05 December 2012

Bookapalooza, and Slow Crime Fiction

I have bought so many books recently, what with booktopia.com.au's Booktoberfest, and ClickFrenzy (which was a promotional event intended to get Australians to buy online from Australian retailers, but as the ClickFrenzy website crased, I don't know how successful it was. I just went to Booktopia again), and then amazon.com e-book specials on CyberMonday...
So manhy new paper books, so many new e-books. And of course the many many paper books I already have.

I re-read the Familias Regnant sereies by Elizabeth Moon, which I plan to write a separate post about - seven books of wonderful, thoughtful, hard-SF/military space opera, with believable, empathetic characters, a rich, complex world, and some kick-arse action.

Now I'm reading a classic crime novel - Hamlet, Revenge!Hamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes

I read several of Michael Innes' Inspector Appleby novels in my teens and really enjoyed them. Re-reading this one 30 years later, I notice how different the pacing of the book is from any contemporary detective/crime fic/mystery novels. there's a prologue, that gives a lovingly detailed description of the history of the (fictional) Crispin family, from Tudor times until when the book was written (the 1930s), including the changing architecture and landscaping of their estate/manor house, Scamnum Court.

Then there are introductory scenes where the author names and describes to the reader the cast of characters as they appear at Scamnum and begin to interact with each other.
Not sure what page I'm on, because I'm reading an e-book with the font increased quite a bit, but a couple of chapters in, and I could think this was a country house comedy of manners, not a crime novel, but for a few vaguely threatening typed-out quotes from Shakespeare that a few of the characters have found inexplicably in their possession.
the past truly is a different country.

and I've just started reading Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (Cecelia and Kate, #1)Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede

I first heard of Sorcery & Cecelia - a Regency romance with magical elements, in epistolary form - and the other books in the series some years ago, and was most intrigued. Any reviews I'd seen of them had been positive, and they sounding like something that would tickle my fancy. So when I found them in the specials on amazon during Cyber Monday, I bought the first three as e-books. and then I saw that Sorcery and Cecelia is the December selection for the Smart Bitches book club. So now I can read it and discuss with others, some also discovering the series for the first time, some re-reading a favourite.
Have only read a few pages so far, and already I'm delighted with the style, characters and world.
I foresee a vast deal of amusement.
View all my Goodreads reviews

18 November 2012

Going to the supermarket - woo!

I'd been needing to go grocery shopping for aaaages - maybe six days since I ran out of milk and four since I ran out of bananas & yoghurt, three since I ran out of bread (all my staple foods - except I still had cheddar cheese, and dark chocolate). So I'd been drinking lots of water (exciting! but I'm grateful to have safe, drinkable water on tap) and eating my way through the packets of rice cakes and VitaWeats in the cupboard.

Another pertinent point is that I had run out of my cats' favourite food: Whiskas dry food. They actually prefer Science Diet Original dry food to any other biskits, but we hadn't had that for a while - I have Too Many Cats and not enough income to keep them in the food that they'd like to be accustomed to. We do still have a wee bit of Science Diet Oral Care, which comes in big chunky biskits that do marvellous things for one's fangs, but for some reason the only fur-person who likes that is Ember (aka Good Girl, an aspirational name), which is an excellent choice on her part, as she has need of Care for her teeth and gums. So we were having tinned food instead. Tin (sic) food is normally a Treat, even though it's usually cheaper than standard dry food, simply because I'm too lazy to wash the cat dishes after every meal, as I really should when serving tin food. With dry food, I can get away with just wiping the old crumbs and smears of grease out with a paper towel (save water, use paper *shrugs*).

So I was very excited to break through my lethargy and Aversion to Going Outside which had gripped me for some reason this week, and drive the few blocks to Ashfield Mall. My flatmate is away at the moment, so she wasn't amazed by my going to a supermarket on a Sunday evening. Perhaps because she grew up in a small country town, perhaps because she's blind and doesn't go to supermarkets much, preferring to use smaller shops where she can get to know the layout and the staff are more able to assist her, my flatmate is constantly astonished when I go grocery shopping at night.

At around 7pm on a late spring evening, the car park on the roof of the Mall was balmy and tranquil unlike the middle of the day when it would've been hot and crowded. The aisles of the supermarket still seemed quite busy, and the main indication of the time was that they were Out of Bread (i.e. all types of bread from the two brands I usually buy had sold out), and it must've been end of shift for some of the checkout staff, because twice I joined a queue only to be told by the person in front of me "they're closing" or "I'm the last person" (both of which seemed unnecessarily dramatic to me - the *shop* wasn't closing, just that checkout, and you're not the last person on earth, buddy. ahem.).
(does that bit of punctuation look like boobs? .). Maybe more so with another parenthesis
.).) I may be a little high on sugar right now... :-D )

But I bought a lovely loaf of unsliced dark rye, plus the essentials: yoghurt (several types, including a very nice vanilla one with Added Sugar - woohoo! - a bribe to get me to go shopping); bananas; the aforementioned bread; some double chocolate chip mini muffins (or as I like to call them, chocka chip muffins) which were on special, so I got two packets, one to eat quite soon and one to freeze; six litres of long-life lactose-free milk (I usually drink a litre a day); some Cadburys milk chocolate (Fair Trade, and on special - ethical but not spendy); four tins of cat food (which I hadn't planned to buy, as I still had plenty, but it too was on special); and three packets of Friskies dry food (cos that was on special also! and Trezhy really likes Friskies. such happiness).

So I was quite pleased with my purchases, which helped me maintain my equanimity when twice being told the queue I was standing in was Closed.

Then I found a check-out where the operator was not only continuing his shift, but was the most charming, polite, friendly and helpful checkout operator I've encountered in a long time. I might even ring Woollies and give some Positive Feedback. I should. Ali (I'd guess early middle-age) was efficient in packing, while also asking if the customer had any preferences or objections to which items were packed with what; he greeted everyone while he was still serving the person in front - Hello, ma'am, shouldn't be too much longer - and looked customers in the eye as he took their payment, and seemed to actually mean the standard wish for them to have a good evening.

