Sunday, January 31, 2010

January's Reading in Review

The Nature Guide to the New Zealand ForestJanuary: one novel, two short story collections, and many forays into books on NZ plants and birds.
It's hard to review the latter, but here's a summary of the rest....

The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton in 100 words:

The RehearsalIt’s easy to envy Catton's early success before reading The Rehearsal, and hard to begrudge her afterwards.

The plot tends to chase its own tail, but there is beauty in the chase: sentences that flail for the trapeze and make it, great chunks of decanted observation about high school, sex, drama and fiction.

Echoes throughout of Muriel Spark -- that ruthless puppeteer -- but Catton eschews Spark's slender means for a series of doubles: high school/drama school, Victoria&Saladin/Isolde&Stanley, straight/gay…

The ending is flat (it’s all rehearsal) but the book’s a fine opening salvo.

She speaks like a magician or a ringmaster.
“We learned that everything in the world divides in tow: good and evil, male and female, truth and falsehood, child and adult, pleasure and pain. We learned that the counsellor possessed a map, a map that would make everything make sense. A key. Like in a theatre programme where you have the actors’ names on one side and the list of the characters on the other—some neat division that divides the illusive from the real. We learned that there is a distinction—that there is always a distinction—between the performance and the performer, the reality and the lie. We learned that there is no middle ground.” [p.309]

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower in 100 words:

Everything Ravaged, Everything BurnedThis debut short story collection got reviewed by the New York Times, twice. Any S.S. collection that can make such a splash deserves a look, and this book certainly rewards the effort.

The first four stories feature middle-aged near-loser protagonists, all successful in their own ways, the language sparkling at the right frequency. The stories then veer into wider waters, often sounding like George Saunders (‘Leopard’, ‘Wild America’, ‘Everything Ravaged…’), but they don’t quite kick like Saunders.

Tower is clearly a writer who understand the form, and isn’t afraid to take a risk. I look forward to what comes next.

“… I’d hunt. Chop wood. Work with my hands. Reconcile the mind-body split, you know? I’m just fucking tired, Matty. I’ve been pushing for twenty years, and what have I got? I filled out this dating thing on the computer a few weeks ago. One thing they ask you is, ‘If you were an animal, what would you be?’ I wrote, ‘A bumblebee trying to fuck a marble.’ It’s true. Just grinding away at this goddamned thing that never gives back. Pointless.”
[from ‘Retreat’]

Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon in 100 words:

Love and ObstaclesA collection of short stories sharing the same narrator, a Sarajevan who spends the war in Chicago. He’s a bookish sixteen-year-old to open, a fully fledged writer by the close.

There’s clearly some autobiography going on, but the lives of the narrator, his family and passers-through are rendered so richly, one soon leaves distinctions like fiction and autobiography behind.

The collection properly takes off at story three (‘Conductor’), which happens to be the first that directly deals with “the war”, and apart from a technical (point of view) gripe in ‘Smurza’s Room’, I was rapt the rest of the way.

“So how do you like Sarajevo?”
“Haven’t seen much of it yet, but it reminds me of Beirut.”
But what about the Gazi Husrevbegova fountain, whose water tastes like no other in the world? What about all the minarets lighting up simultaneously at sunset on a Ramadan day? And the snow falling slowly, each flake coming down patiently, separately, as if abseiling down an obscure silky thread? What about the morning clatter of wooden shuters in Baščaršija, when all the old stores are opening at the same time and the streets smell of thick-foamed coffee?
[from ‘The Noble Truths of Suffering’]

Monday, January 25, 2010

Karori Wildlife Sanctuary

Today was my first visit to the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.  This, despite having lived in Wellington for five years (in three stints) - including one year in Karori in which I drove past the turn-off everyday.  One of my friends I'd dragged along, a Wellingtonian from birth, got a text from his mother asking where he was, her reply when she found out: Why would you want to go there?

