Things to keep me writing when I'm not writing other things
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Just back from a few days at the in-laws' place in Mandurah. Temperatures in the mid 30s, a five minute walk to the beach, water with barely a ripple on it ... didn't feel much like the Christmases I grew up with, but after nearly ten years here I'm starting to get used to it.
Drove down on Christmas Eve, after a mad couple of hours packing presents, beachwear and the dog into the back of the car. By 9pm, after a swim, a few drinks and the dispatch of the children to bed (all excited by the impending arrival of reindeer), we'd realised our big mistake.
In all the hurrying about, we'd forgotten the kids' Santa Sacks. Yup, every Father-Christmas-related gift had been lovingly wrapped and left in a wardrobe 50 miles up the coast. This after my promising my daughter that Santa would still come, even if we weren't at our normal address.
There was no way we could get back to Perth to get the presents - rotten alcohol - so a plan was concocted in which a note would be left with a few rapidly assembled small gifts. The note - from the forgetful St Nick himself - explained that the reindeer were overloaded and had had to leave most of the presents back at our house.
Come the morning the absence of goodies was paid no heed whatsoever. Instead, all the childrens' eyes were on the reindeer poo left behind by the sleigh team - why did it look so much like a handful of dried dates?
Meanwhile my brother-in-law sat scratching his head over why we'd bought him two copies of the same book (because my wife and I are super-efficient, obviously), and I found myself unwrapping an X-Box game that, when opened, was found to be lacking not only the instructions but also the game disc. So much for checking that list twice, Fatso.
You could be forgiven for thinking that Christmas is all about the presents in my family. Not so. It's also about quality time with your loved ones, all coming together in one big, happy home for fun and frolics.
I was still off to town to swap that game the second we got back, though.
Toddled along from the GMTV Beach Experience to my in-laws' place, a tinnie's throw from Cottesloe Beach, in the hope of a quick drink to offset the dehydration.
The sun had obviously got to my lovely wife, who earnestly explained to her father about how she'd temporarily ceased alcohol consumption, but how she has now (and the phrase she was looking for is) fallen off the wagon.
Didn't come out like that, though ...
'I haven't had a drink for ages, but I'm back on the horse.'
Just spent half an hour on the phone to my mother in the UK as she advances, one frame at a time, through her tape of the GMTV Christmas broadcast from Perth. There's a chance she might spot us, somewhere in the crowd of Brits in bikinis and replica England strips, but it's a small one.
My wife and I split up, taking a child each, hoping to double our chances of getting on camera, but it was a constant struggle to remain visible as courteous types shoved in front of us or, seconds before the cameras started to roll, unfurled banners like galleon sails, obscuring everyone standing behind them for half a mile.
If you fancy your chances at detecting us, Where's Wally-style, try this link. The broadcasts from New Zealand and Sydney are up, I don't imagine it'll be long before Perth gets uploaded. Anyone who spots us, leave a comment here - but I'm betting there won't be many.
Anyway, things I've learned for next time:
If there's a heavily pregnant woman in a bikini, stand next to her. My mum reported that the baby-carrying bathing beauty stood out a mile. So to speak.
Get there late. After four hours of standing in the sun, baking to death while the camera crew await the go-ahead to link to the UK, people were dropping out at a rate of knots. My wife was standing at the water's edge when we were informed the next link was on the way. By the time it actually happened, the tide had come in so far she was up to her knees. And my wife's not short.
Planning on taking a banner along? Writing the names or locations of the people whose attention you're hoping to catch on it? Amateurs! Instead, emblazon it with the name of the TV programme doing the filming, as big as you possibly can. That way you'll find yourself prominently positioned in every frame ...
Day off work today after spending yesterday researching a monumental act of genocide for a story I've been asked to write. Probably shouldn't have taken the break - especially with Christmas steaming in and eating into the deadline - but there are only so many pictures of dead children you can look at before calling time on it.
Concentrated instead on last-minute shopping, including one final Christmas present (how hard can it be to find a Little Mermaid dress-up costume? Think 'Holy Grail' ...) and something for tomorrow's anniversary. That'll be eleven years my wife and I have been together, for those who've lost count.
It'd be nice to think we could get away for some time alone tomorrow night, but with decent babysitters like gold dust it's unlikely. Instead our big day out is going to be rolling up to Cottesloe beach with the kids for the broadcast by UK breakfast show GMTV. Every year they transmit from several Australian locations, and with Perth housing such a huge ex-pat Brit population it's sure to be crowded down there. Obviously that means that we'll be eight miles from the cameras, visible only as pinpricks to the viewers, but if you're one of the people we should have been seeing this Christmas and you fancy tuning in to squint for us, we'll be there from 2pm local time (that's 5am English).
