Friday, November 26, 2010

A long way from the Caribbean

Now that the leaves have fallen, I can see properly into that far corner of the yard. And today was the first time in ages that I've not been scrambling to get to work and have had the time to look properly out of the kitchen window in real daylight.

And there was the pirate ship, peering around from its berth behind the tree fort, looking a long way from home in the lingering snow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A small sense of achievement

At last! I've revised chapter 1 of Ghosts of Innocence. What a struggle that was!

And I don't think I've actually changed all that much in the end. The overall flow of the chapter is still the same, but I've changed the imagery of the opening paragraphs to get straight into Shayla's point of view from the outset, I've followed a lot of nit-picks from critiques to clean up the text, trimmed some fat, and given Shayla a tougher time making her exit from the crippled ship. This will give her some problems to deal with later on, which I still have to work out and incorporate into the story!

Overall, I'm a lot happier with the chapter. To me, it feels closer in to the main character, cleaner, and more logically-sequenced.

But that is only my opinion. It is now in the queue on Critique Circle ready to be mauled again next week.

Meanwhile, on with the next chapter...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The occasional downside of a long driveway

When we moved over here, everyone told us that Victoria only gets snow once every few years. We've had some of the white stuff every year since.

Fortunately not too much fell last night, so this only took me an hour to clear before I could get out grocery shopping this morning.

I am wondering what the rest of the winter has in store for us, though. Ali's parents are due to join us for Christmas. Last time they did so, we all spent a whole morning digging out the driveway on the first weekend, and then it dumped a load more on consecutive weekends for the next month. On the bright side, we all had our first ever white Christmas that year.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bling, bling!

OK, please accept my apologies, I've got a couple of awards that I've been tardy in acknowledging. Real Life is intruding way too much at the moment to devote this the attention it requires, but I do need at least to acknowledge the generous donors, so here goes...

First, there is the Cherry On Top award, from the delightful Lettuce Head.

Then there is the Versatile Blogger award, awarded independently both by the highly inventive Elena Solodow, and by the soft-spoken and ladylike Sam at Rot Du Jour. Please don't pepper-spray me, Sam!

So, there are a couple of rules with these awards. For the Cherry On Top award, I'm supposed to share one thing I'd change about my past.

One thing I would change is the time I wasted trying to be like other people. It took me many years to realise that other people might see me very differently from how I see myself, and with that realisation came a huge crisis of self-confidence. All of a sudden, I had no idea who "I" was any more. So, like a drowning man clutching at any flotsam that drifted by, I started rather randomly trying to emulate things that I thought were "cool" in other people.

It took me many more years to decide that it didn't matter how other people see me. I am who I am, and I have as much right to be me as anyone else. If anyone doesn't like it, they can take the proverbial long walk off a short pier.

And for the Versatile Blogger, I'm supposed to share seven things about myself.

1. See above (you can tell I'm pressed for time!)

2. I used to hate writing. How the heck I ever thought of trying to write novels I cannot now remember.

3. I used to hide behind the couch whenever the Daleks appeared on Dr Who. This was in the days when they first appeared on TV.

4. I hated all forms of physical activity when I was at school, and then promptly took up as much sport as I could cram into my life at University.

5. I have always loved drawing and painting. My mind is bursting with images that I want to share with people. I think writing is actually an extension of this, a way of pulling people even deeper into those imagined scenes than I ever could through a purely visual depiction.

6. I would love to be able to play a musical instrument.

7. I was personally invited, many years ago, by the Speaker of the House of Commons at that time to visit Westminster, see Prime Minister's Question Time, and visit him for a brief (he was a very busy man, which makes this all the more awesome) chat in his huge office overlooking the Thames.

OK, this has taken way too long. I've been really good this week at redressing the imbalance between blogging and writing, and I don't want to regress, so I'm going to cheat for the next part. I am passing on these awards to anyone out there following me who cares to comment and claim them. Because if you're following and commenting, you're awesome by definition, so choose one. Take your pick.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Something warm for a windy day

Typical Monday evening: Ali gets the kids a meal while I'm on my way home from work, then she and Megan disappear off to Guides. Meanwhile I start on a meal for the grown-ups, in the middle of which I drop Matthew off at a music lesson. Ali collects him (it is just down the road from the church where Guides meet) and when they all get home it is time for some adult quality time, shared with curry and beer. All choreographed with military precision.

This evening was no different, except when I took Matthew out to music I ran the gauntlet of first leaves and then branches bouncing off the top of the car. While the curry was cooking, I had to round up the furniture on the deck that had been doing a fair imitation of a scene from the Sorcerer's Apprentice. I finished off to flickering lighting, wondering how much I could get cooked before the power failed.