When he greeted the two young people behind me in the queue, they didn't respond, as they were rather preoccupied with each other - their words and actions led me to deduce that they were A Romantic Couple. A tall young man and a short, curvy young woman, who I overheard saying "but I don't have a big nose". When I turned to look, I saw that she in fact had a cute small nose. Her young man explained that he thought he could hang a keyring on the end of her nose because it tilted up at the end (he tried; the keyring fell off). I was tempted to say to her "you have a cute ski-jump nose", but realised that conversational input from anyone outside their Couple was completely irrelevant, so I didn't, and instead shared a smile with Ali.

[sadly I can't include a photo of the Cute Young Couple, because it would be creepy to start taking pics of people in the supermarket queue. wouldn't it?]

Ali wished me a good evening, after putting my bags carefully in my trolley (most unusual for a checkout operator, and I didn't take it as an aspersion on my strength/lack thereof, just as kindness), and I enthusiastically wished him a lovely evening too.

It was a challenge driving home into the setting sun, because a) I'd been unable to find my sunnies* before leaving home, and b) my windscreen was covered in dust and patterned with paw prints, making it very hard to see the road, cars, pedestrians, etc, when the sun hit the dusty glass at an angle. But we made it home safely, the food and I - it was almost like when I used to buy albums** as a teenager, and walk home from the record shop, hugging the album and thinking "must watch where I'm walking; mustn't get hit by a car before I can get home and play this".

So I got home, carrying Wonderful Food for me and the fur-persons. I have nommed some of the lovely vanilla yoghurt, and one (so far) mini chocka chip muffin. The cats were not as excited as I expected them to be by the New Dry Food (for heavens' sake, they'd been surviving on Woollies Select dry food! but I guess the tin food had out-rated the New Dry Food). They did all eat some though, and seem satisfied. Now I'm blogging about this delightful expedition, with Trezhy sleeping, fluffy-tummy-side-up, on my lap, both of us content with our yummy snacks.

*sunnies: noun, plural (but referring to one composite object) Australian vernacular for sunglasses.
**albums: noun, plural. Recordings of music on vinyl disks.

03 November 2012

GenreCon: What Do Writers Get Wrong in Crime and Medical Dramas?

the Con* started on Friday arvo, with panel sessions and a cocktail party, which I skipped cos I was knackered. I missed the morning sessions on Saturday too cos I'd not got much sleep Friday night, and finally got to GenreCon at midday, in time for lunch (included, and there was some food I could eat - yay!). Had a lovely catch-up with author Cheryse Durrant/Cherie Curtis .

There were three program strands in most timeslots. the first session after lunch I chose What Writers Get Wrong, with former police detectives PM Newton and Simon Higgins, and medical doctor & engineer Charlotte Nash Stewart (all fiction authors) talking with Aimée Lindorff; very informative and entertaining, with great questions from Aimée and excellent answers from the panel.

Some highlights:

What common errors really stand out in genre fiction (text, film or TV)?
PM: cops taking case files home with them and spreading them out all over their living room, and pinning crime scene photos up on their walls. no cop she's known has ever done that.
Simon: dramatic arrests on rooftops, and the bad guy falling to his death.
Charlotte: CPR is usually wrong, particularly defibrillation, and childbirth. and internal inconsistency distresses her. in spec fic, you can make up the rules regarding physics, biology, etc - but please stick to them once you've written them. cited end of Walking Dead season 1 as an example of internal medical inconsistency (won't reveal cos of possible spoilers).

Tell us some other things that are unrealistic:
Charlotte: the speed of pathology tests in crime shows, e.g. CSI. the tests themselves take time - 48 hours to grow a culture to identify an infection.
PM and Simon: and there's the bureaucracy that you have to go through to send stuff off to the lab, doing the paperwork. And the lab will have a backlog anyway.
Simon: and why are the pathologists going out, armed with guns, and kicking in suspects' doors? they don't do that, a tactical response team would.
PM: and the detectives would do interviews, and write up case notes. then someone else might sift through all the info to see what was significant...

Simon: We don't fight over whose jurisdiction a case falls under - there aren't territorial disputes between cops, district attorneys/public prosecutors.
PM: more likely to be happy for someone else to take the case.

How many cases are you likely to be handling at one time?
Charlotte: it depends on the setting. in a big metropolitan hospital, you're more likely to specialise, but there'll still be lots of patients in your area (e.g. cardio-thoracic, oncology) that you'll be responsible for at one time. in a small country town, you get everything, don't specialise, but still have lots of cases.

PM spoke about being the only cop covering a big rural area in northern New South Wales - based in Macksville, including Dorrigo, Nambucca Heads... Not only does that solo cop deal with all the cases, she then sees the people she arrested last week in a social setting. can be very awkward. great demand to keep confidentiality, to keep professional boundaries. can lead to cops feeling isolated and barricading themselves in psychologically.

Charlotte: the same for the GP in a one-doctor town. you know so much about everyone, and the community needs to trust that you'll keep confidences, and not think about those things when they see you in other contexts.

Simon: coming back to how many cases - lots of overlapping cases, unlike one case/story per episode on most crime shows. they don't even get phone calls about anything except that one case.

All the authors were talking about what is factual, and also what makes a good story. Depending on the style in which you're writing, your audience/readers can make allowances for unrealistic things if it's e.g. a crime-com (I thought of Castle, which is clearly screwball crime-com, and should be watched with the perspective that it's about as realistic as the average coincidence-ridden rom-com). Simon said you need to set up the readers' expectations of lightness/seriousness in the first chapter or two, with your tone and the events you create, then stay with it, don't mess the reader around.

