Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Bringing the heat: Fortnight 14 of The Burns

St Patrick's Basilica, South Dunedin
Fortnight 14
Total words: 13,319 (85% on the novel, 11% on this blog, 4% other)
1st week: 8,440 words (if you count the last Sunday of Fortnight 13, there was a 6-day streak of 1200+ word days)
2nd week: 4,879 (just a messier week)

In context: this is my second most productive fortnight after Fortnight 12, but 8,440 in this fortnight 1st week is the highest single week wordcount.

After ten days of not working on my novel (friends visiting, trip to Catlins), I started reading through my manuscript from the beginning on the first Monday of this fortnight. By Wednesday I’d reached the end (circa 150 pages/50k words), having made some significant tweaks (moving the second part of a flashback to later in the manuscript, re-working some scenes, changing how a character speaks) which explains how I was able to keep the manuscript expanding on these days. There was also a lot of tszujing up/tightening at the sentence level.

As I said to my wife on Wednesday evening, this was the first read-through where I could feel myself enjoying it. Things were starting to click. The weight (or lightness) of certain scenes now felt right as they had their counterpoints in place (or I knew more about where they’d go and what they’d be).

There’s still a lot of work to do to get to the end of this first draft, but as I think I’ve said before, it won’t be a crappy first draft (or better not be). It should be more like draft 1.75. And hopefully I’ve been able to bottle enough of this optimism to carry me through the next few weeks and months of drafting (and the inevitable read-through where I feel like it’s all shit and what the hell was I thinking).

St Patrick's Basilica, South Dunedin

The first week I had two photoshoots and one interview. 

The interview was with the Otago Daily Times for their annual piece on the Burns Fellow. 

One of the photoshoots was with the ODT so they had something to go with the article. The other was for the Rogues Gallery of every past Burns Fellow in the University’s library. The photographer asked what I was working on, I told him a bit about my location scout novel and he suggested we head to the basilica in South Dunedin.

That place is fascinating. They’ve just spent millions doing it up, mostly the foundations and the exterior, and they’ve left the inside in a kind of sustainable state of decay. It’s very Italian.

I have seen the ODT piece or photo yet, but I've seen the one for the library and I'm not unhappy (can you ever really like a photo of yourself? Well, I can't).


I mentioned in Fortnight 13 that my internet at home was on the fritz. Well it took another week and a day to get that sorted. Or put another way, three phone calls and two emails with Slingshot, four calls with Chorus.

This meant we had to play catch-up with Game of Thrones last week when we finally got the juice switched back on. Having no internet (and rapidly depleted cellular data) is good for staying off Twitter, which helps stave off spoilers, so it wasn’t all bad.


The day after I stayed home for Chorus to finally fix my home internet, I stayed home with my sick son. The next day I had meetings with people in town for most of the day and man, I was really missing my office at the uni by the end of it. It’s gonna be hard to leave those 12 square metres behind after Christmas.


Last week was the first I noticed blossoms on trees at the uni and a few days later the red rhododendrons were out in force. 

It's not completely dark when I have to wake my daughter up (she's a good sleeper, too good!) and it's still light while I cook dinner. Are you telling me that was winter in Dunedin? 

Because that was nothing!

And I know there'll be shitty days every week from here to December. And there'll be that lamb-slaying storm in the first two weeks of September that should surprise exactly nobody. 

But geez. 

That was mild. Pleasant even. 

Remind me why I live in Wellington again?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

July consumption diary



The Ask by Sam Lipsyte (novel)

I’d been wanting to read this book since it came out (it had a buzz). When I finally got around to it, I couldn’t quite believe that it was published in 2010. Has it really been seven years? But also, in the way it seems to wallow in the downswing of the American Empire, it seems very NOW.

You can date it in some ways, like:
  • the passage about social media being about moving from one platform to a newer one (like Myspace to Facebook), rather than the splintering that occurred (something I’m guilty of myself in a story that occurs in A Man Melting, also published in 2010)
  • the way people ‘open’ their phones.
As Geoff Dyer put it in his review of the book in The Guardian:
The test for the obsessive prose stylist who lacks an instinctive gift for storytelling is always the same: what’s the minimum amount of plot you can get away with and still function within the parameters of a novel?... So if it takes little time to sketch the plot of Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask, that’s a backhanded way of saying it’s a stylistic tour de force.

Or, as my wife would put it, this is a “ranty” book. Which means it keeps company with Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Vladimir Nabokov, the fun half of every Jonathan Franzen doorstop, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Martin Amis – so, just the swinging dicks of the last 75 years. Not bad company. Not for everyone, but definitely for me in certain moods.

