Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lest We Forget

My 83 year-old uncle died peacefully in his sleep just after midnight last Friday, succumbing indirectly to cancer. A veteran of the 2/6th Cavalry Commando Regiment in WWII, he stands tall in my memory, a big man in every sense with a merry grin that made light of adversity. We'll lay him to rest today with all the familiar rituals and take what comfort we can from them.

"Bomb Happy" was a common term just after WWII. It referred to the state of mind of many returning veterans who, having seen hardship and action aplenty, came home with the happy certainty that nothing in the future would ever seem so bad. The term was never derogatory and I knew several to whom it applied. All of them faced difficulties with the same elan, smiling at some secret memory that shrunk the present dilemma to its true size. I'm not sure I would like to pay the price they paid to reach this state, but I admired them unstintingly.

James Henderson Stacey was such a man.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Congratulations to all the Eppie Finalists

A heartfelt congratulations to all whose books made it into the finals of each and every category. You undoubtedly deserve to be there.

An equally heartfelt congratulations to the judges and coordinators. The system is demonstrably fair because I've read at least one of the finalists and, while it wasn't to my taste, it still got up and made the finals, probably on the basis of writing and story-telling.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Back to Normal (???)

Our daughter came home from hospital yesterday, reuniting the family and allowing us to step back to the more passive grand-parenting role. It was great for a few days, but we both breathed a sigh of relief when it was over.

The vegetable garden is fully planted and everything seems to have survived both the patch of hot weather and persistent smoke from the bushfires to the north and east of us so my excuse to work outside has flown and it's back to work on the next story.

This one is interesting. I'm fortunate enough to run short courses in creative writing in our adult education system and part of the exercise in showing how to turn an idea into a story is watching a scene from an entirely forgettable movie starring Ashley Judd and Hugh Jackman. There is no backstory given and no explanation, just the scene in isolation. From this we develop a synopsis and outline the highlights of the story drawn from individual personal experiences. It comes a third of the way through the course, when they know what a story is and what elements it must contain and has proven successful in bringing together the work covered to this point and giving a common thread to the rest of the course.

The Better Man is my own example of the exercise and I use it to illustrate the steps needed to take a simple idea and turn it into a story. It has a synopsis and six highlight scenes written, but no more and each course I'm asked when I intend to write the complete.

When the next course starts in February, I'll be able to say "Now."


Saturday, December 09, 2006

He is come

Declan Harold arrived last night at 11.35 pm. We were called away from the Christmas function and nudged the speed limit all the way to their house to take over the care of Isabella while they raced to the hospital. He threatened to arrive in the car, but they made it and he weighed in at 9lbs 12ozs. Mother and baby are doing great and we're on our way to the hospital to greet him officially.

It's a great life.


Friday, December 08, 2006

The end is nigh

Our elder daughter's pregnancy was reached full term and we are in the nervous final days before the Doctors take matters in their own hands. There's movement afoot and we are on standby to look after Isabella when Christine goes into labor. We spent the night at their home because the arrival of our grandson seemed imminent, but things settled down again and we came home again this morning.

We're off to a Christmas breakup party tonight with cell phone on silent vibrating alert, just in case.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Dad's Army

A former England player labeled the current Australian Test team as Dad's Army, so it was particularly sweet to see two of those "aging has-beens" so intimately involved in a stunning victory at Adelaide.

It went some way to balance the bad news of bushfires, 80 year-old uncles battling cancer, fellow writers involved in similar circumstances.

I am re-reading a book after a gap of twenty years and it bothers me that there are entire passages I no longer remember reading. It's never happened before and the story is gripping enough to have stayed in my mind long after the book ended. It is tempting to think I was wrong in thinking I'd read it, but circumstantial evidence is against the theory.

Perhaps it's the first sign of enlistment in Dad's Army?


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Water Restrictions, Gardens and the Second Test at Adelaide

There are bushfires (wildfires in the US) within sight to the north and east, snakes are being driven into suburbia by lack of water and destruction of habitat and water restrictions have been tightened because the reservoirs are at their lowest for many years. We are fortunate in having two rainwater tanks with a gravity feed watering system for our vegetables, but hand watering is required for the rest. It takes time, but the exercise is good after a day's writing and we planned our garden for low water usage and implemented many water-saving procedures into our daily routines.

Like everyone else, we must endure.

That's a good description of the Second Test in Adelaide. Our beloved enemy lifted their game to score 551 runs in their first innings and we replied with 513. They're batting again now, with only a day to play, so a drawn game seems inevitable. It's great to see them making a contest of it, something that seemed unlikely after the First Test in Brisbane.

I played golf yesterday and drew for first place, losing only on a countback. The course was in great condition in spite of the drought and the company was good. One of my companions had just come back from a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest and we compared notes between the coach and the barge as a means of touring. They sailed during the night and spent the days at the wharf, except for the most beautiful section of the Danube. There, they sailed during the day. One great advantage was they unpacked when joining the barge and didn't have to pack again until they left it fifteen days later.

That sounds great after a coach tour.


Friday, December 01, 2006

A Shared Responsibility

Apart from some administrative duties, the computer has been abandoned for the garden until yesterday as we rearranged garden beds, altered paths and removed weeds.. It's been very productive, very restful.

An email brought it to an end with a request to lighten the load of another volunteer judge to meet the contest deadline and I found myself plunged into another's writing for a day. It's done now and I can turn to more pleasant pursuits (like the opening sessions of the Second Test). I don't like judging. It makes me very uncomfortable and all the entries were published e-books

As writers, we share the responsibility for our books with publishers. They provide the outlet, the format and the cover art. They do an editorial audit of the manuscript and suggest improvements, bring fresh eyes to words we have read repeatedly. My limited experience of editors has been generally good. I have not always agreed with them, but I've always understood their criticisms. The authors in the entries I've judged have not been so fortunate because the level of editing has been poor generally and appalling in places. Such low standards feed the critcisms of e-publishing.

Publishers and writers must lift their game.