probably would have been terribly puzzled if I had, and thought the guy was a bit daft.

Second news item that caught my eye: This is about a man hexing other men to have affairs with him and persuading them to hand over lots of money to him.
One fellow called Murad said he met the man at a supermarket last year and "The weirdest part was that my feelings for my wife and my love for my children disappeared. All I could think of was the man,” said Murad. He even gave his new lover a few hectares of his land and RM2,000 monthly pocket money.
He is now working to save his marriage.

Aha! there we have the crux. What do you tell your wife when she finds out a) you're gay or bi, b) you're having an affair, and c) you're really, really stupid?
That you were hexed!

The third item was somewhat similar. What got me about this con man - who sold armulets to a gullible fellow for large amounts of money telling him they were real jewels - was that he told the victim that his name was Superman. Now wouldn't that make you just a leetle suspicious?

Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Writing update

The writing goes on, in case you are wondering.
The first one third has gone out to beta readers, and two people (I love you both) have returned with feedback. The next one third is just about ready for beta reading too.

My own feeling is that this Book 2 is not nearly the mess Book 1 was at the same stage. It needs work, yes, but not the thorough structural overhaul that Book 1 did.

I have had a look at roughs for the Australian cover, and I hear the copy edit for Book 1 will be winging its way back to me soon. Wow, it's beginning to feel that I have a book coming out this year! Tentative date for release is September 3rd.

The only thing that is not yet totally settled on is...

...wait for it...

The Title.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Stupa of Borobudur

So far the photos have been of the square levels. Then you come to the top levels, the round ones, and here you find the stupa. In each of these, there is - or was - a statue of Buddha. Some are now broken or missing.
They are, of course, very holy to Buddhists - but some people don't treat them that way. Witness the guy below sitting on one, smoking a cigarette and using a handphone.
Below are pictures of what one looks like on the inside.
And here is one that is missing its "roof".
He gazes at the volcano.
Buddhists - and many non-Buddhists - think it is good luck to touch the statue inside a stupa. And very good luck to touch every statue!
Which is not so easy...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Some of the Borobudur reliefs

As you walk around any of the square levels of the structure, the walls on either side are carved like this.
Many of these portray incidents in the life a Buddha.

As each level is smaller than the one below, there is nothing overhead. You are out in the sun, and you can see the scenery around you as well.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More from Borobudur

Imagine it for a moment.
Something built around 800 A.D., a Buddhist monument.
Six square levels topped by three round ones. You can walk around at each level.
You approach the first level walking up steps (picture 1.) 2,672 carved stone relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.

All in green surroundings with the volcano watching in the distance...

The stones were put in place first, then carved on site over several generations. Some were never finished - perhaps the sons or grandsons were not as keen on the work as the original workers were? Some are damaged. Some are missing - plundered. But what surprises most is how much remains, and how good the condition of it is. Fortunately it is not surrounded by the corrosiveness of a modern city or factories.
More tomorrow.