This is the kind of book I wanted to write when I started writing seriously (...stops to do the maths…) fourteen years ago, when all I really knew were the swinging dicks. Now? I think it has definitely challenged me to ensure each page of my current novel is funny. Is tight. (So much of the humour comes from the concision.) My book won’t have the same level of verbal pyrotechnics – though there are already;  some controlled, localised events, like public displays for Guy Fawkes and New Years.

The New Animals by Pip Adam (novel, NZ)

*Warning: may be slightly spoilery, but probably no more than a half-decent review*

*Reminder: this is not a review but a personal reflection on a temporarily revived, low-traffic blog*

A very different proposition to Lipsyte… or is it? There are verbal pyrotechnics here, but it’s the kind where a spark has set off everything inside a warehouse that stockpiles fireworks and you are across town and you maybe hear something, start wondering, see some smoke drift across the city five minutes later, check online, check again in the morning and only then read about the carnage as set down by some tired scribe.

There’s humour here, too. And an uber contemporary feel. But again, somehow it’s the opposite of Lipsyte’s showy sort.

The first two-thirds of the novel follow a day and late night in the life of a newish, smallish fashion house in Auckland, run by three Millennial males but supported by the labour of female Gen-Xers Sharona (pattern-cutter cum miracle worker), Carla (contract hairdresser) and Duey (Carla’s friend and hair-cutting better). And in the middle of this is young makeup artist Elodie. In the middle in terms of love triangle/polyhedron action, but she’s to the side of most of the text until the switch is flicked at the 2/3rds mark and suddenly, uh, woah, this is different.

To talk about the novel purely as a machine constructed to perform this shift is too reductive. I mean, it’s not about doing something apparently different for the sake of it. There’s something else at play here: the way the first part and the second (I should note there are no official “parts”, not even any chapters, just double line breaks when the perspective shifts between characters) interact/fire off each other is in the aid of an overall effect.

And, I mean, haven’t we all started out trying to explain something from the world today in straightforward terms and then, 2/3rds of the way through, gone: you know what, maybe the truth is more like THIS.  Where THIS is an extended, surreal monologue, told with the cadence of a joke that continues to elude its punchline.

I’m not sure how I feel about learning that Elodie is effectively the daughter of John Key (poor kid with Jewish mum turned successful moneyman turned bland politician). I didn’t like it at the time, but probably because one of the models of my cult leader (in a hopefully non-obvious way) is John Key, and I was, on some cosmic level, butthurt.

But the ‘Elodie Key’ thing is just one of the many side-mystery/reveals in the novel that provide its momentum, where the main plot seems tailor-made (baddum-boosh) to provide little in the way of traditional thrust. I mean, the clock is ticking, the garment will be shot tomorrow, but the only one this really impacts is Sharona, and she’s done it all before. No, the novel gets you through on the back of little mysteries like:

Where did Carla go away to, and why?


What’s up with Duey, her look, her relationship with Carla?

And these are answered, or part-answered, in the Elodie section, and it’s all askew, but also helluva satisfying to be skewered in this way.

Thank You For Being Late: An optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of acceleration by Thomas L Friedman (non-fiction, audiobook)

Oh man. I don’t know how Thomas Friedman gets so much (the rapid pace of change of technology, the nightmares of climate change, demography, economic and political destabilisation) and yet comes out the other end as an optimist. I mean, I follow his logic every time, but it takes some fricken fortitude to stare into the omni-headed monster and prescribe the right dental regime to tame the stank and calm the beast.

I fear I’m becoming one of those middle-aged, middle-income, white dudes who loves non-fiction and wants to foist the latest book they’ve read on other people as it’ll explain the way the world is now. Because I had such thoughts with Thank you for being late. But then, when I was all in on fiction, I never went around foisting novels or story collections on people. So maybe it’s just this book / this moment?

I do think, if you’re going to read it, read it now. 2018 will be too late. The world will have moved on, and I fear Friedman’s optimism may be even harder to comprehend.

The Saint, the Surfer and the CEO by Robin Sharma (“novel”, audiobook)

Another deliberate hate-listen. See Alain de Botton in May's diary
On one level, this is the easily the worst novel I’ve read since, um, high school. It’s basically a self-help book dressed up as a novel-length parable, except the outfit is so flimsy, and the thing tries to be a novel rather than a parable, that you get all the characters speaking like the guru Sharma thinks he is, as if in front of a packed auditorium, except it’s two guys on a beach in Hawaii.

The main character, I’ve already forgotten his name, is your classic neutral, know-nothing narrative vessel, except he frequently breaks into ‘profound’ reflections, either in narration or dialogue, that he couldn’t possibly have at that point in the story. He gets some things too quickly, then asks his interlocutor to better explain other things that were perfectly well put the first time to allow Sharma to double-back and double-down when he needs to cram one more metaphor from his notebook into the text.