No power outage, yet, but the wind is still moaning outside and the sound sends chills through me, so here is a warming sight to share instead...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Do it once, do it right

Ghosts of Innocence badly needs reworking before it's ready for another round of queries. I want to do it, otherwise it feels like pulling the plug on someone's life support. Giving up. That is not what I want for my baby. All the same, it is taking me forever to get my head into serious revisions. I'm forcing myself to do it, but it's about as easy-going as persuading a nine-year old to eat broccoli.

The problem is, all my life I've been a semi-perfectionist.

When I excelled at math in school, I used to push myself harder and harder to expand and simplify equations in as few steps as possible on paper. So instead of doing a simple step at a time, and writing out the results each time, I'd do two or three things at once, manipulating terms in my head. It was a discipline, but also a matter of pride, to see how far I could push myself and still GET IT RIGHT.

When I started programming professionally, in the days when we had to share three terminals between twelve of us and our programs were written out on coding sheets to be keyed by another department before we got to run them, I thought nothing of writing out a thousand lines of code and damned well expecting it to compile cleanly first time, and produce some recognisable results on the first run.

Even in my painting I tend to work methodically from one part of the page to another, laying down precise and finished segments of the whole, to which I have no intention of returning once I'm happy and have moved on. And once I sign my name to a painting, that is a significant declaration and I never make changes after that point.

And, surprise, surprise, my writing process is much the same.

OK, reality is not quite as rigid as I may have made it sound.

When I went on to university, math became much more an art of puzzling and insight than manipulation, so it became a whole new game.

The predictable world of mainframe COBOL dissolved when Microsoft introduced the world to operating environments so complex and so poorly architected that the law of unintended consequence lurked around every corner. And with more interactive tools, programming became a step-by-step exploration of incremental development.

Even in the more enduring world of art, if a painting isn't giving the visual impression I want, I'm not averse to reworking large parts of it to knock it into shape. Until I sign it, of course.

So, where does the "semi" come from in "semi-perfectionist"?

Well, I put a lot of effort into doing things right first time, so going back and redoing something in any substantial way is simply not part of my usual thinking process. It's an exception rather than the rule. And my willingness to do so depends hugely on the effort already invested, and the effort of making a change.

If I cut a piece of wood the wrong length, it pains me to set it aside and start again. I live absolutely by the "measure twice, cut once" rule. If it's just a simple cut, it's the waste more than anything that troubles me, but if I've spent time making some awkward angles or cutting rebates then I'm more inclined to seek ways to use what I've got rather than rewind to the start. That is why I can't lay claim to the title "perfectionist".

At the other end of the scale, I don't have too much trouble with reworking a painting because I find it a relatively easy process. I'm fully at home in my medium and can see where I need to get to.

But when it comes to writing, and especially telling a story, this is not something that comes easily. Sometimes I throw words on the page and they flow easily, but more often it is a slow paragraph-at-a-time affair. And I'm rarely satisfied with the results so whenever I dry up, my eye casts back over the words I've written, tweaking here and there. Whenever I sit down to a writing session, I start off by reading a page or two back from where I left off to get back into the flow, and I often pause to edit, refine, reword, before moving on. Sometimes, entire sessions end up as little more than moulding while the clay is still soft instead of adding new words to the page.

While I regard a work as "in progress", I'm one of those people who constantly edit as I go. This is new and unusual territory for me. It is slow, it is painful, but I'm OK with that. It is editing, not revising. It is still a part of the "first time" for me.

In this sense, I'm probably closer to a perfectionist than in many other areas of creativity.

All the same, when I wrote "The End" on my first draft, it felt like signing a painting. Mentally, I flipped a switch and the time for change was past.

Add to that the shedload of sweat and tears invested and, when critiques start rolling in, am I going to give up a single word of it, one solitary hard-won turn of phrase, easily?


Suffice to say, revising hurts.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A surprise around every corner

Even within a short drive from home, we still keep coming across things to surprise and delight us.

Yesterday, we went to see the annual salmon run, coincidentally exactly the same weekend as when we went last year.

This year is supposed to be a mega salmon spawning event, but there were actually far fewer fish at Goldstream than we've seen previously. Don't know why that would be so, but the high expectations meant the place was packed with visitors. The highway is narrow there, and was very busy. Once we'd strolled up and down a while, and stopped for a bite to eat, it was time to exit the narrow and congested parking lot.

Rather than join the line of cars waiting for the one-gap-every-five-minutes-or-so to exit onto the highway, we decided to take the largely-ignored and very narrow road leading up into the hills in the other direction.