I'm not sure how much more mileage my daughter's going to get out of the whole Santa thing. When I was little, the thought that there was anything dubious about the identity of Father Christmas never even crossed my mind. I was just happy that a magical fat guy rocked up once a year with presents.
Not so my little girl. At five years old, she's already in possession of investigative skills that would do Woodward and Bernstein proud. Nothing - nothing - is getting past her. She knows something's up with Santa.
The plan was simple enough: leave the house early to take my son into daycare and stop off on the way back to pick up a pile of presents we've had on lay-by at the shops. After all, the kids can't see them if they're not in the house, right?
I'm halfway out the door when a little voice behind me says, 'Can I come?'
My wife stepped in with a lengthy excuse about how she needed my daughter to stay at home and help with things, and off I went. Returning an hour later, I flung a blanket over the gear in the boot of the car and turned to go indoors.
My little girl's standing by the gate. 'You were gone a long time.'
'Yes. I ... had to talk to Sean's teachers.'
'Oh, you know. Stuff.' (God, it's no wonder she's suspicious!)
'Oh. What's the blanket for?'
'Sally [our dog]. In case she comes back wet from the beach.'
'We went to the beach yesterday, not today.'
'That's right! And we might be going again some time.'
'Oh,' she replied, the look in her eyes plainly declaring that this was not the end of it. Not by a long way.
The rest of the day has been a running battle of hide and seek, as my wife and I tag-teamed minding our offspring while handling secret Christmas business. And every time we've tried to do something, she's been there. Watching.
In the end I bundled her into the car to come with me to pick my son up, hoping my wife would make better progress with us both gone. Returning later, I glanced about to make sure everything was hidden away. Excellent.
My boy runs into the house, takes one look at the supposedly secure room and his face lights up.
Quick shout out to Adam in Sydney, who I've recently discovered has been writing a blog almost exactly as long as I have. Back when I was an office drone working to get my first fiction commission, Adam was good enough to read through my less than successful proposals, so you didn't have to.
That alone means you owe him big time - check out his page of musingshere.
Hard work, today, what with the car breaking down in a cloud of smoke and finding I had a $400 bottle of wine I didn't want (long story, another time). Even so, by dint of having most of my brain working on tedious annoyances while my subconscious did its own thing, I found at last the answer to a plotting problem I've been having.
The story concerned is roughed out until the point where Our Hero has to put an end to The Threat once and for all, risking much on the slight chance he can save more. No matter which way I looked at it, however, the resolution reeked of a season finale of Buffy. (That said, if your work's going to resemble another writer's, you could do a lot worse than Joss Whedon.)
The problem's been niggling for days. Then, thanks to my hindbrain getting stuck in neutral all morning, the answer popped up, just like that.
'Kill your babies'.
That's an excellent piece of advice I received about writing from one far wiser than I - no matter how hard you've worked on a piece of writing, or how much you love it, if it's not working you need to be ruthless enough to ditch it.
It's a tip that's saved me much embarrassment in the past, but it's one that's also created a slush pile of ideas, scenes, even sentences that have been put into cold storage in the hope that one day they might live again. Most writers, I imagine, have files filled to bursting with odds and ends that didn't quite cut it. This is the first time, however, that I've actually been able to dip into my file and pull out a piece that didn't fit first time, but now slots in perfectly.
Let's not forget that plagiarising yourself is also part of a grand old writing tradition. Anyone who's read Raymond Chandler's John Dalmas short stories, for instance, will immediately see how he stripped them for parts to write many of his later Philip Marlowe novels. And anyone who's known me long enough knows I like me Chandler ...
The arrival of my contributor's copies of Old Friends this morning had the woman who serves me at the coffee shop wondering if I wanted decaf, just for a change. Explained the daft look on my face and the bouncing about, and she suggested we get some more copies in and do a signing.
We don't get many writers down our way ...
There was further reason to be cheerful before lunchtime - after a dearth of projects over the last few weeks, two emails and a phone call have opened up the possibility of exercising the little grey cells on some new writing. The phone call even hinted at that most magical of words, 'retainer'.
Too early to get excited, though, because so often these things don't work out - more news as and when.
Much excitement yesterday as my son's Christmas concert rolled around. We already knew that Jingle Bells was on the song list, having caught him singing along to it on the TV and getting all the words in exactly the right places, and the video camera had spent 24 hours charging to be sure we captured every second of his stage debut. Cos we're parents; parents do that.