With all that said, is it so easy to dismiss the “teachings” within the book? As with anything that seeks to help people, make em better human beings, Sharma’s terrible novel gets points for positivity. I’m sure there’s lots folks could take away from this book. I personally don’t think the universe is perfectly designed and all about bringing things into harmony. I find it a troubling middle-and-upwards class concept.

Sharma’s is the kind of philosophy that seems customised for a highly individualised, neo-con, capitalistic society. And that can all get a bit icky if you stop and think about it, or anyone but the people you interact with on a daily basis.

If you’re looking to better yourself, might I recommend Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to thriving in the age of acceleration by Thomas L Friedman instead?

The Gathering by Anne Enright (novel, audiobook)

First half hour: yeah, I can see how this won the Booker (over our very own Mr Pip).

The rest: *looks at watch*

Can you tolerate this? by Ashleigh Young (non-fiction/essays, NZ)

This took me a couple of months to finish. That’s not a criticism. It’s one of the good things about collections.

One of the reasons I stopped reading was because I left my copy on chair at the university while I made a thermos of tea (in theory this means I can have 3.5 hot cups of tea without having to leave my office, but my bladder normally runs out of patience before my thermos runs out of tea), and when I returned, it was gone. This was just after Young won the Windham-Campbell Prize and bookstores had run out of the second print run and a third was on its way. Peak Young, so to speak. Naturally I thought someone had nicked it, but a week later I found someone had handed it in at reception (this person had acted to protect the owner from having it nicked!). So I got it back, read the next essay, moved on to something else, returned, read another couple, left, returned, and finally finished in July.

Most of these essays I enjoyed, but each for their own reasons. Some were smart, some were brave, some were smart and brave. A small number did nothing for me, but that's to be expected from anything proclaiming to be a collection of "Personal Essays".

It's great to see any NZ book being in demand and at risk of being nicked - doubly great that it's something as seriously different as this.


Drinking Buddies – easily my favourite watch this month
The Double (2013)
GLOW Season 1 (abandoned at ep 5 to watch...)
GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
See No Evil, Hear No Evil*
And all the kids stuff like Trolls, Monsters University, Ratatouille, Shrek 1-4 (including Shrek 2 a bazillion times), with one eye on the TV/kid, the other on my phone (bad, bad parent!)*****


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Mutton chops: Fortnight 13 of the Burns

My son warning me to turn back and work on my novel, or else, Pounawea
As the ancients used to say, productivity comes before a fall. 

History will record Fortnight 12 (14,262 words) as The Bubble and Fortnight 13 (...wait for it...) as The Crash (and not in the Ishigurovian sense).

Fortnight 13 total wordcount: 3,572 - sadly, that is not a typo.
* Week 1: 2,024 (all on the novel)
* Week 2: 1,548 (all towards blog posts)

The litany of excuses is long and contains petty mix-ups and pretty photos.

We had people staying with us (a family of four and then a family of three) every night except two this fortnight.

I took the second week off to spend time with visitors and take them to the Catlins. We did the Southern part of the Catlins in March and did the Northern part this time.

It was ace.

Floodwaters, East Taieri, (this is normally pasture)
on the drive south 

Purakaunui Falls


Tunnel Hill

Nugget Point, with nuggets
Roaring Bay
(we had a five minute window [=kids], but saw a yellow-eyed penguin
 from inside the hide on the left side of the bay)

Catlins Brewery Scotch Mist Manuka Smoked Ale (would recommend),
Kaka Point

I spoke at the Otago Institute's annual What's Hot event on 20 July at the Otago Museum.

I talked about the use of imperfect AI in poetry, which segued into my experiments with Recurrent Neural Networks which I blogged about in May.

But I went a bit broader, and more humorous, which took some prep. I even experimented with an Powerpoint-augmented poetry reading (and it wasn't as horrific as it sounds).

A fun event (other speakers covered what's hot in neuro-endocrinology, virtual reality and the medical humanities) and I've been asked to repeat my spiel to a class of undergrads later this semester.

I took part in the Meet the Fellows Event at the Art Gallery on 23 July.

This didn't take much prep, it just soaked up most of a Sunday. But I don't normally write much on Sundays and I had guests anyway, so this isn't really an excuse for pour wordcounts, more of a thing that happened this fortnight.

Also, an excuse to mention the latest WRONG NAME with which I've been saddled.

I've had Cliff Craig, Chris Craig, even Colin Craig. But Chris Curtis was bold new territory!

(I'm a little bummed we've skipped the phase where I'm confused with Cliff Curtis.)

I've started work on my paper for the Dan Davin Short Story Conference, which kicks off in Invercargill on 1 Sept. At the moment, it's mostly reading so many Kiwi short story collections that they begin to blur into each other - which is a deliberate ploy. More on this to follow, I'm sure.