Aimée read out a list of cliches and asked True or False:

Angry and budget conscious cop in charge:
PM said true, though not necessarily both at the same time. She's known plenty of angry cops, and some very budget conscious bosses. in small country town, sometimes she wouldn't go out to a case at night because the boss didn't want to pay her overtime.

High body count and/or high speed car chases:
Rarely, but sometimes True: Simon told dramatic story of a high speed car chase that went from Adelaide Hills into centre of city, with way too many cop cars involved, chasing a driver who kept going when all the tires on his car blew out, and he was driving on the wheel rims.

Tracheotomy with a pen:
True, but very risky. Charlotte explained how a tracheotomy is usually done - it's a specialised surgical procedure, and is extremely risky if you don't have medical knowledge and the right equipment. She also explained a crichothyroidotomy (which is what is often shown in medical dramas) and we in the audience felt on our necks where the little space is between the thyroid cartilege and the cricoid cartilege. I wouldn't want to try cutting into there with a pen, penknife or even scalpel, trying to avoid damage to the person's thyroid, larynx (voicebox), trachea (windpipe), and any nerves and blood vessels in the vicinity. Charlotte pointed out that a clicky pen wouldn't work, you'd need a simple barrel-type ball point, and even that would be a bit narrow. Rolling up a business card into a cylinder might be better.
I asked about the Diana Gabaldon novel The Fiery Cross, in which one of the characters is hanged but survives, with major trauma to his throat. another character does an emergency crichothyroidotomy and uses the stem of a pipe (cleaned) to keep the wound open and provide passage for air into the trachea below the area of swelling and bruising. Yep, she could have done that.

Blue Heelers syndrome - that if you're in a small town, you get all the weirdest cases:
True, and in fact Charlotte had had an example when she first took up a position as GP in a one-doctor town of someone who'd had an emergency tracheotomy done on the spot in the consulting room by the previous GP.

Private Investigators breaking into suspects' houses:
False, said Simon, who has worked as a PI. He has taken people's garbage on several occasions though - this isn't illegal if the garbage has been put out at the kerb for collection.

Then someone (PM?) raised the cliche of a character - an informant, or a cop or PI ringing a colleague - ringing the hero investigator to say "I have crucial information about this case. Meet me at this deserted warehouse/creepy underground carpark/rooftop so I can tell you" and then the caller is killed either before they get to the meeting place, or at the meeting place, just as the hero arrives, so they don't find out the crucial info. why not just say it in the phone call?!

Charlotte mentioned that Petri dishes are cultivated upside down, so that condensation doesn't fall onto the culture (it's in a gel, so it doesn't fall onto the lid when upside down).

Aimée asked each author: what is sheer fiction that you wish was true?

Simon: that the cops I worked with were all sexy women like the lead females of TV crime shows. And that I could be Rick Deckard of Blade Runner

Charlotte: That there really was a way to diagnose every case you came across, and a cure for every disease and condition.

PM: That I could bounce back from a punch or a night of too much whisky the way noir detectives do.

After that panel, I went to Villains, Monsters and Cads - a great discussion about creating characters that readers will fear or hate (in a good way), with Tansy Rayner Roberts, Kim Wilkins, and Christina Brooke, chaired by Peta Freestone. Fun and thought-provoking, with mention of Vikings, harpies, manticores, the Gothic dark hero, re-working myths, villains who think they're heroes, heroes who think they're villains, the Laxdaela Saga, wicked women of classical Rome, and the dearth of female villains with convincing motivation.

but I'll blog about that one later - need sleep now so I can get to lots more of the Con tomorrow.

*GenreCon, a convention for writers, readers, editors and publishers of various genres of fiction, present by the Australian Writers' Marketplace and organised by Peter M Ball and Meg Vann of the Queensland Writers' Centre. Held at Rydges Parramatta (which is actually at Rosehill, right opposite Rosehill Racecourse).

30 September 2012

Dreams, Death and the Waking World

since her death I've often dreamt about Mum - being somewhere with Mum & Becca, usually a dream-representation of a place we lived in or visited years ago. sometimes she's young (i.e. about the age I am now), sometimes in her mid-70s, and frail as she was for several years before she died.

I often know that I'm dreaming (always have, as far back as I can remember) but that doesn't make the dreams any less real, or any easier to control.
and I know that there's the reality in dream-life and the reality in waking life, and they're different. sometimes I know in the back of my sleeping mind that Mum is dead in the waking world, but that doesn't affect her existence in the dream.

today was the first time that I consciously (unconsciously, I spose, given I was asleep) thought "I'd better hug Mum now in this dream, because, although she's alive in the waking world too, some day she won't be, so I'd better make the most of hugging her in this dream now".

Mum was looking much like she did a couple of years before her death, grey hair and shawl wrapped round her shoulders, talking to one of the cats (Tigger, who died in the mid 1980s) as she went to the kitchen to get herself a cup of tea. I was a bit worried that the milk was past its use-by date.


27 August 2012

The Cat Soap Opera Continues...

Trezhy was happily snoozing on my lap as I sat in the armchair where I use my laptop when it's connected to the modem. Then I went to get something to eat, and returned to find Trezh had claimed the chair. So I did stuff with photos on my desktop 'puter (using software that isn't on my laptop) and let Trezh enjoy the armchair by himself.

His aunt Tabitha comes to sit on the armchair, and wants to snuggle with Trezhy. She doesn't seem to be trying to push him off - she's smooching him and purring - but he isn't keen to share, so hops down and wanders off.
Then Ember comes to sit on the armchair with her mum, and smooches Tabitha just as Tabitha was smooching Trezh. Poor Ember is smacked by her mum, and goes away.
Rosy comes in, sees me at the desktop, Tabitha on the chair, and Trezh and Ember roaming around, and goes to sit on the cardboard box in the corner by the window.
Ember tries sharing the armchair with Tabitha again, this time just curling up next to her, not smooching. Tabitha tolerates this.
Trezhy jumps onto my lap as I sit at the workstation trying to do stuff on my extremely slow desktop puter, and settles down happily to snuggle and snooze.

