Saturday, July 31, 2010

Critters of a wilder persuasion

So, here we are, camping up-island between Courtenay and Campbell River. Photos to follow another time, if we ever get around to actually taking any.

But I wish I'd had the camera handy this morning. We'd popped in to Courtenay, and were heading back up the old highway when we saw a black bear in the distance, shambling across a field.

We see countless deer, the occasional raccoon, lots of bald eagles, but this is the first wild bear we've seen in the nearly six years we've been here, and the first the children have ever seen.

What an unexpected bonus to our vacation.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Revision angst

Taking a break from the pirate ship, I'm deep into revisions of Ghosts of Innocence after the critiques received last month.

"Deep into" actually means "somewhere on page two".

It is slow, hard work.

And rather worrisome to my angst-ridden mind.

Writing is fiercely subjective - something that agents constantly remind writers of in their kindly form rejections. That goes for critiques, too. Every word of advice in a collection of critiques is, in its own way, true and valuable. It is a potential reader's honest reaction. And it is highly likely to be contradicted by another critter's advice.

This makes it tough to process critiques and work out how to make use of their words of wisdom. I've concluded that processing critiques has to be just as ruthless (on the part of the author) as the critiquing itself, because trying to please everyone can be deeply damaging to the writing. But it is hard to consciously set aside advice that a colleague has put so much effort into giving.

In picking my way through what to pay attention to and what to ignore, I can at least take refuge in the fact that it is mathematically impossible to accommodate everyone. I had, for example, at least three different suggestions for alternative opening lines. And most specific points that one critter liked another one didn't, and vice versa. But that just highlights how subjective the process is.

This means that there is a serious danger of simply going round in circles from one round of revisions to the next. Something I've already fallen foul of in my opening page this year. My biggest fear is that I'll end up with something not better, just different. Something that may pacify the last group of critiquers, but will still be nowhere near satisfactory to the next.

But I know I need to do something. My first rounds of querying netted a total of three requests for partials and a load of form rejections. I've got a fair level of confidence in my query letter from reviews in several forums, so my guess is that the manuscript is letting me down. It needs to be both different and better.

I need to review the critiques with a critical eye, pulling out what makes sense to me, and rebuild the story taking care not to lose myself in the process.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Can you see what it is yet?

Bow section nearly complete. The fore deck and forecastle is now decked - and well-trodden already! - just waiting for some hull planking. I don't intend to butt the planks up, they'll be spaced out a bit, really just enough to give the hull some shape without making the structure look too heavy.

And the second mast is in place in the background. If the masts look a little short, that's because they are. I still have to add top masts to both.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

(2005) The last piece of the jigsaw?

July 2005

Dear Aunt Agatha,

At last, after nine months in Canada, I've finally got a job!

Whew! What a long haul that was. And not at all what I expected. After all the immigration press about how the country is crying out for professionals, including IT people, landing employment in Victoria has been a nightmare.

Last time I wrote, I mentioned how different the hiring process is here compared to what I was used to in Guernsey. Another thing I've learned is how insular much of the private sector is. Time and again I heard how it's not what you know, it's who you know. Many people I spoke to along the way were quite open about the fact that most of their new hires are youngsters they've already met through co-op placements from UVic or Camosun College. And in the one or two interviews I had I got the uncomfortable feeling that they were just "going through the motions" to satisfy anti-discrimination laws with no serious intention of actually hiring a foreigner.

Government seems a lot more receptive to new blood. Luckily Government in Victoria is a big employer, and that's where I've landed up. Won't be starting for a few weeks, we have friends visiting from Guernsey soon so I'm waiting until we get back from a camping trip with them up-island.

Back to the dearth of professionals, though, something that has puzzled us and Canadians alike is the mountain of obstacles the country puts in the way of newcomers. Any qualification you might hold in your home country is effectively worthless here. All the immigration press is full of pleas for professionals such as tradesmen and healthcare workers. What they don't say so loudly is that you need to retrain before you can actually work. I am fortunate that IT has not yet matured to the point where you need formal qualifications to work. And an Oxford University degree seems to transcend borders.

