Friday, December 2, 2016

November miscellany

I know it’s been a while, and even then my last post was hardly startling, but I’m not one to apologize for my absence. I blog when I have something to say, I don’t when I don’t, that’s it :)

November kicked off with a work trip to Ottawa. I really wasn’t looking forward to the hassle of traveling, especially after such a tiring October, but it all worked out well in the end.

This was my first experience of long-haul (roughly six hours in the air) domestic flights over here so I didn’t really know what to expect. Compound that with the multiple connecting legs (two outbound, three return) and what looked like ridiculously short intervals on the ground in between, and it all felt rather daunting. But it turned out to be easy. Bag checked through to final destination, so it was just a matter of hopping from gate to gate to the next flight. Then there’s the never-ending entertainment of carry-on Tetris as passengers rearrange the overhead lockers to find space for their multiple ridiculously oversized bags.

I was there for a three-day project workshop, a collaboration between the federal government and multiple provinces. It was good to meet folks from elsewhere in the same line of business.

In between times there was a little bit of time for a stroll around Parliament Hill, and as a bonus I even managed to visit the public gallery while a debate was in progress.
I was 'ere :)

Megan finished football this month, which she is sad about. As this is her final year she discovered the sport rather late, and wished she’d thought to try it out sooner. The school team hasn’t been going long and isn’t rated as particularly good. They are so short of senior players they have to bring in some of the juniors to make up numbers, but they reached the play-offs which nobody expected. They got beaten by the one unbeaten team in the league, which was understandable, but it could have gone either way until the home crowd turned nasty and intimidated the heck out of the players in a very unsporting display. That was a disappointing end to an otherwise enjoyable season.
Yes, that's our Megan in the middle

This month I organized a Movember team in our office, and found we had a couple of new hires who were very enthusiastic fundraisers. Between us all we raised over $3,000, which was a spectacular result.

And of course I’ve been working on the latest novel. A hard copy went with me to Ottawa and whiled away the hours of travel. For once, I’m actually enjoying the editing process, although it has not yet been subjected to any independent critique. That stage will come soon.

Next stop ... Christmas!

Monday, October 31, 2016

What the heck happened to October?

It’s Halloween, last day of October, and it’s been a bloody exhausting month. Lots of things happening ... good, not so good, and just plain tiring. In the whole month it seems there’s hardly been a normal routine day, let alone week.

One of the biggest factors is Megan joining the football team this season (yes, actual American-style football as opposed to real football that the Americans call soccer :) And that means practices after school and matches every week, so a lot of late evenings home and daily planning of logistics getting food on the table around all the other things in life.

We don’t begrudge the effort. She’s enjoying it, it’s doing her the world of good, and last Friday I caught the tail end of a home game on a crisp and bright afternoon. I don’t know anything about the game, but I learned enough to see what a nail-biting finish it was, and the best bit was - they won. Against last year’s champions!

Add in an unusual number of other sundry events - drop-offs, pick-ups, before- and after-school help, a conference, charity fundraisers, multiple sleepovers and camps and parties - all contribute to an overwhelming feeling of busyness this month.

Yes, it’s been busy, but mostly good-busy.

The only real downer was two weeks ago we lost Gypsy, our husky who’s been with us almost as long as we’ve been in Canada. It was sudden, no signs of illness leading up to it. And the hell of it was she’d been back & forth to the vet recently because of a knee injury we’d been nursing her through, and they said she was in good health overall. So when we found her flopped on the floor and having trouble getting to her feet we thought - daft pup’s been overdoing it again playing with Ellie. But Ali realized this was more serious and whipped her off to the 24-hour hospital (why did she always insist on finding trouble on the weekends?) and within an hour she was gone.

On the writing front, I’ve completed a few passes through The Ashes of Home and tidied up a lot of points from my revision notes. The scene list (which I blogged about last month) has been very helpful in making adjustments to the order, tightening up timelines, and evening out points of view. I must remember that tool for future projects.

Over the weekend I printed the whole thing out for my first serious nit-picking pass through, which I always like to do on paper. Soon be ready for critique partners.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Memories

How reliable do you think your childhood memories are? Are all those half-remembered events and general impressions from decades ago truly representative, or are they distorted through filters your life has since placed around them?

I got to wondering about this recently, with the unusually damp Autumn we’re enjoying up on the west coast. The last couple of days in particular, I’ve been saying to myself, this reminds me of Guernsey winters.

My recollection, especially from my teens, is of long spells of leaden skies, blustery winds, and endless rain. Day after day I’d wait for the bus, trudge up through St. Peter Port to school, and dash from class to class (my school was spread out over many separate buildings) to the sound of drops pattering on my umbrella. Rain coats and umbrellas were essential accessories.

When we moved from Guernsey to Victoria, we remarked again and again how different conditions were here. Yes, annual rainfall is pretty similar but here it mostly seemed to fall at night. Hauling groceries in a wet dash to & from the car seemed to be consigned to an occasional (as in maybe once or twice a year) discomfort rather than the expected norm.