I went to Wellington for two nights (landlord duties) in the first week of fortnight 13. The good news: EQC is paying out for minor damage from the Nov 2016 Kaikoura quake. And the current tenants are looking after the place well.

(But secretly: I might be over Wellington. It's expensive and most of the cool stuff you don't really get to enjoy when you have young kids. And you have to work there. Like, in an office and stuff!

It officially rains 50% more there than in Dunedin and don't get me started on the wind. One swallow doesn't make a summer and I'm not going to make any rash judgments two months into my only winter in Dunners, but it seems a pretty sweet deal to give up a 2 or 3 degree hit on the thermometer for all the other gains.

I mean, this is what it's been like the last two days:


Sick kids, again. They've been alright this last week, but slept poorly last night and all signs point to more fevers, ear infections, Dr appointments and writerly misery.

My internet connection at home has been seriously compromised this last week. It's had very little impact on my output, as the things above all but scuppered any writing time, but if it persists, it's gonna eff with my writing next week (calling ISP, staying home for technician, etc etc). Ugh.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Combustion engine: Fortnight 12 of The Burns

Double rainbow, Andy Bay
Wordcount for Fortnight #12: 14,262 words

  • 1st week: 8,214 (6 writing days)
  • 2nd week: 6,048 (3 full writing days, 2 abbreviated days thanks to sick kids)
  • 90% on the novel. The rest on this blog.

Sick kids suck, but all in all: Good numbers. As in:

  • the most productive fortnight so far (beating Fortnight #5 - 12,320 words)
  • 8,000 words in the 1st week is more than a number of fortnights so far. The most pleasing thing is that most of it was spent on the novel.

And the quality? Meh.

But I am looking forward to butchering these chapters when I'm done with the first draft (or get further into it) and know which bits are necessary evils and which are just plain evil. And if I keep writing 6000+ words a week, I'll be butchering sooner than you can say, 'Doog tish'.

Hail on the beach, St Clair

A word or five about 'outspiration'

If you Google 'outspiration' you get a bunch of outdoorsy types using it as a shorthand for 'outdoor inspiration'.

But I'm using it as the opposite of 'inspiration'. (Yeah, I concede it's kinda dumb, but it'll do for now).

And I'm not talking about 'discouragement' or 'demoralisation' or 'outcome' or any of the other 232 antonyms for 'inspiration' listed online.

I mean those things that MIGHT have inspired you, had they existed before you created your THING, but they didn't. Your thing came first, and the potential inspiration came second.
Outspiration (n)
When one of your ideas comes true before you finish your book (and no matter how much you say you came up with the idea first, readers will always experience your idea through the thing that really happened in their past)


In my Location Scout novel (in progress), I have a young filmmaker who is offered the chance to direct a big Hollywood film that is important to a Sci-Fi franchise, only to be removed from the project in the early days of principal photography.

Then in June, Phil Lord and Chris Miller were removed/fired from the Han Solo standalone Star Wars movie.

Directors (especially emerging ones with a clear aesthetic) being removed from big budget projects is not unheard of. I mean, the director of Rogue One was sidelined / removed right at the end of production of that film, so it's not even the first time it's even happened in the Disney-era of Star Wars (NB: I only learnt about this through articles about Lord and Miller getting shitcanned).

The important thing is to note is that my book won't come out until probably 2019 (touch wood), at which point the Lord/Miller firing will be old news and people might assume this was a source of inspiration. No. It was outspiration -- the only link between my book and their firing was maybe my negative vibes made their way to Kathleen Kennedy who woke up one morning and said, 'Yes, I should fire those guys!'

Sorry, Phil. Sorry Chris.


In the same novel-in-progress I also have a successful Hollywood director who has a passion project that he has been talking about for decades but hasn't been able to make yet. He's about 10 years younger than Martin Scorsese, but he's an Italian-American filmmaker from New York, so you're more than welcome to think Scorsese-esque thoughts when reading about my fictional filmmaker.

When I started working on the novel and building up ideas about this Italian-American director, it was 2015. I didn't know about Scorcese's forever-delayed film Silence. I only found out about it at the start of 2017 when it was snubbed for the Oscars and then came out in cinemas here (wherein I watched it).

I saw Silence when I'd written only about 10% of the first draft, so there could be ways it works itself into the text (I'm skeptical), but it most certainly didn't influence the fact that my book would have a Hollywood director finally getting to make his religiously-themed passion project. All of that was locked in before I knew about Silence.

What does it all mean?

I'm not saying I'm psychic. Or even that original. I build my plots around central ideas/problems and/or characters and overtime they gather other elements like a massive lint roller used to tidy a kid's bedroom, and then I start to write.

Aside: most often for me the lint roller is an idea - like a window dresser who raises his children to be living mannequins - that comes first; but sometimes it's a character - like the annoying best friend in The Location Scout who I knew instantly and then things like being a e-sports shoutcaster and former shut-in stuck to him.