And then they play it back for your mates at your 21st ...
So, spirited away by the teachers for an hour beforehand, all the better for getting him into his festive costume, Sean finally emerged with the rest of the eager littlies.
And bawled so hard we thought he was going to bust a blood vessel. He was so distraught, we had to take him off the stage - he didn't even get to sing a note.
Videotaped the dog sniffing round the garden instead.
One of the nice things about living on the other side of the planet is that people in Europe are going about their business while I'm asleep. That means there's usually news from someone when I get up in the morning, be it work, friends or family.
Woke up this morning to an email from Mark D, editor of the horror anthology to which I submitted This Train Terminates ... a couple of weeks ago. Not only did he tell me that the story's been accepted, he also had some extremely nice things to say about the way it was written.
So that's why I've had a dirty great grin on my face today despite the heat making work such an unattractive prospect. Thanks, Mark!
It feels like months since everyone I know got to see Casino Royale, but at last I've caught up with them.
And yes, it's every bit as good as they said.
I've got to admit to a certain wave of satisfaction that Daniel Craig is so good. You've got to be pleased for him, sticking it to the whingers who lobbied to have him de-Bonded even before they saw a single frame of footage ('He's blond! He can't drive a manual! He hates guns!' He's an actor. He'll pretend, for God's sake ...).
Quite apart from the physique that's got everyone with ovaries (and quite a few without) drooling into their popcorn, my wife and I agree that it's the eyes that really help elevate Craig's take on the role. Imagine if Connery had had eyes that steely and cold in Dr No, informing his would-be assassin that he'd 'had his six' ... Eyes like those mean you never, ever question that this man is capable of some extremely nasty stuff indeed.
And it's good to see a script that subverts the series while at the same time reviving and reinforcing it - asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred, Bond's 'Do I look like I give a damn?' encapsulates the feel of the new 007.
I'm happy to report that my wife's former company settled out of court today, putting an end to the weeks of wrangling over her dismissal. Can't say too much about it, as the details are to be kept confidential, but they essentially played hardball right up until the last minute, presumably hoping the looming tribunal would scare us off. It didn't, they realised that and they settled. We got what we wanted - my wife's vindication - so now it's a just a matter of her finding more work.
Have landed a couple more paying projects myself in the last day or so, keeping the wolves from the door for another couple of weeks. Will be getting stuck into those tomorrow. Meanwhile I had an amusing and profitable conversation last night with my Melbourne co-writer, Mr Mond. Progress has been made - if only I can get it down on paper to my satisfaction ...
If anyone wants to check out Mondy's work (and you should - the man's exceedingly talented) you could do worse than readthisorthis. His yarn inthis, in fact, was the first Bernice Summerfield story I ever read, and it set the bar nice and high. Check it out.
Back again - not had a great deal of time to write over the last few days, what with magazine deadlines and my wife's ongoing medical issues. Thanks to those who've asked after her - she's still having tests on an outpatient basis, and we should hear something soon.
Meanwhile I've been mulling plotlines for this project I'm co-creating, and should be ready to get an outline on paper soon, day-to-day business permitting. And for all those of you wanting to buy the Old Friends collection, I'm told it's out now in the UK. Treat yourselves!
I'd been hoping to get started roughing out a plot for my Melbourne colleague over the last couple of days. Needless to say, something came up ...
Yesterday morning my wife started to feel sharp pains in the gut, following on from a couple of days of feeling seedy. They got worse, and soon we were at the hospital, getting her looked at for appendicitis.
The hospital is two streets away - that's the good news. The bad is that it's the same place that turned my son awaywhen he cut his head open a few months back. All up, my wife spent ten hours in A&E waiting to be admitted, before enduring a night of throwing up in a room co-occupied by a trio of old women groaning, expectorating and hovering on the edge of death. And we still didn't know for sure what was wrong with her.
Fortunately, tests finally indicated that it wasn't her appendix, and she's home now, having discharged herself so quickly she it would have made Einstein's head spin. Not sure that was the best decision, but she's back at the doctor's in the morning to get checked out, so she might get away with it.
The hospital experience has, aside from all this, taught me two things:
It's both good and bad to have a friend who's medically trained. While this particular mate was immensely helpful with her translation of medical jargon and diagnoses, the way she reacted when I told her what the doctors at the hospital were up to completely destroyed any confidence I may have had in those looking after my wife.
Children have injury radar, but not the capacity to act on it. You must have noticed it. If your foot's hurting, you can be guaranteed any child in the vicinity will step on it. Likewise, when I took our littlies to visit their mum, the very first thing they did was jump on her belly ... Bless.