Sandy comes in and playfights with the stripey rug by herself, and mrrps at me asking for chin rubs, which I manage by twisting and leaning to reach her behind me. She has previously shared a sofa with her sister Tabitha, and thinks about joining her on the armchair, but sharing the armchair with Ember as well would be too much, so she settles on the rug.

Ember is nudging Tabitha, wanting her mum to wash her. I reach over to give each of them chin rubs, but it's hard to do that without disturbing Trezhy. I suggest to Tabitha that she and Ember could give each other face washes, but after licking Ember's forehead once or twice, Tabitha starts biting her neck, and not in a friendly way. They squabble, and Tabitha leaves the armchair, and goes to sit on another box next to the one Rosy is on. Rosy is wary, but not going to take action unless Tabitha starts something.

Treasure leaves my lap to go and have a snack in the kitchen, and Ember follows to see if any interesting new food has appeared. I've finished doing stuff with photos on the desktop, so I close it down, and move back to the now vacant armchair and start using the laptop again.
Sandy comes to sit with me on the armchair - yay! She doesn't often sit on or near my lap, so I'm pleased when she does.

Fern is still out, avoiding Sandy and Ember; sadly I don't see much of my darling girl - I really need to rehome Tabitha and Ember so Ferny can feel more relaxed in her home again.

Sandy is bothered by my clicking away at the keyboard and so leaves me and the armchair, and curls up on the chair I use at the desktop workstation.

Ember comes to sit with me on the armchair. She's not into laps either, but is very happy to smooch a bit. She headbutts my arm, I rub her forehead and chin, she purrs, tries to bite me in a friendly but ouchy way, I pull my arm away, she settles down on the arm of the chair.

Trezhy comes back in and approaches me; Sandy perks up on the computer chair and tries to swat him. They shadow box a bit. Trezhy jumps back up on my lap, but isn't really happy sharing the chair with Ember, even though she's just on one arm of it, so he leaves again - not sure where he is now.

Musical chairs? French farce? Just another day in a multi-cat household.

24 May 2012

Genetic Cause For An Addiction to Fiction?

I've long thought that I have an addiction to fiction. Between reading lots of prose fiction and writing a little, watching drama & comedy films and TV, day-dreaming as much as I can, and having long, involved stories in my sleep-time dreams, I spend a large proportion of my life absorbed in tales that I or someone else has made up.

Personally, I think that's a good thing. There are lots of respectable ways of saying this - it's part of human nature to want to tell and hear stories; reading or watching fiction about other people's lives helps us develop understanding and compassion; we can learn a lot, educate ourselves, by reading well-researched fiction... I agree with all of those, as well as thinking that, for me at least, losing myself in a good story is an addictive behaviour. It soothes me, cheers me, distracts me; I get edgy if I can't do it most days; when I'm doing it, I lose my sense of time and often my awareness of what's going on around me, or even in my own body - fatigue, thirst, needing to go to the loo - everything fades away except the fictional world, if it's really gripping. Good thing I have cats, then, as they are very effective at bringing me back to the real world with their demands for food, attention, action.

Not surprisingly, I own quite a few books (rough estimate, somewhere around 1500 - 2000) in many genres and for all ages, as well as a lesser but still goodly number of film & TV DVDs (about 500 +/-). Probably my books are about 85% fiction, 15% non-fiction. Very few of my DVDs are documentaries (although those docos are fab - Simon Schama's A History of Britain, George Gittoes' Soundtrack to War, series of Who Do You Think You Are?).

So I'm surprised that six out of the thirteen books I bought at/just before the recent Sydney Writers' Festival, by authors who I planned to hear speaking or ones who I was enthused by after hearing them, were non-fiction. Most of those, though, are memoirs or biographies, so I guess I'm sticking with stories about people, even if some of those stories are about scientific learning as much as about the individuals involved.

I've been hugely enjoying novellist Hilary Mantel's memoir, Giving up the Ghost, while also finding her experiences as a young child very moving, particularly her puzzlement at how and why school does what it does to children - very reminiscent of my own bewilderment as a four year old. At least I had my dad, who told my teacher that if his daughter wanted to read instead of watching TV with the other children, she should be able to, even if she wasn't supposed to have learnt yet. Hilary didn't get into trouble for being an early reader - she found Dick and Jane too boring to be enthused about - but her spontaneous creativity when reciting rote lessons angered the teacher, who asked what was obviously a trick question, "Do you want me to hit you with this ruler?".

But because I wanted to start reading all the books, all at once, soon after starting Giving up the Ghost I leapt into another memoir, by Russian Jewish journalist Masha Gessen.

Masha Gessen's memoir Blood Matters is chock full of information garnered from Gessen's interviews and personal experiences with geneticists, oncologists, genetic counsellors, economists (she consulted a professor of economics about using economic theory to help her decision-making about having prophylactic surgery to prevent breast and/or ovarian cancer), genealogists, DNA analysts, match-makers, rabbis, historians... She is impelled to learn about genetic medicine and inheritable diseases, and breast & ovarian cancer, their treatments and survival rates, when she tests positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation.

Along the way, she hears about the genetic evidence that present-day Jewish men who identify as Cohanim (belonging to the priestly caste of Cohens, descended from Aaron, brother of Moses) do carry a particular Y-chromosome gene that apparently originated with one man whose Y-DNA haplotype shows he lived in the Middle East around 2650 years ago, give or take a few hundred years. She has a harrowing conversation with the sole survivor of a Nazi-run "home" for disabled children (reading the description of what the doctors did to the children at the Spiegelgrund nearly made me throw up). And she meets Miriam, mother of Yehuda, who has a system of hand-written file-cards recording prospective brides for her son; considerations include personality, religiousness, appearance, family occupation, inheritable illnesses.