Well, for those who've vowed to find out more about native flora and fauna (and dedicate a month to such topics in their blog...) it's like a candy store.  The brochure I picked up when paying ($15 for adults, quite steep when you consider the ever-growing appropriation the council seems to be dishing out... maybe a discount for rate-payers is in order?) lists the following regular inhabitants:
  • Tieke (Saddleback)
  • Kaka
  • Weka
  • Toutouwai (North Island Robin)
  • Popokatea (Whitehead)
  • Bellbird (Korimako)
  • Tomtit (Miromiro)
  • Kereru
  • Pateke (Brown Teal)
  • Papango (NZ Scaup)
  • Shags
  • Little spotted Kiwi
  • Tui
  • Piwakawaka (Fantail)
  • Riroriro (Grey Warbler)
  • Hihi (Stitchbird)
  • Tuatara

[Papango / New Zealand Scuap]

A quick tally reveals I saw ten out of these sixteen.  Not bad.  We were in a group, so the noise and the fact it's harder to stop and wait for the birds to come to you means ten species is decent.  We also saw a few types of shag...

[Pied Shags]

But even if you haven't 'gone native', it's still a pretty amazing place.  The sanctuary was established in 1995 and has a -- deep-breath -- five-hundred year vision "to restore a corner of mainland New Zealand as closely as possible to the way it was ‘the day before humans arrived'."  In fifteen years short years, it's achieved a lot.  One minute up the path from the information centre (soon to be usurped by newer, flasher, one) and it's hard to believe you are only minutes from the CBD of the capital city of a country most still reckon is 'first world'.  It's not quite 'the day before humans arrived' (I don't think there would have been asphalt paths and information panels...) but it's pretty freaking cool to look to the side of the path and see that thing moving beneath the ferns is a tuatara.  It's not quite Arthur Conan Doyle's or Michael Crichton's vision of The Lost World, but this, my friends, is a dinosaur:

The bird-song was louder and more varied than on Kapiti Island, which surprised me, but we ended up seeing less birds in Karori. Maybe it's all the kids that were around (it was Wellington Anniversary Day today). But we did have two Tieke come to within about a metre (closer than on Kapiti) and I managed to grab a semi-still photo of a Popokatea:

And of course, the North Island Robins, with their "inquisitive and confiding nature" (sanctuary brochure), were the most photogenic of our feathered friends:

There are tons of trails within the 225 hectares, and I'm keen to head back in a couple of months when my botanical knowledge has caught up to my knowledge of birds and wander wider, and slower.  It's only around the corner, after all.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How Do You Tell The Difference Between Pohutukawa and Rata?

This is one of the questions that made me take action and start learning more about New Zealand natives. Everyone in Aotearoa knows what a pōhutukawa in full bloom looks like, and most have a faint, amorphous idea that rātā have a similar floral display. In the last month I have heard two people (one in the North Island, one in the South) proclaim "A lot of people mistake rātā for pōhutukawa", implying that some percentage of (late) December's red explosion was down to rātā. To figure out if this is true, we have to first establish the differences between the two trees.

Pohutukawa, Houghton Bay

First, the pōhutukawa. [I’m using ‘Nature Guide To The New Zealand Forest’ by John Dawson and Rob Lucas (Godwit, 2000) and Andrew Crowe’s ‘A Mini Guide to the Identification of New Zealand Native Trees’ (Penguin, 2007)]

They are often many-trunked, with rough, fissured bark. Red flowers in large spiky balls in early summer. The leaves are opposite (they grow in pairs), 5-10 cm long, with a dense covering of white hairs below.

And now, the larch.

I mean, the rātā. The rātā...

Rata, Kapiti Island

Well, firstly you’ve got Northern versus Southern. The northern often starts life as a vine, and can grow taller (25m vs 15m) than the southern, which tolerates cooler temperatures. The flowers are red spiky balls in summer, but according to Dawson and Lucas they’re smaller than the pōhutukawa. The kicker, though, in terms of rātā versus pōhutukawa are the leaves. They tend to be a bit shorter, and the underside is light green and hair less.

Tinakori Hill
Okay, sounds good. But what about when you can’t reach the leaves? I had this problem the other day when I walked into the bush on Tinakori Hill during my lunch hour. The path was steep, never came close to the trunks of the red flowering trees and in my work trousers I didn’t fancy getting too wild. I looked on the ground beneath a high red inflorescence but all the leaves were dead and brown.