The things that stick to the lint roller tend to be unoriginal things (a director getting fired from a big budget movie), and therefore likely to happen again in the real world either while writing the book or after publication. The challenge it to make your book original in the way you piece everything together (much the same way as you use words and punctuation to make fresh and exciting sentences... unless you're blogging).

There are a hundred other things in my part-finished first draft that could 'come true' before I finish. If all hundred happen, even then, I'm not fucked (though some of the magic will certainly be called into question). If they all happen to a small group of people, and their story gets told in a semi-narrative way... well, then I'm fucked.

But what are the chances of that??

Sunday, July 9, 2017

June Consumption Diary


Here are some of my favourite tracks from my June listening.

NB: A lot of the later entries come from a Spotify playlist called Meet the Beatlesque, which I came across at the bottom of ELO’s discography.

Also: I was considering doing a ‘best albums of 2017 so far’ as part of this month’s consumption diary, but the coverage of books and film below got kinda long so I’ll keep my powder dry on that one.


Ghost Lights by Lydia Millet (novel, audiobook)

I’d been thinking a lot about Millet’s 2005 novel, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, even though it was over a decade since I’d read it. So I chose this (it was one of two Millet options on Audible) and I loved it so much, even though I could compile a bunch of qualms about its length or structure or ending (all basically the same qualm).

It isn’t anywhere near as ambitious as OPaRH (oh, I never new the initials spelled that), so it’s less memorable, but also less flawed (at least until the last fifty or so pages).

But yeah, serve me up some more Millet, please!

Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? by Robert Bartlett (non-fiction)

I’d read about this book at the start of the year and its title had stuck with me. It summed up pretty well one of the main questions in the novel I’m working on (like, how come 400 years ago a guy could levitate 300+ times and convinced the Inquisition he was legit and not committing witchcraft and there was enough proof to be beatified and canonised after his death... and yet we don’t seem to have the capacity to believe in levitation today – so who’s wrong: the people 400 years ago, or us? Or is there a third way?)

Anyway, this book is about the cult of saints within Catholicism, from the early Christian Martyrs through to the Reformation. So the "dead people" didn’t just do great things when there were alive (heal the sick, scrutinize hearts, friggin’ fly) but they can also do great things after death (i.e. answer prayers – help you pass exams or land a plane with both engines on the fritz). I admit I skimmed this prayer stuff (I can only ask myself / you all to re-examine one materialist bias at a time).

[In June, I also read a bunch of other stuff about San Giuseppe da Copertino (most of it in Italian) – things I picked up on my travels in Italy – but I won’t list every pamphlet]

The Neapolitan Quarter by Elena Ferrante (4 novels, audiobooks)

I listened to My Brilliant Friend in May. Actually, I read the first couple of chapters of the physical book in March or April. My wife was reading it, and I wanted to see if I should make time for Ferrante, but she (my wife, not Ferrante) but she reads so slowly.  I would still be waiting to get the book. So I borrowed the audiobook through my local library online service.

Did it hook me? Well, I finished all four books (none of them are particularly short - the audiobooks are 12.5hrs, 19hrs, 16.5hrs & 18.5hrs long respectively; 10 hours is kind of standard for a novel) in just over two months. But *in hushed tones* I listened to these books at 1.75x normal speed. This really helped me stick with them and meant I could listen to them (and a bunch of other books) over May and June (and a little bit of July).

While hooning up Autostrade 14 in Italy, I listened to just over half of The Story of a New Name (book 2), and wasn’t sure I’d get around to finishing it. It really got bogged down with the trip to Ishcia, where it was pretty obvious what was going to happen with Nino and Lila (and Bruno and Pinuccia) but it took sooo long. Maybe this impression was compounded by the straightness of the road I was driving?? But still: those few weeks on Ischia take up more real estate on the page than any other similar span of time. I don’t doubt the importance to the overall story, but were they the most important? And it's not like the narrator, Elena Greco, didn't plough through some SIGNIFICANT LIFE EVENTS in savagely sparing fashion (often these were the most enjoyable sequences).

Anyway, I did end up listening to the last 10 hours of Book 2 in two or three days once I got back to Dunedin because the loan period was about to expire -- I was still not really hooked -- but I went straight into Book 3 (Those who leave and those who stay). Its shameful to say, but I enjoyed this book the most because it’s about Elena’s burgeoning career as a writer.

I took a break between Books 3 and 4 and read/listened to two or three different kinds of books. Ferrante’s quartet is powered by this kind of violent charge that’s both repellant and intoxicating and I felt I needed space. It’s easy to see how the repellence of masculine violence and oppression of females can be pleasing to read (At last, someone gets to stick it to the [Italian] man); but there’s a lot of girl-on-girl pscho-emotional carnage, which is more unique. The pleasure derived from this can be a bit like rubbernecking (Oh my god, female friendship is the worst! Amirite guys? Guys?) but it’s only one of many painful pleasures being exacted upon the reader at any one time.