Some of the stories, whether of people with Huntington's disease (in a chapter justifiably called The Cruellest Disease), or women who have lost all their female relatives over 20 to cancer, are heart-breaking, but I'm still reading, partly because it is fascinating and eye-opening, and also because I haven't yet reached the chapter where Masha decides what she will do - whether to have either or both operations, and what else instead, or as well.

On a much lighter note, I'd like to know if there is a genetic cause of my addiction to reading stories. My father was adopted by a loving, hard-working family who didn't read books. (Later, when I was a teenager, my ever-generous Nana would offer me a "book" to read, meaning Woman's Day or another magazine.) Once he was in a position to buy books, and stay up late reading them, my dad did both, sometimes to excess. In adulthood, he met his birth mother, who turned out to also have a staying-up-late-reading habit. My sister and I had little chance of avoiding this inheritance, if it does have a genetic origin, as our mother too was an inveterate book-buyer and would often be caught up in a good story and lose all sense of time while reading.

My darling ma, reading, with cats

22 May 2012

What Shall I Wear?

After so long not needing to think much about what I'm going to wear today (and certainly not thinking about what I'll wear in a week or a month's time), I've recently found myself planning what to wear to the Sydney Writers' Festival, and for my graduation next week, then a science fiction convention in early June, and SupaNova in mid June.

In the last few years I have had a very low income (due to little or no work, while recovering from a major illness), and also been putting on weight, so my old clothes mostly don't fit any more, and I haven't bought many new ones (except for geeky t-shirts, which I am addicted to, and buy when they are on special).

The SWF was relatively easy - cool weather meant jeans, usually with leggings underneath for warmth, then a writerly t-shirt over a long-sleeved garment (skivvy or long-sleeved t-shirt), and a jacket for the colder mornings and evenings. The t-shirts I wore to the Festival had: a design of books putting on their jackets (some with fur trim); a quote from TV writer Joss Whedon; a depiction of Mary Shelley writing, sheets of paper flying in the air around her, and her Creature looming behind her; the Bronte sisters at a picnic, with Charlotte and Emily giggling over the brooding heroes in a magazine called 'Byronic', while Anne glowers disapprovingly.

On the first day of the Festival I lost a favourite jacket, which was comfortable, loose enough to still fit and to go over several layers, a lovely combination of shades of brown, I'd had it for over 30 years, and it was given to me by my mum, who died last year. sad to lose it, but at least it was a garment, not a person (one of my darling cats was missing for four days not long ago, which certainly puts a jacket into perspective, even a favourite one).

I bought some nice clothes at an op shop/thrift shop to wear to my graduation (Certificate IV in Training and Assessment), but am not sure now if they'll be suited to the weather - the seven day forecast so far is indicating probable showers and a maximum of 17^C, colder than I was expecting. And I'll probably be walking some distance to/from public transport at either end of the trip between home and venue. Will have to think more about that further...

For the science fiction convention in June, again I'll need warm clothes for travelling between where I'll be staying with friends and the convention venue - winter in Melbourne will definitely be chilly. And layers that I can take off when I get to the venue will be good; since the Con is being held at a 4 star hotel I assume it'll be nice and warm indoors. The theme of this Con is craft, in the sense of hand-made artifacts, artisan work, wearables, etc, so I'll try to wear geeky/spec fic t-shirts that also relate to crafts, and/or wear some hand-made jewellery or textile art. Not sure if I'll have the energy to go to the Maskobalo (for which, surprisingly, a mask is not de rigeur), but if I do, I'll wear a costume. My first thought, assisted by my sister, was to wear a Halloween costume bee outfit that I bought on special at CorsetsAU, augmented with home-made findings, and say I was a Vespiform, as seen in the Doctor Who episode with Agatha Christie. Then I actually looked at the theme for this year's ball, and discovered it is Under Sea, so now I'm thinking of going (if I do) as a selkie, in her human form, inspired by Margo Lanagan's recent novel Sea Hearts (published in the US as The Brides of Rollrock Island).

In their human form, the selkies wear the everyday attire of Rollrock Island, which seems to be early 20th century Scottish peasant's dress. So I'll find something to simulate that, plus I need to find some seaweed that I can knit a sea-blanket from. Not sure where to source that in Sydney - sheets of nori would be easy to find, but I need strands - any suggestions?

I've not yet done cosplay for the two SupaNova events that I've been to, sticking with my usual geeky or cat-related t-shirts. If I get there this year (it's the weekend after Continuum 8/Craftonomicon, so I might still be resting and recovering), I'm thinking of dressing up, and if I've put together a sea-wife's costume, that'd be a good option. Or the bee/Vespiform, which I could do there instead of at the Con. Or, I could go as a Hogwarts student, with my baby Welsh Red Dragon, Nerys. For that I'd need a school uniform, and a Hogwarts tie - preferably in Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff colours.

21 May 2012

Troubled Girls Seduced by Logic

Day Two of the Festival (for me) started early and finished late. I got to the venue half an hour early and went straight to the queue for Girl Trouble, the first talk I was attending, partly because I wanted to get into the actual room before it filled up, instead of watching/listening from the Viewing Lounge, and because I was meeting up with three of my lovely writing buddies: Monique McDonell and Angella Whitton (pictured with me above) and Pamela Cook (who I sadly didn't get a pic of cos she arrived just as we started filing into the room).

The writers speaking about women's fiction in the Girl Trouble panel were: Toni Jordan, author of Addition, a tragi-comic romance about a woman with OCD, and Fall Girl, a rom-com in which the lovers are caught up in a tangled web of lies; and Kathy Lette, author of many popular novels, from Puberty Blues, co-written with Gabrielle Carey in the 1970s when they were in their teens, through Foetal Attraction, Mad Cows, and How to Kill Your Husband, to her latest novel, The Boy Who Fell to Earth, about a woman and her autistic son. They spoke with author and radio & television presenter, Gretel Killeen.