On Kapiti Island, however, I saw a fine specimen of Northern Rātā dominating a gully and could truly appreciate the difference in its skeleton to a pōhutukawa. Then, a little further on, I found fallen flowers. Unlike pōhutukawa, which tends to shed the red needles separately, the many rātā flowers fell with stem and even a few leaves attached.

Rata blossom
As I was walking along Houghton Bay Road last week, I happened across another tree, growing amidst a set of pōhutukawa. It had similar leaves, waxy green tops, with lighter, hairy undersides. Similar trunk and branch formations. But no red blossoms. Instead, there were dull grey-green balls about 2 cm in diametre.


When crushed open, they revealed sticky black seeds, like caviar but larger. This was not pōhutukawa, nor was it rātā. Back home, my books told me this was karo. In a couple of months time, when all three trees are back to green, they will sink back into obscurity. They will just be trees. Green with a brown skeleton. We will drive past without noticing. We will forget they are there. That's the secret of the appeal of these trees.

Timing, in nature as in comedy, is everything.

A karo (right) and a pōhutukawa (left) with a few blooms left if you squint, Houghton Bay Road, Wellington

For more on pōhutukawa and rātā, check out Project Crimson.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Things I Must Resort To

Today, I awoke to a world shrouded in mist. Planes weren't flying in to the unseen airport -- a bugger since Prince William was due to fly in from Auckland. I got to work and couldn't see Tinakori Hill from my desk.

Some summer, we Wellingtonians cry (Six days of sun since Christmas Day…).

Around 11am the fog began to clear in Thorndon (Prince William managed to land before then), but I sat there waiting for a clarity of my own.

I spent the weekend not writing. It was good writing weather - wet and unseasonably cold - and I had nothing to do except write (and visit the supermarket, I guess). But I played Wii Sports Resort, ploughed through season 2 of Californication and watched the Sacramento Kings lose two games of basketball. That is, I did the sorts of things I long to do when I'm grinding away at a piece of writing.

But today I don’t feel like the cat who got the cream. I feel like the overeater who got the cream.

I am not spending enough time writing. Hell, I’m not spending enough time in my office at home, full stop.

I forgot the time it takes to become accustomed to a writing space. I thought it would be simple having my own office, because I have put up with far smaller spaces with more distractions. I thought I'd find no trouble entering this space. The problem, in part, is that I'm not used to such seclusion. In Edinburgh, I could just pull out my earphones, turn around and ask M. a question. Looking back, there was both a kind of comfort in this, and a disincentive to slack off.

In my own office, it is much easier to sort out photo albums or play yahtzee – to never get around to writing. But when it comes to re-enter the office, suddenly it doesn’t seem so urgent. Sure I’ll do the vacuuming, sweetie. Do you feel like pancakes?

I'm a goal setter - any one who happened upon my previous blog, The Year of a Million Words, would know that instantly. Back in September I set myself the goal of writing a first draft of Novel B by the time my short story collection, A Man Melting, was launched in May. Now the launch date has been pushed back to July (grumble, grumble). My thoughts are all over the place.

I spent snatches of this afternoon writing new goals on post-it notes.
Write 4 short stories before May.
Order every book on Eugen Sandow off Amazon tonight.
Spend a minimum of one hour a day in my office.

I think I’ll do this last one. I have a calendar from the Broken River Ski Club hanging above my desk. I will cross off every day I succeed. I will leave blank the days I fail. At the end of February I will tell you what percentage of days I spent a minimum of an hour alone in my office. You may laugh at me now; you may laugh at me at the end of February.

I will outgrow this. Soon, I hope I will not need such ploys to be productive. There will be projects. But for now, I must resort to such things.

I must get my hands on hours and hours of music I’ve never heard before and load it onto my hard drive. I must find comfort in the view from my office window at dusk. I must wean myself off jumpy NBA feeds and infra-red sword fighting. I must go and help with the dishes, then iron my shirts for the rest of the week… It’s been, like, an hour and five minutes, man.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Day on Kapiti Island

[Toutouwai, North Island Robin, Kapiti Island, 9 January 2009]

I had a great day on Saturday. My brother, M. and I drove up to Paraparaumu Beach and my mum and stepfather came down from Palmerston North (actually, my stepfather cycled from Palmy to just passed Te Horo, when my mum caught up to him in the car). It was a full boat load for the 9am ferry crossing, and I had to stand in the wheelhouse. The captain said it was the smoothest crossing they'd had for months.