We knew this would take us home eventually. Instead of looping down and around the north end of Victoria on the highway this road actually cuts through the Highlands in more-or-less the right direction for home. Just a lot slower, because many miles of it are up and down, around twists and turns, and only one car wide in places.

But we were in no hurry, and this was a road we've never been along before, so it beat the heck out of waiting in a line up.

And we were glad we did. It's good once in a while to travel a road you've not used before, so this was a little bit of adventure to brighten up a chilly Sunday.

We drove (slowly) through some beautiful scenery as we wound around the back of Mt. Finlayson.

We came across a fence made of skis...

And as we passed Prospect Lake golf course we saw deer grazing...

Finally we stopped off at the Red Barn market for ice cream to celebrate life's pleasant surprises.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

(2005) Vive la Difference

November 2005

Dear Aunt Agatha,

Canada is a modern technological country, with state-of-the-art electronics, consumer goods, and many public and private organisations embracing the online world.

Nevertheless, since arriving here, we've often commented how in many ways this country is a bit like the UK was several decades ago.

Many of the differences are good. Like the gentler pace of life, uncrowded roads, and returnable bottles (encourages recycling).

Some differences are quaint, like top-loading washing machines. I remember Mum having a top-loader back in Guernsey when I was only a few years old, but I haven't seen one since outside of commercial laundromats. I don't think they're sold for domestic use over there. Ali freaked when she saw one sitting in the corner of our temporary apartment last year.

Then there are the occasional ugly reminders of years gone by. Over the last few weeks we've been hit by industrial action that brought back unpleasant reminders of the 1970's. First the teachers went out on strike, so Megan was at home for a couple of weeks. Then I turned up for work one morning to find a picket line outside the office. This is where the ugliness hit home. They are all highly vocal about the rights of workers to join a union. But the hypocrisy of the union movement showed through very clearly in their outright bullying and threatening attitude to keeping their members toeing the union line. I felt way more intimidated by the shop stewards supposedly looking after my interests than by any employers (unionised or not) that I've worked for. And, of course, they are amazingly tight-lipped on any questions of an individual's right to NOT belong to a union. Closed shops were made illegal in most civilised countries years ago, but union membership is compulsory in BC Government.

On a brighter note, we held a party to celebrate a year in Canada. We had a full house, with friends, neighbours, and a few work colleagues.

Another small landmark...I used my new credit card for groceries last month. Ali was able to get one in her name early on, thanks to her having held a card in Guernsey that the local branch of the company were prepared to recognise for credit check purposes. But it's taken a while to get me on the American credit map. This is a critical catch-22 for newcomers, something which I was able to overcome by talking to our friendly local bank staff.

Then Halloween reminded us once more that we were in North America. In Guernsey we came to dread this time of year, with evening knocks on the door and surly demands for cash, often starting out in mid-October. Over here, we love the family party atmosphere of the evening. And Ali got into pumpkin carving, inspired by the displays at Government House last year.

Friday, November 5, 2010

No No WriMo

Many writerly blogs are a bit on the quiet side at the moment as many people take part in the annual writing marathon known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The idea of this is to write, from scratch, a novel of 50,000 words in the month of November.

It doesn't have to be good, it just has to be there.

The month is an orgy of speed writing, never mind the quality feel the word count, and endless angst over targets and shortfalls. Progress counters sprout like mushrooms in the blogoshpere.

No, before you ask, I'm not doing it.

Real life is intruding way too heavily on my writing time these days to even think about that kind of output. Actually, I think that time is not so much the problem as energy.

Cutbacks at work over the last year have left my division barely able to sustain day to day operations. On top of that we have added workload imposed from above in the form of reorganisations, new planning processes, massive projects to deliver new political initiatives, and wholesale office moves to consolidate space to allow building leases to be given up.

People can only sustain that pace of work for a limited time. We've been keeping it up without relief and without an end in sight for over a year. Everybody acknowledges that it's a problem. Nobody is offering any practical answers.

I've been holding a cold at bay for the last month on a blend of Benylin and adrenalin. I came home this evening and promptly fell asleep.

Writing is a mentally demanding activity. When I'm in the groove, words flow smoothly for a while, but only after I've invested the mental gruntwork to envisage clearly what I'm trying to write.

At the moment, that is out of the question. The best I can hope for is to peck away more at revising Ghosts and maybe start putting chapters up for critique.

It feels a bit like watching the London marathon, seeing all those people braver than me pounding the course, and feeling their pain.

So...from the sidelines...NaNoWriters, I salute you!
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