It was a vibrant, funny session, with much good-humoured banter between the panellists, and lots of laughter in the room (the audience was almost all female, and I'd guess the average age was late 40s/early 50s). One comment I saw on twitter was that it seemed "very 20 years ago", and it did seem to me that many of Kathy Lette's very funny, polished one-liners were the flip-side of old-fashioned sexist "take my mother-in-law" stand-up jokes. there was some serious discussion of Toni's and Kathy's novels, and of the state of women's fiction generally, as well as the jokes from Kathy, my favourites of which were: "Women are each other's human Wonderbras, uplifting, supporting and bringing each other together" and (regarding the expectation that women should rip out or shave off all body hair) "I like my pubic hair; it's like a little pet in my pants".

Several days and many discussions later, I'm relying on my live tweets for the points that struck me most at the time.

Toni Jordan: the merging of the writer's mind and each reader's mind creates a new book with each reading.

Gretel Killeen: rom-coms have been with us since Shakespeare wrote Beatrice and Benedick.

Toni Jordan on writing erotic scenes: you know it's working if you find it arousing yourself

In response to a question about Stephenie Meyer's novel Twilight, Toni said bad books can be "gateway books", introducing non-readers to the joy of fiction and leading them to better books. And while avid readers may find The Da Vinci Code, Twilight, and other similar best-sellers to be cliched in their language, characters and plots, to people who don't read much fiction, it's all new.

After a coffee/hot chocolate with Monique, Angella and Pam, I dashed off to hear science writers Dava Sobel and Robyn Arianrhod talking with Ashley Hay about their latest non-fiction books, A More Perfect Heaven (Sobel) and Seduced by Logic (Arianrhod), in a panel called That Vision Thing. As Ashley Hay said, imagination and creativity underpin scientific research and discovery, and Sobel and Arianrhod each bring their scientist's combination of creative imagination and desire for verifiable facts to their stories of Nicholas Copernicus and his revolutionary understanding of Earth's place in the cosmos, and of Émilie du Châtelet in 18th century France and Mary Somerville in 19th century Scotland, who learnt Newtonian mathematics and physics and popularised Isaac Newton's theories.

My intention to Not Buy Books was washed away by the wonderful details Robyn described of Émilie's and Mary's lives: their struggles to learn and share knowledge, their triumphs, their families and friends. So I now have autographed copies of Dava Sobel's The Planets and Robyn Arianrhod's Seduced by Logic (oh! I guess I was seduced by the story of two women who were seduced by logic), and had a nice chat with Robyn about Mary Somerville, and Somerville College, Oxford, which was named after Mary, and was where my mum studied.

some random tidbits from the talk:

as a chld, Mary Somerville saw whales and dolphins swimming in the Firth of Forth

Mary's father was an admiral in the Royal Navy. when he returned home from a long absence and found Mary had taught herself Newtonian mathematics he forbade her to study any more as it was well known, by medical professionals and the general public, that women's brains were too fragile to withstand intellectual study and Mary might "end up in a straitjacket".

French playwright Voltaire, who was Émilie du Châtelet's lover, was a huge fan of Newton and tried to replicate his experiments

as lovers of knowledge discovered more about the world they had to develop the language to describe it in detail. imagine explaining an experiment to test the properties of heat and light at a time & place - 18th century France - where many people would simply use the word "fire" to describe both light and heat.

Robyn had a love of mathematics and science, particularly physics, while in school, but struggled against the expectation, still strong in the mid-late 20th century, that girls & women weren't suited to studying science or maths. when she did succeed in starting a university degree in science, she was disenchanted by both the academic approach and the connections between science and weapons, science and pollution.
she left uni, left the city, and lived "off the grid", but was drawn back by her love of physics and maths to studying Einstein's Theory of General Relativity in her bush home, by candlelight.

I was planning to include the third talk I went to that day in this blog post, but it's late, I'm tired, and the talk was dense, rich, intense, and way too much to post about right now - so I'll do that tomorrow.

17 May 2012

Lost & Found, Seen & Heard

let's see if I can write a blog post after a full, eventful day and actually post it tonight, not run out of steam, or flaff around adding pictures, or looking up references instead of just saying what I think (and maybe adding references later).

I got to the two talks I'd planned to attend today at Sydney Writers' Festival, and afterwards went to Kinokuniya to comb through the sale tables. Everything took a little longer than I expected - except for walking from home to Ashfield station. I was worried about running late, so walked very briskly, and got there in plenty of time to creak slowly up the stairs from street to concourse, buy my ticket, and descend carefully down the stairs from concourse to platform. (I was having a good knee day, but still need to be careful, cos of cartilage damage from many previous knee injuries, and weak muscles/loose ligaments that could let my kneecap/s dislocate again. exercise is good! particularly if it strengthens my medial quadriceps)

The playground in the park down the hill from Fort Street and up the hill from Hickson Road

On my way from Circular Quay to Hickson Road I saw a woman peering uncertainly at the lanes and streets of The Rocks and at her phone, so I asked if she was looking for the writers' festival - turned out she was, so I showed her the steep cobbled laneway down to the park across the road (and up another steep road) from the venue.

Being in the vicinity of Sydney Theatre and Sydney Dance performance spaces and rehearsal studios meant there were lots of actors and dancers around, so I enjoyed a bit of star-spotting, as well as looking for friends and acquaintances. Saw actress Sacha Horler striding past, talking on her mobile; said a "hello" in passing to friend (and former landlord) writer & editor Jonathan Shaw, who was dashing off to a talk; saw actor Dan Wyllie strolling by, chatting to friend; and stopped and said a brief hello to composer & musician Charlie Chan.