We got off at Rangatira, the more southern of the two stops, as we wanted to climb to the summit (521 metres). First we were given a talk by a DOC person which covered the history of the island (pre-colonial up to today), the bird-life, a bit of the flora (but not much), and the rules (it being a reserve and all). While this went on, several Weka checked us out (I couldn't help but wonder if they really are delicious), and many Tui and Piwakawaka (Fantails) flew by.

 [Two Weka doing the rounds]

Around 10.15 we were allowed to do as we pleased. We explored the flat first. On the grass just beyond the shelter there was a Kereru (wood pigeon) grazing on grass a sheep might. I didn't know they did that.

 [A Tui feeding on flax flowers]

As we walked down the first path I stopped at every tree that had a sign saying what it was, and plenty more that didn't, looking at the leaves, stems, flowers, berries. Most of the time I gave up trying to identify what it was, took some photos and vowed to give it a name with the help of my trusty books once back on the mainland…

When we came to a clearing, there were three people ahead of us taking photos of the long grass. As we got closer we saw a Takahē in the grass (a-ha!), then a second, and a third. Then we were told there was a chick in there somewhere, a little black fuzzball that kept close to its mother (who stayed the fathest from us snap-happy visitors), but I did managed to catch a few glimpses of it.

 [Left: Mr. Takahē. Right: Mrs Takahē and her chick]

The Takahē really didn't seem to mind us. They went about eating the grass seed and constantly talking to each other. The 'talk' was a kind of closed-beak cheeping. I'm in the process of combining my videos with those my brother shot, and will post this tomorrow - hopefully the sound will come through. I imagine if you translated the 'talk', you'd get something like:

"I'm here"
"I'm over here."
"I'm a bit more over here now."
"I'm still here."
"Where's the baby?"
"Still here."
"I'm coming over."
"Yes. I'm getting closer."
"I'm moving over there."

It was pretty freaking cool. I think I've seen a Takahē before at Mt. Bruce, but this was the first time being this close and the first time it felt "in the wild".

On the way back to the start of the tracks up the hill, we saw a Tieke (Saddleback), which are extinct on the mainland. Another first.

 [A Tieke (see the orange wattles?) amidst the berries and leaves]

There are two tracks to the summit, the Trig Track and the Wilkinson; the former being steeper, narrower and more rooty, the latter newer, wider, and flatter. We chose the Trig and it certainly was a climb, but a fun one. It had been overcast to begin the morning, but most of the cloud burnt off by eleven and we all got pretty hot on our ascent despite the canopy. There were plenty of excuses for stops, interesting trees, shrubs, ferns, and of course, birds, like these baby Weka...

 [Weka chicks]

We saw several Popokatea (Whitehead) going up and coming back down. They are about canary sized, and hop from tree to tree like they're keyed up on caffeine, making them difficult to photograph well, but their white head makes them easy to identify.

[Popokatea, centre]

We also saw several Toutouwai (North Island Robin -- they aren't really related to other robins, but look like them), and they had to be one of my favourite birds. They aren't that colourful, ranging from smoky grey to mottled black, but they are inquisitive little fellas. By scraping my shoes across the path, I got one to come down and look for grubs in the middle of our group. They also seem to understand how to pose for the camera (Popokatea, are you listening?).

[Left: Nosy Toutouwai. Right: Toutouwai and my feet]

The trick of rubbing wet polystyrene on glass certainly works with Hihi (Stichbirds). If I saw something dart across the path up ahead, I'd whip out my tools and start squeaking. After about ten seconds a bird would often come within a couple of metres, though normally obscured by a layer of twigs and branches, to check out the sound. Hihi, with their yellow splash of colour on the wings, were also pretty easy to identify, though knowing what species were on the island sure narrows down the options.

[Male Hihi]

I heard many Korimako (Bellbirds), but it wasn't until later on in the day I got some confirmed visuals. And there were plenty more Tui knocking round in the forest proper.