Meanwhile the city keeps on reminding us why it was worth the risk and all the anxiety. We spent a wonderful day at the tall ships festival which took over the harbour last month. And we saw a whole family of barred owls while walking Gypsy in the woods at Centennial Park.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pirate ship week 4

Apart from a few supports to give some shape to the bow, the front third of the ship is finally ready to be decked and planked.

The crow's nest took a lot of work, with some complicated angles to cut, but I'm pleased with how it's turned out. With all that weight up there, lifting the mast into position was a team effort. Thank you, Ali!

In case you're wondering, there will be a rope ladder up to the front of the crow's nest from the raised fore deck. Not nautically correct, but a lot safer access than traditional style rigging.

I got held up a bit at that point because I couldn't attach those deck joists until the mast was in place. I needed access to the inside of the tower to tighten up the carriage bolts securing the mast, but when it came down to it I found the bolts I'd bought were just a fraction too short. I could get the lock nuts on a few turns, and I really don't think they'd ever have come undone, but I'm not taking chances. So that bit of assembly had to wait until today's trip to the builder's yard for my next batch of materials.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Week 3 of the build

From a distance things on the ground don't look much different from last week, but appearances are deceptive. The stern tower is now squared off and concreted in, I've doubled-up the longitudinal beams to support the waist deck, and the bulkheads either end of the waist deck have got all the cross beams and braces in place to take the weight of the masts. I'm being especially conservative there, because the fore mast needs to take the weight of children clambering up to the crow's next.

So here is a picture from a different angle, with some of the crew to give you an idea of scale.

And there's lots of work gone on that isn't yet in place. I've started work on the ribs that will hold the deck and sides, and the crow's nest itself is taking shape. A complicated structure that I'm pre-fabricating on the ground where I can get at it easily.

Expect some visible differences next week!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Two Towers

No, not Minas Morgul and Orthanc. Something way more down-to-earth. The stern tower of the pirate ship is now in place, along with the lengthwise beams to support the waist deck joists and ribs.

Only the port side is fixed in place, though. That prefabricated tower ended up slightly out of square. Only by about 1/2", but I might as well get it right while I have the chance so I'm going to nudge the starboard side it into its rightful position once the concrete around the port posts has set.

And, before anyone says anything, yes I know it's big :-)

Oh, and happy Independence Day to our neighbours to the south.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A sense of space

A few months ago, I posted about the importance to me of names, of knowing who my characters are before I can write about them. Today I'm writing about the importance of having a sense of the space they inhabit.

I'm a very visual person, and an inveterate mapper and planner. I can't write for long about a country, a town, a planet, a building, a ship, anything really, without getting a picture in my mind of how it looks, and then getting something down on paper.

I said I'm a visual person, but that doesn't mean my visualisation is clear or consistent. When I first envisage a scene, scale and spatial relationships tend to be rather ambiguous. Like in a dream, rooms have a habit of growing and shrinking, of morphing from moment to moment. Furniture wanders around like a herd of grazing wildebeest. Not a sturdy platform for planning out a fight scene, for example. So I have to nail down the errant walls and joinery with pen and paper, then I can get on with the job of writing.

My working notes are littered with sketches and more detailed plans and maps.

I'm a big picture person too. It's not enough for me to know the layout of a room, for example. I need to know its context. What's next door? What aspect does it look out onto? And I'm way more comfortable working from the big picture inwards, so that the context eventually shapes the room in a meaningful way. This means I often start with a map of a whole planet, major landmasses and seas, then smaller scale maps of areas that are important to the story, homing in on specific settlements and even buildings.

Many of these, of course, are mostly blank space. I only flesh out enough to make me comfortable that I can speak to them when the time comes. And most of the details will never be referenced in the story. But they will leave their mark.

A few of my plans are more detailed, though. These are the major settings for the story, and consistency is important. You can't have the captain's cabin next door to the mess hall in one scene, the sick bay in another, and the bridge in another. Some details may be driven by the needs of the plot, but mostly I plan things out first and then see how the action plays out within those constraints.

Here are a couple of examples of ships that Shayla spends time aboard. The first is the Implacable class cruiser Merciless, from Ghosts of Innocence.

The second is the fast torpedo frigate Vixen, from The Ashes of Home. In both cases, Shayla is a prisoner on board. I wonder what that says about her?
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