I can’t decide if the quartet is the result of incredible ambition or incredible restraint. Is it complexly simple or simply complex?

Beyond the prologue at the start of book one, and the way the narrator concertinas time in fairly standard ways, there’d been very little prolepsis / foreshadowing. But two-thirds of the way into the final book (The Story of the Lost Child) there’s a new section (the chapter numbers restart at one) and we go all the way into the present in a few pages, then rewind back to pretty much where the previous section left off. Interesting, but I'm still trying to figure WHY it was done like that.

There’s also an epilogue, which pushes us even closer to the present day and ends with an image/event with ambiguous significance. Like: I listened to the last five minutes three times and I’m still not sure what to think except: No Clean Answers.

Final point/crackpot theory: 

I'm really glad the idea of Lila (a computer wiz) hacking Elena's computer and rewriting some of the tale (which was hinted at early) was roundly dismissed by the narrator at the end. But it did make me wonder if the whole quartet of books was Lila's project, writing in Elena's voice, as a kind of revenge for Elena ripping of the Blue Fairy and turning Tina's disappearance into a book. Having freshly finished the books, I haven't gone back and read much writing about them, but I'm sure there's another four books worth of stuff on the question of authorship within the novels (let alone the 400-books worth of dross on the elusive author herself... All I can say is, if anyone had read all four books and still wants to track down the real Elena Ferrante, they're beyond dense).

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other clinical tales by Oliver Sachs (non-fiction, audiobook)

A bunch of case histories, all limited by the fact Sachs was the Dr involved in the treatment (often not the primary physician, sometimes only seeing a patient once). Even the title tale involves only two meetings and Sachs never hears from the man again. In my edition, Sachs ends almost every chapter with a postscript, often saying how many other cases he’s come across since first publishing the chapter/book, and sometimes saying the patient is still as they were 10 years ago.

Despite these limitations/frustrations, it’s fascinating stuff. I went to a talk a week after finishing the book and one of Sach’s case studies was mentioned, and I felt very in the know! 


In the air (return flights)

Get Out – Was looking forward to this. And it was good. But I kinda wished the baddies were more real (like Deliverance; not inbred hicks, but not totally overblown splatter-film villains). I mean, Philando Castille. Donald Trump. The world’s scary enough without resorting to Dr Frankensteins.

Lego Batman – Okay, so wake me when there’s a left-field superhero movie that doesn’t slip into the sinkhole of the standard superhero movie plot in the 2nd Act.

John Wick: Chapter Two - Hurrah! I haven't seen Chapter One yet. I didn't feel like I missed much in the sequel and I still want to watch the first one. Probably the mark of a great action film sequel, eh?

The Red Turtle – A shipwreck flick from Studio Ghibli? Yes please! It was great. I struggled a little with the shift from realism to fantasy (and back?) but every frame was stunning and helped carry me along. Great stuff.

Pork Pie – Not as raucous or unhinged as the original. And the raucousness and unhingedness were about the only thing going for the original (apart from the game of spotting notable landmarks and observing changes in the intervening decades).
West World – the original 70s movie – So hokey, so loose, so dumb. Amazed Michael Crichton was trusted to pen anything else; glad he didn’t direct Jurassic Park!

The Art of Scandinavia (1 episode) – I managed to catch the episodes about Denmark and Sweden on Prime (or Choice TV?) when they screened during the weekend (in March or April?), by pure chance. And fluked it again because the 1st episode (Norway) was the only one available on the in-flight entertainment. I loved Andrew Graham-Dixon’s docos when I was in high school and he doesn’t a) appear to have aged in the intervening 18 years b) varied his style one iota. Having rediscovered AGD, I’m afraid of stumbling across something online about how facile he is (which I kinda always suspected), or that he eats babies. Can’t I just have this portal back to the youth I misspent on art history and it’s all perfect and innocent and no one gets hurt? Please?

Bob’s Burgers (2 eps) – shouty, shouty comfort food.

Taboo (2 eps) – So much is packed into the pilot. So little happens in the second episode. Abandoned.

Back home

Better Call Saul (remaining episodes of season 3) – the only episode that fell flat was the finale. Everything else: man. I mean, it’s basically created a new genre: the scam show. It’s like they’ve taken one of those real life forensic shows from one of the channels with very high numbers on Sky (you know, where they try hard to distance the work from CSI shenanigans) and a legal drama where, with one extended exception (Chuck vs Kim & Jimmy) you don’t ever get to see the court room, and a police procedural, except you don’t follow the detectives but the people they don’t know they can’t catch. At the end of every episode, I’m like: that should have been sooo boring. But I was riveted. Riveted. And now I feel a little bereft. Come back Jimmy!