In all it took about two hours to reach the summit, by which time it was a beautiful sunny day. From the lookout you could see all along the Kapiti Coast (seems funny to call part of the mainland that while actually on Kapiti Island) down to the southern end of the North Island, an uninterrupted view of the northern profile of the South Island, and a 360 degree view of Kapiti itself. The western side of the island is quite sheer, and reminded me, strangely, (*travel snob alert*) of the Isle of Capri.

[The Kapiti Coast from summit (Tuteremoana) of Kapiti Island]

After eating our packed lunches (keeping the Weka at a safe distance), we went back down via the Wilkinson track. It felt like a lot more walking, though it was definitely easier to find a footing. About halfway down we past a Tieke roosting box, which was empty, but then in the trees we saw four or five orange-saddled birds hopping around.

[A Tieke showing us his orange saddle]

Sadly, I didn't see their wattled cousin, the Kōkako, on Saturday, though I'm pretty sure I heard one about three-quarters of the way up the Trig track.

Nor did I get any confirmed sightings of Miromiro (Tomtit). I saw plenty of birds flitting around that were about their size, but could never be sure. Same goes for Silvereyes and Grey Warblers. Saw plenty of birds that could have been Silvereyes or Warblers in the middle distance, obscured by foliage or zipping from one side of a clearing to another, but they could equally have been Bellbirds or Whiteheads.

As we descended we got some beautiful views of the island and the marine reserve, and saw many Kereru, Kaka, and Kakariki (Red Crowned Parakeet). Once we made it back to the flat, we looked back up toward the summit and could see activity going on all around.

[Kaka flying through the picnic area]

On the beach I saw a New Zealand Pipit and a pair of Welcome Swallows (though one took off before I took the photo).

[NZ Pipit]

[Welcome Swallow perched on a stump of driftwood]

We were truly lucky with the weather and the birds and I haven't even talked about the plants (some other time). It felt special being a tourist back in New Zealand and knowing that I can continue to build on this knowledge I am acquiring. And, knowing that Kapiti still had possums and rats when I was in high school puts in perspective how far it has come as a sanctuary for native flora and fauna, and how far it still can go. Looking forward to seeing what it's like in twenty years.

Avatar: Same Same But Different

I saw Avatar yesterday in 3D at Reading Cinemas in Wellington (we have now entered the era where we must state the location and number of dimensions; all films are no longer created equal).

The movie: it was everything it should have been. There was action, a love story, fantasy, a message. It flirted with becoming a big hokey mash-up, but didn't fall down that precipice. The Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas - there are repeated echoes of them all, and Jim Cameron's oeuvre gets a going over, too. Riley, I mean Sigourney, is back, as a botantist-cum-socio-linguist-cum-aid-worker-cum-badass-head-of-the-avatar-programme… (I guess it's easy to know more about a planet than anyone else if that planet doesn't exist.) I haven't seen Titanic, -- which rates as one of the top ten achievements of my life -- but I still got that Jack and Rose vibe from some of the interactions between Sully and Neytiri, and the song that rolled over the final credits ('I See You' by Leona Lewis) had a very Celine feel (it swiftly emptied the cinema). And, while machines haven't taken over Earth a la the future in the Terminator films, it's not a stretch to imagine this happening while Sully & Co. are on Pandora.

Unlike Chad Taylor, who has a great write-up on his blog, I didn't think the voice-over was the worst ever. It was bad, there's no doubting that. I was on the verge of cringing until it was explained that voice over was actually excerpts from Sully's video diary, which was semi-plausible. From that point on, I was okay with it. The film would be almost without humour if it were not for the scenes where we see Sully struggling to make his entries.

If you were looking for things to hate, I'm sure you could find plenty. (I agree with Chad about the unobtainium… but mostly can't stomach the name). But the film's heart was in the right place. I wonder how many blockbusters end with you rooting for the aliens to kick some human butt? The message (sometimes it felt like it was Message with a capital M, but oh well) speaks back to the past crimes of colonisation (and injustices which are still being perpetrated), while also speaking to the future. We, as humans, may well be going boldly forth into other worlds in the next 150 years, and it's perfectly possible we may behave like ignorant, greedy, bellicose children. But perhaps, if we keep being told stories where Western Imperialists/Corporations turn out to be the baddies and kids grow up with at least a passing interest in nature… well, who knows what the future holds?