The queues for most of the talks at the SWF were massive - a wonderful turnout - and the first talk I went to, Dr Anita Heiss talking about her memoir Am I Black Enough For You?, was at capacity before I even joined the queue outside Wharf 4/5 (admittedly that was only 15 minutes before the start time). so I posted on Facebook about it being 'sold out' (it was free, no bookings) and toddled over to the Viewing Lounge in Wharf 2/3, a big barn of a place with deck chairs set out facing a large screen on which one sold out talk in each timeslot could be shown. the deck chairs were all full too by the time I got there, but I made myself comfy on the floor in a vantage point from where I could see the screen, and the audio was nice and clear, and the conversation between Anne Summers and Anita - about identity, Australian culture, Aboriginality and family - was so lovely, interesting, funny, and moving that I felt just as present as if I'd been in the room with them (but somewhere up the back - the video feed showed us a wide shot with Anne and Anita as small figures seen over the audience).

I did some tweeting and FB posting during the talk, and realised that my train/bus ticket wasn't in my jeans pocket any more - it must've fallen out when I first pulled my phone out to post about the talk being full, the other side of Wharf 4/5. I didn't want to spend the time then going back to look for it, cos there wasn't much time before the next talk, and that might well be full by the time I reached that queue if I didn't get a wriggle on.

but I wanted to see Anita, have her autograph my copy of Am I Black Enough For You? (which I was halfway through, and greatly enjoying & learning lots from) so I scooted over to where the wonderful indie bookshop Gleebooks had set up for the duration, with books by all the writers appearing at the Festival. While in the autographs queue I got chatting with the woman in front of me, who hadn't read any of Anita's books, and was a bit doubtful about reading chick lit, so I enthused to this woman about the Mr Right books and the Dreaming books, and the way Anita combines social/political awareness with humour, relationships, and aspects of life that most women could relate to, and she ended up buying Manhattan Dreaming and Paris Dreaming - yay!
and I did get to give Anita a hug - two hugs, in fact - one for her, and one for Kerry Reed-Gilbert, who was one of the deadly writers who Anita would be joining at a Sydney Writers' Festival event in Wollongong tonight.

somewhere in there I bought Thai-riffic by Oliver Phommavan, who will be part of On Western Sydney, which I'm going to on (checks calendar) Saturday, and Flyaway by Lucy Christopher, who will be talking about Her Dark Materials on Sunday. Doubt that I'll manage to read all of both of them, but you never know...

Then I nipped back to Wharf 4/5 to join the queue for Not Funny, Strange, with authors Chris Flynn (A Tiger in Eden), P.A. O’Reilly (The Fine Colour of Rust) and Charlotte Wood (Animal People) talking to Angela Meyer about using wry humour. Guess what? It was already full. So back to the Viewing Lounge, where this time I scored a deck chair. the panel conversation, and the extracts read by the authors, were funny, and did make us laugh.

Then I left the Festival to catch a bus to another marvellous bookshop, Kinokuniya, which had a sale - not store-wide, but including wide range of non-fiction, and fiction from various genres, in formats including prose novels, graphic novels and picture books. On the way out of the Festival I retraced my steps and lo & behold, there was my train/bus ticket, lying where it had fallen from my pocket, unnoticed by the hundreds of people who'd walked past. Yay!
I'd been so restrained at the Festival (but then again, I am going back a few more times and will most likely visit the Gleebooks shop again); not so restrained at Kinokuniya - but such bargains! Fifteen books for about $85. W00T!
I've long had the habit of gloating over my purchases, whether books, clothes, DVDs, or other nifty finds, by spreading them out over furniture or on the floor so I can revel in their wonderfulness. in recent years, I've also taken a photo to post on Facebook, twitter, and/or my blog.

Before going to Kinokuniya I'd fortified myself with a meal of hot chips, and it was as I was leaving the cafe where I'd eaten that I realised I didn't have my jacket with me. Even though it is a lovely jacket, and one that I've had since the late 1970s (it doesn't do up across my middle now, but I'd reached my adult height by the age of 10, so it still fits in other ways), I didn't go back to the cafe to look for it, as I wasn't sure when I'd last had it - on the bus? at the Festival? So tomorrow I'll be checking with Lost Property at the Festival and at the cafe, and ringing the bus depot to see if anyone has handed it in. Dear jacket, I hope to see you again soon.

So that was Day One of the Festival for me (it actually started several days ago, with events in the Blue Mountains that I'd thought about going to, but hearing it had snowed in the mountains on the weekend put a damper on my enthusiasm for that idea).

Lost two things, recovered one (so far); heard some great talks; hugged some lovely friends; bought some books...

Tomorrow I hope to meet up with a few more friends, hear some more talks, maybe buy another book or two (only from Gleebooks, though - no more extra bookshops!), and hopefully retrieve my jacket.

29 February 2012

The Black Dog of Depression and the White Poodle of Anxiety

It just occurred to me that if depression is a Black Dog, then anxiety is quite possibly a White Poodle - an over-bred, highly strung, groomed to within an inch of its life, white miniature poodle with a very high-pitched bark and a nervous bladder.

So here's my first depiction of these constant friends (friends of each other, I hasten to clarify - no friends of mine, cos they definitely don't dance, they just hang around, interminably):

The Black Dog of Depression

The White Poodle of Anxiety

And to bring us all some comfort:

A Kind Cat comforting a Sad Dog

Please note: all images used have been borrowed from other webpages and do not depict the character or state of mind of the actual animals involved, or their human carers. If you happen to know any of the canine or feline people in these pictures, or took any of the photos, and wish me to take them down, please just let me know and I will comply.

08 February 2012

Shock! Dramatic challenge for alpha female in feline soap opera!