Okja – So this totally fell flat for me. Like, afterwards, I looked on twitter (it had only been on Netflix for 24 hrs so there was a lot of people talking about it) and everyone was going on about how they’d never eat meat again, but I think that’s an easy thing to tweet, especially when everyone else in your timeline has been saying they’re looking forward to this movie dropping… But gosh, it was such a sloshing slop bucket of tones. The timeline was hard to follow (the opening felt like it was in the future, then it flashed forward 10 years to the present day…). The premise was hard to swallow (that people’d buy the story of a superpig being found and 10 more superpiglets bred and raised for 10 years in 10 natural environments when a) they look nothing like pigs b) after 10 years the 2nd generation of superpigs reach maturity and to celebrate here’s a whole bunch of meat products from superpigs… eh? Like, if I was going to stop eating bacon, gimme Babe or Charlotte’s Web or a decent longread article. But not this.

Shimmer Lake, 30 Minutes of LessThe Trip to Italy, Win It All

Friday, July 7, 2017

Light the fuse: Fortnight 11 of the Burns

Moeraki Boulders
A week late again, so this refers to the fortnight 19 June-2 July.

Total words: 7,875

  • Novel 5,416, Blog 2232, Other 227
  • 1st week 4595 (including a Saturday(!) and several 5am starts)
  • 2nd week 3280 (lower as I spent Thurs and Fri that week on structure/re-story boarding scene in the novel and writing NOTHING)

The main distraction in fortnight 11 was the NBA Draft. My interest in the NBA was at a low ebb during the season, thanks to the Sacramento Kings still sucking (it's 15 years since their glory days!!) and then trading their best (but admittedly problematic) player for what looked like peanuts. But one of those peanuts was a 1st round draft pick, and some luck in the lottery meant they had the 5th and 10th picks in a pretty good draft class. So I got sucked back in, big time.

Draft day, 23 June
(I actually wrote 1,010 words in the morning)
(I didn't like any of their picks on draft day
  • Fox was the consensus #5 pick but I think his iffy jumper and slight frame will mean he never reaches stardom and Dennis Smith Jr and Jonathan Isaac would have been better picks long term.
  • Trading #10 for #15 and #20 was fine in principle. I mean, Zach Collins is overrated, and I'd have been angry if they took him had they kept the pick, but Malik Monk or Donavon Mitchell will both be productive players. But, leading up to the 15th pick, I though maybe it'd work out well.
  • But Justin Jackson at #15? I just don't see him being a starter, ever. You can only draft the people that fall to you (so no Monk or Mitchell or DSJ), but I'd have taken a flier on OG Anunboy, or gone big with John Collins and picked up a wing with #20 (Ferguson, Ojeleye)
  • Then they took Harry Giles at #20, which is fine in the context of how many okay but not great bigs they have, so you might as well swing for the fences, but I don't like his chances of ever regaining the confidence in his legs to get back to his high school form, let alone be a plus baller as a grown man. OG, Ferguson, Ojeleye (who they passed on again at #31), Juwan Evans (ditto), Caleb Swanigan, and Wesley Iwundu were all higher on my big board.
  • At #31, they took Frank Mason, who's you're prototype college star, pro failure (at least we didn't take him with a lottery pick *cough* Jimmer * cough*). Juwan Evans was much more upside. But they were clearly going for character guys, and it looks like Mason might be the 15th man on the roster, so maybe it'll all work out.
That all sounds quite negative. I'll probably wrong on half of these guys (no screenshots, please!_, which means 50% of their picks pan out, which is an okay haul in the end. So I give their draft a B, because it could have been better, but it could still be great.)

And this week they've killed it in free agency bringing in one decent player in his prime (George Hill) and too stars in the twilight of their careers (Zach Randolph, Vince Carter) who know the coach's system and can teach the young guys how to be pros for 15+ seasons. 

So yeah, I know anyone who reads this blog for stuff about writing or photos of the South Island didn't read all of that, but I had fun writing it.

Anyway. PHOTOS!

Andersons Bay inlet on a frosty morning

Looking the other way

Marne St, flooded in king tide
Otago Harbour, killing it

Reason #751 to love Dunedin: Bacon Buttie Station!
Glenfalloch selfie with son.
I don't often write in cafes, but when I do...

Monday, June 26, 2017

May Consumption Diary

This is well overdue. Blame the change of the month coming while I was halfway through my Italian research roadie…



The hidden life of trees – Peter Wohlleben (Non-fiction, audiobook)

In a weird way, this book picked up where James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History left off in April. Wohlleben’s book is an exercise in imagination, as one must consider life at a different speed. Both in understanding the life and actions of individual trees, but also considering how so much of what should be done to rebalance forests requires steps that will look worse for the rest of my lifetime.