The visuals: Wow. I don't think 3D added a whole lot to the action sequences, but it really shone in the depiction of Pandora and the life of the indigenous Na'vi. (We have come a long way from Jar-Jar Binx, haven't we?)

The visuals certainly helped Avatar avoid becoming a pastiche of other films and maintain the interest factor for what was nearly three hours.

It sounds like every second film this year will be 3D (though how many cinemas in town will offer this third dimension, I don't know), so filmmakers are in for diminishing marginal returns on that front. Even now, when it's still a novelty, story is the most important factor.

Avatar, it seems, is a landmark. And as far as landmarks go, it's worth the visit.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In The Mood, or What Lies Behind Those Hanging Plastic Strips

Yesterday was my first day back at work after the Christmas break. Despite my best efforts to be late, I was dropped off at my usual time around 8am, insanely early for a first day back with no managers in until the following week. So I decided to go to New World first and buy a new bottle of water.

I use the water filter at work, but need to refresh my plastic bottle every so often (not so much a fear of leeching carcinogens as a dislike of that fluffy, algal feel older plastic bottles impart). New year, new bottle: it seemed a fitting way to kill the first ten minutes of my working year.

Inside the supermarket, the shoppers were a mix of workers like me, picking up one or two items, and people clearly still on holidays (to the lady wearing a purple t-shirt, gray trackpants with a purple racing stripe, and purple crocs: thanks for the laugh) -- though I cannot fathom why you'd want to go to an inner city supermarket at 8am while on holiday.

Both kinds of shoppers, however, were outnumbered by supermarket staff. They clogged every aisle, it seemed, with trolleys, boxes and step ladders.

Two large men from 'out back' (meaning behind the hanging plastic strips by the deli rather than the Australian wilderness) had a conversation which went something like:
Large Man A: "You put that pallet [loaded with Christmas-themed chocolates] in the warehouse, it'll last a good six months."
Large Man B: "Which won't get it to next Christmas, will it?"

A woman with a large "Visitor" badge pinned to her Bluebird polo shirt fussed along the chippie aisle, straightening packets.

At the checkouts, there were tiny conferences going on at all the manned lanes, so I went the self-checkout route. As I passed the helpdesk, I saw a woman stashing two litre bottles of blue top underneath the counter. In the car park, an older gentleman was washing down the curb with a garden hose.

These activities must be carried out everyday. For the staff there was nothing out of the ordinary. But for me it was a strangely pleasant experience.

Perhaps it was because I had that new year mentality, and seeing the supermarket being refreshed before my eyes synched with this feeling of renewal and recommencement.

Perhaps it was because I was privy to a world that, while not completely behind-the-scenes, goes mostly unnoticed and unacknowledged by shoppers.

Perhaps it is because for one summer while at university I worked in a distribution centre for a supermarket chain, and yesterday morning provided a link back to that kind of labour, and the possibilities that summer.

But it is the experience itself, or the mood I was in which is behind this "strangely pleasant experience"?

Yes, perhaps I was just in one of those moods. I think of them as writerly moods, but I'm sure non-writers have them: those moods where everything is just a skoch more interesting, where everyday items and activities provide a boost which, depending on your outlook, you might describe as stimulation, enthusiasm, comfort, satisfaction, optimism, or inspiration.

As a writer, I tend to fall back on that last term: inspiration.

It's not as if I got home yesterday and scuttled off a short story about a supermarket being restocked. But that experience helped in several ways.

It alerted me to the fact I was in "one of those moods". Not only could I walk about and draw inspiration from the everyday, but ideas would hopefully follow. At lunch time I walked to the library. I saw the fallen stamens of pohutokawa in the gutters alongside the beehive and described this to myself as a "crimson muffle". Now, crimson muffle might be the worst phrase ever concocted in the English language, but I was happy to be concocting.

My experience in the supermarket also gave me pause to actually think about these moods, and how they might be controlled.

If there was a way to harness these moods, to summon creativity and inspiration at the flick of a (mental) switch, I would be well on the way to world domination. But there are some things which tend to increase the frequency of my inspired moods, like travel and good weather. I've done a lot of the first (perhaps too much if my bank balance is to be believed), and I guess you could achieve the second by travelling or immigrating (but then, as I discovered while living in Brisbane, the inspirational nature of good weather follows the law of diminishing marginal returns and, I suspect, also relies on the element of surprise).