In a dramatic turnaround, Ember, the poor little waif who arrived at the Green household malnourished, riddled with parasites, and desperate for love and food, has begun to show moments of a terrifying strength and dominance! Even Sandy, the toughest girl on the street, backed down when Ember wanted her Science Diet this morning - and this is after only a week of regular meals and daily pats, and, last night, just the first of three high-dose treatments to rid her of all the hideous, blood-sucking, soul-destroying parasites that haunt her abdomen.

Normally Sandy, mother of fearless explorer Fern, gorgeous lap cat Ruby, sweetheart Charlie, and Pouncing Princess Blanche, can make any other cat flee in terror, or at least back off, just with a warning yowl and an aggressive flick of her tail. A short dash at the rival and a smack or two from her mighty paws, and any cat, male or female, smaller or larger, will run wailing from the scene. But this morning, all that changed! Sandy was innocently eating her own Science Diet, when lanky young girl Ember, normally shy and wary of confrontation, left her bowl of invalid's soft food and moved in on Sandy's tempting tasty treat. And Sandy backed down!

Nearby cats and humans stared in amazement at this unprecedented turn of events; poor downtrodden Treasure realised he had another pushy female to be hassled by; and Ember celebrated her victory by cheek marking several chairs in the vicinity. What will she do next? Will Sandy recoup and fight back? Will Fern be drawn in to support her estranged mother? Will she side with her own generation and join Team Ember? or will she stay the hell out of everyone's way and go exploring some more?

Stay tuned for more dramatic episodes of the Days of All My Bold & Beautiful Furry Children's Lives!

Little Tabitha and her lanky daughter Ember eating in the back yard

Sandy looking regal on my bed

Tough girl Sandy and her estranged daughter Fern eating near each other without fighting

Ember eating in the laundry. Where will she go next?!

28 January 2012

Some Day This Pain Will Be Useful To You

Really not a good idea to read a novel with a central character whose chronic depression occasionally worsens into emotional anguish that leads him to feeling suicidal, not when I'm feeling a bit low myself.

It's very well written, this novel - title is Some Day This Pain Will Be Useful To You (I don't really like title case, with every word starting with a capital letter, but I guess it's the right thing for a title). Can't remember the author's name - Paul someone, I think. and I'm so pissed off with the book right now that I'm not going to look it up, or check the copy of the book which I flung across my room a while ago. (I don't usually fling books; I think books are wonder-full and should be treated with tender loving care, unless they're really crap, in which case they deserve sympathy, cos it's not their fault their pages are covered with piffle.)

So, an intelligent 18 year old, who was told when he was 7 or so that he was too clever for his own good, and that he talked too much, has become a silent, isolated teenager who finds the company of people his own age distressing and can't see the point of talking to anyone much. Funny, that.

I was becoming increasingly upset by the book, as it reminded me so much of when I was a depressed teenager who couldn't see the point of talking because people don't listen and if they do they don't understand or don't approve or think you're stupid or whatever. So I looked at the end, thinking maybe the boy killed himself, and if so I'd stop reading it, and it looks like he doesn't, he does something "positive" instead, which pissed me off so much I stopped reading it. I mean, he's chronically depressed, life is freaking awful (because of his depression, and his learnt behaviours, and the fact that most people don't really care what you say or how you say it), so it's not really going to help if he talks to some guy his own age on the phone, is it? Not when the guy thinks it'd be cool to go and see A Long Day's Journey Into Night. Bleargh.

So. And I haven't slept much, if at all, since my afternoon nap (of several hours), and it's now 6am, which is about when I went to bed yesterday (this morning), which probably isn't helping my state of mind either, but there you go. Coping strategies aren't always good for you.

A couple of hours ago I'd actually switched the light off and was probably going to sleep fairly soon, but there was a screaming cat fight outside somewhere, so I went out to see who it was (I have three cats, who are all indoors tonight, thank heavens, and am looking after two other cats, who are outdoors most of the time, because they're used to being street cats, and get freaked out and wail and break out through fly-screens if I shut them in), and stepped on a slug in the laundry, which was disgusting (and probably fatal for the slug - I threw it out into the backyard), and then went to check out the front, and my friend Sandy was coming back across the street with her tail all bristly, and hissing at whoever it was she'd been fighting with.

So I sat outside and talked with Sandy for a while, and sang to her (good thing my flatmate's away, cos her bedroom window opens onto the front yard where I was sitting with Sandy), and stroked her, and let her bite and kick my hand (she doesn't bite all that hard, but the kicking can scratch through a layer or two of skin) till she calmed down a bit. Which made me feel much better, that I could do something to help someone. And I understand Sandy's desire to beat the shit out of someone when she's stressed, angry or afraid.

In practise I'm much more like her sister Tabitha, who is a very sweet-natured, timid cat - Sandy's survival tactic is to be tougher than anyone who threatens her, unless they're really big and dangerous, like a dog or a human, in which case she runs really fast and climbs really well. Tabitha's survival tactic is to be small and go around things and back down and run away and climb well. And if people are kind to her she's very smoochy; she likes having chin rubs and tummy rubs, although she's very wary at the moment because I gave her a tablet the other night, and she hasn't started trusting me again yet.

So now I've written this (and might actually post it), I'll go back to bed and have another go at sleeping. The indoors cats will probably want to go out soon, as it's getting light. Hmmm. Should I let them out now, and then go to bed? Or go to bed, and hope they don't wake me up too soon, wanting food or to be let out. We'll see...

Good lord! well, I did look it up, the author's name is Peter Cameron, and there's a feature film based on the book (which was published in 2007) which will be released in February 2012 (if you're reading this post after Feb 2012, please read that as "which was released in...").
I don't know that I want to see the film. But who knows, it might be less agonising than reading the book. The cast looks really good. But there's no mention in the cast of John who works at the art gallery, so maybe they cut him out, and used something else for that pivotal scene from the book.

Here's a photo of Sandy, because she's beautiful.