As people in the office grumble, I find myself glibly saying, this is nothing compared to where I came from. But at the same time I can’t help wondering how objective I can be. Having made such a drastic move twelve years ago, it’s easy to fall into the trap of selective memory. We want our new home to be better, to have made the right decision, so are we selectively playing up the good sides and contrasting with the frustrations of our former home?

How about you? How do you view your life from year ago, and what filters today might be unwittingly distorting those memories?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The pace of change

I’m an IT director in our provincial government, and last week my ministry organized a two-day conference to explore themes and trends in technology.

One of the biggest messages I took from those two days - reinforced by one speaker after another - was the pace of change in the technology world.

It’s scary!

No, I mean really scary, as in ten years from now will anyone who’s an adult today even understand the world any more?

Ideas that were pure science fiction ten years ago are reality today. And the scariest part is that the pace of change is exponential. That means that in five years time we’ll be living with technology that is speculative and far-fetched today. And the same will be true a mere two years after that. Then a year after that.

Will we be able to recognize the world a generation from now?

Regardless of the real world, this poses serious problems for sci-fi writers. We all know how novels from the 1950s feel dated today because of the changes in technology, but they still enjoyed a few decades’ shelf life first.

Ten years ago I was writing a novel (which I never finished) that involved computers worn as jewelry, gesture recognition, direct neural stimulation to provide sensory input, and an exclusively virtual interface. That all seemed safely far-fetched back then, but ten years on all those elements are here today in some form or another.

When I wrote Tiamat’s Nest, autonomous self-driving cars still seemed safely a few decades away because computers as a whole were still too prone to stupid errors and failures to be entrusted with the task. But this year we have them on the streets in some cities. That frightens me because no matter how well they perform when things are going well, computers are still dangerously error-prone. Not to mention prone to malware, and how about the prospect of being kidnapped by your own car - the ultimate in ransomware?


So, to all member of Homo Sapiens V1.0 out there, how do you cope with the accelerating pace of change in the real world. And to sci-fi writers, how do you stay speculative when the most way-out ideas you have might become reality before your book is even published?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Simple pleasures

It’s been a really tiring week so far. Not bad, just tiring. A few disturbed nights. Lots of after-school driving around. Yesterday I had an all-day training course that involved lots of talking and interaction - and you can guess how that feels to an extreme introvert!

Tomorrow at work we have a couple of end-of-summer events on the same day, a coincidence born of the way our organization has been split and reorganized over the past couple of years. A lunchtime barbecue for our physical office, including some of my staff plus colleagues in the same office but now belonging to a different branch, and an after-work round of mini-golf and pub meal for my branch involving staff from three different offices.

This afternoon I sat at my desk looking at my calendar and the very thought left me feeling drained! Not that I don’t enjoy all those things but ... introvert ... it’s tiring at the same time.

This evening I dropped Matthew off at Venture Scouts, a ten minute drive from home, and drove back along the coast road.

The sun was almost set behind the hill to one side. It was nearly dark, but the sky - immaculately clear - still glowed above and the mirror-smooth sea picked up the light in a luminous milky blue.

I thought, “That’s pretty” and drove on. Then I thought, “Dammit, I live in such a beautiful part of the world yet when did I last take just a few minutes to stop and look at it?”

So I did something drastic and daring for me. Instead of driving on home, I pulled in and stopped. Just for five minutes. But it was quiet, introvert, me time. Islands in the distance. The lights of a few boats. Mountains off to one side. A seal sculling lazily near the shore.

Peace.

So simple.

So rare that we take the time to appreciate it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Have you scene?

My process in drafting The Ashes of Home has been quite different from previous novels.

Up to now, I generally think and write in chapters, and mark the start of new chapters as I go.

This time around I started along the same lines but eventually found it far easier to forget about chapters during the drafting stage. In part, this is because I am tracking three main points of view, and I found it more productive to focus on each one’s story without worrying too much about what was going on elsewhere.

That, of course, meant that I had no idea where chapter breaks would eventually fall.

What I did do, though, was mark where natural scene breaks might fall. Sometimes this was just a natural pause in the action, or a jump in time. Better still I’m always on the lookout for natural pauses that are also cliffhangers - the shock of an unexpected revelation or a sudden twist in events.

Yes, I’m looking for points in the story where, as a reader, I would desperately want to read on. Then *bang* new chapter, or even switch to another point of view and leave things hanging.

Mwahahahaha

*Ahem*

I did weave the separate strands together as I went whenever I had enough of each one to make it worthwhile. Mostly that was done to keep things ticking along roughly the same timeline. So now I’ve got a novel draft that kinda hangs together as a story, but which is a long list of scenes in need of overall structure. And I’ve got lots of notes about things I need to change, make consistent, or incorporate.

To help with this stage of the process I’m trying something I’ve not tried before. I’ve gone through and made a scene list.

This chart shows each scene with point of view, a rough idea of length, and a one-sentence description. Some of these scenes might end up running together, but I’ve also started noting which scenes would make ideal break points.

My hope is that this outline view will help to refine the overall flow (maybe things need swapping around a bit), work out where best to add in new scenes, and eventually work out how best to chunk things out into chapters.


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