I frequently thought of that viewing platform in Zealandia where there’s a info board depicting what the forest will look like in 100 and 500 years (or something like that), and how just imagining today’s trees but bigger isn’t the future at all.

Wohlleben’s book is focused on central European species. It would be amazing to have a New Zealand version!

Religion for Atheists – Alain de Botton (Non-fiction, audiobook)

I don't condone violence,
 but AdB seems to promote it
 with this eminently punchable pose
I decided to listen to this book for something to argue against and it didn’t let me down. A couple of minutes in, I was beyond the point of yelling at Mr de Botton and considering yanking the earbuds from my ears. The utter flippancy with which he dismissed the miracles of Saints! It was kinda great to realise that, even if my factory defaults have all my switches set to skeptical, pure, unthinking skepticism now angers me as much as pure, unthinking belief.

I didn’t yank my earbuds in the end (in part because I was listening while riding my bike) and I found myself agreeing with some of de Botton’s suggestions (getting strangers to eat together), whilst simultaneously hating his guts (and his quasi-intellectual sophistry).

The Good People – Hannah Kent (novel, audiobook)
I listened to this because Hannah Kent was appearing at Dunedin Writers Festival and I was interested to see how Kent played with the concept of flawed belief (the main characters believe in The Good People, aka Fairies).

I didn’t end up going to Kent’s session (family dramas) and suspect a festival 1 on 1 wouldn’t have been the right venue for the kind of pressing questions I’d like to have seen Kent answer. 

Because, I think she’d have all the answers, but how much would she squirm while answering them?

Do I even want to see another writer squirm? If this book was written by an Irish woman, would I have thought anything much about it at all? Well, of course I would have. But maybe I’d have keyed in more on the technique and gotten less hung up on ‘Why is she doing this?’

The final chapters represent a closing down of possibilities and ultimately the staid and stuffy views of the lawyers (and the more mercenary villagers) prevail.

We should have seen that coming!

Oh well.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

I listened to the first of Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet before leaving for Italy. I listened to the second and part of the third while on the ground. And I’m halfway through the fourth right now --- so hopefully I can right about all four books as a single thing, which is totally how I think it should be thought of and discussed.

So hang fire for a week or so…

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

I remember watching a book show while living in Edinburgh and seeing a segment about how Alexander McCall Smith writes his books. He has a researcher and two other helpers working in an office on the ground floor of his house. He comes down, knocks out an insane amount of pages each day, and then leaves his worker bees to tidy up.

I had to walk past AMS’s lefty complex on the way to a friend’s place, and thought of the productivity going on behind that wall every time. But until last month, I’d never been tempted to actually read one of his books.

And, honestly, I only chose this one because I searched Italy/Italian on my library’s audiobook catalogue and this came up. I thought maybe, while travelling to or from or within Italy I may want something lighter.

And light it was.

After six hours of listening, it put a bow on everything, the very bows we expected from the first chapter, and then, poof, it was over, vanished, forgotten.

So that’s an Alexander McCall Smith novel?!  



Consumed at home
Dear White People (Season 1) – devoured. Displays the unevenness so common with shows at the moment, where the first 2-3 episodes feel dense, not just in narrative but also challenging linguistic and cultural dimensions, then the next 5-7 eps stretch out what was so great (and challenging) about those first eps, but you’re hooked so on and on you watch. Where will it go in Season 2?

Consumed in the air (outbound flights to get to Rome)

Split – This sucked. I can’t believe some people thought it was a worthy (kind of) sequel to Unbreakable. Maybe I’m favourably misremembering Unbreakable? I mean, making your villain’s superpowers (and villainy) derive from a mental illness – like that’s not gonna unduly stigmatise people with that very illness? It’s pure doltishness that has no place in 2017.

Passengers – Okay, so even if the script had been seriously overhauled and allowed the film to have some kind of tension, the total lack of charisma between the two stars would have scuttled the experience anyway, so why bother, right? Who’d be a writer.
Start of Fantastic beasts – just as I can’t be arsed writing the full title, I couldn’t watch more than twenty minutes of this. Three words: Eddy Redmayne’s face.

The path (episodes 1-3) – Cult research. Takeaway: cults can be very boring.

Curb your enthusiasm (2 episodes) – could have been any two. That’s the beauty, and the curse, of Curb.

2night – an Italian dating flick that didn’t teach me Italian.

The Founder – Like Breaking Bad with hamburgers, only Ray Kroc isn’t smart enough to be compared to Heisenberg (someone else needs to point out he’s in the real estate business, not the fast food one), so you’re left only with the feeling that everything was horribly inevitable.

Last man on earth (1 episode) and People of Earth (1 episode) – I watched to see if these shows weren’t the same thing. They aren’t. Now I know.