Looking back, I've also fallen into inspired moods on the heels of good news. A story is accepted for publication. A nice comment received after a blog post. When I was selected to the Central North Island Debating Team as a sixth former I went home and wrote three poems.

What does this tell me? If I submit stories, be a good little blogger and succeed in my chosen pursuits, I will spend more time being inspired. Sweet. Unfortunately, a base level of inspiration is needed to get the ideas and the gusto to finish the story in the first place…

I may have refined the idea of "one of those moods" a bit more with this post, and what goes into making them, but I certainly haven't happened upon creativity's equivalent of cold fusion. Nor will I. It's a bit like that Mastercard ad on at the moment about skimming stones: Not knowing what goes into a moment: priceless.

All I can do is keep earning those moments (you can't return to work after a holiday without all those days at work; you can't be published if you don't write a story and send it to the right place).

There's one other way to bring on the desired mood which I haven't mentioned yet, because it's a slightly different animal: reading. I'd love to see scans of my brain while reading a great book (or even a great page) versus reading an ordinary book. It certainly feels like there's magic going on up there. Sometimes, before I even close the book I'm thinking creative thoughts (some of which are, no doubt, of the crimson muffle variety), but most often the inspiration arrives in those moments between reading. While working I read at lunchtime and in the evening, which leaves a lot of time not-reading but still involved with a particular book.

I haven't read a really good book in the last two months (an unlucky patch, nothing more) and I've probably been less inspired to write because of it. Or put another way, there's been less magic going on upstairs. *Sad Face*

But what makes a really good book? One that will get my synapses firing even when I'm not turning its pages? The key is perhaps the very moods I'm searching for as a writer.

A piece of writing should place the reader inside the moods which allow us to extract wonder and inspiration from the everyday. Perhaps I should say 'familiar', rather than 'everyday', as a lot of great fiction (especially genre fiction, which is not a bad word around here, capiche?) operates outside the everyday.

If you write a scene set over an evening meal, there better be something about this meal which pushes through the hanging plastic strips to glimpse the mechanics of this ritual and points to the significance of the scene.

If you write a scene about a sentient blue globule from Alpha Centauri, you better say (or show) something that strikes at the heart of what it is to be sentient.

It is one thing to tell the story of a guy walking around a supermarket looking for a bottle of water before beginning another year of work, it is another thing to lead the reader towards that same feeling of renewal, or succour, or inspiration.

And another thing again to take that inspiration and expend it in a groping and overlong blog post.

Happy New Year

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

This Fluid Thrill goes native

The holiday season is behind us, and so is the theme holiday I took during December (a failure of a month all round). Newsflash: I'm just not interesting enough to generate content without some sort of guidance/gimmick.

So it’s back to the themes…

As I mentioned a while ago, I asked for books on native flora and fauna for Christmas and ol' Saint Nick delivered, bless gin blossomed nose. That's been my holiday reading pretty much (the two novels I took away with me weren't up to much), and there's been a lot of interesting stuff. Some of it may appeal to more than just the treespotters out there.

So January will be Native Month. I'm going to Kapiti Island this Saturday, weather permitting. I'll also make the effort to get to the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary this month. Both are mentioned often in my book on native birds as great places to spot uncommon species. I'll also trek into the bush around the south coast and see what I can find. If you're lucky I'll convince my brother the photographer to come along and you'll get some nice pictures to go with my ramblings.

While I'm talking about new beginnings, I should mention that over the break I finally bought a new pair of jeans. Big whoop. Well, in November I blogged about how the life of my book length projects and jeans appears to synch up, and hoped that the purchase of a new pair of denims would propel me headlong into Novel B… The search took longer than expected (and Novel B remained docked at Cape Canaveral) but here's hoping things take-off shortly.

One more new year’s resolution: I’ve decided to institute another regular feature here. At the end of every month I’ll post a summary post of the books I’ve read. That way I’m absolved of full-on reviewing pressures for every book (though I may still lavish attention on deserving tomes), but still keep a track record of my reading and responses over the year.

Okay, enough agenda-ising. How 'bout tomorrow I post some actual content?