Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Still summer here. We have a four day weekend coming up, though, so rain and cold is pretty much guaranteed.

I took advantage of my unlimited movie card last week and saw two movies in two days: Beauty and the Beast in 3D (for the second time) and The Raid. I spent most of Beauty and The Beast marvelling at its genius and trying to figure out what makes it so good (love the prologue with the stained glass, love the first scene with Belle walking through the village and everyone singing, love the music and the lyrics, nice segue to introduction of Belle's father, great explosions... I wonder how far through the movie I can get?). Beauty and the Beast was the first film I ever saw at the cinema, and I still remember sitting there in the dark and staring up at the gigantic screen, feet dangling and worrying intermittently about being eaten by the fold-down seats. I had a colouring book, too, with Belle and Beast in the snow with the little birdies. Belle may also have been my model for book-reading habits, with her ability to wander through a crowded market while reading a book without crashing into anything.

And the ending! All sparkles and happy people, though I've always liked the furniture versions of the servants more than the human versions. I also faintly object to the platinum-blondness of the Prince. Why do fairytale princes have to have long, flowing blonde locks? Still, good movie.

I was expecting The Raid to be in English, but it's in Indonesian with subtitles (Brother Ecl says he thought the main characters were going to be bad guys because they weren't speaking English. Sad but true commentary on Hollywood movies). I don't mind subtitles (in fact I think it's better to hear the original words) but was a bit worried I'd miss some of the action because I'd be reading the subtitles. No chance of that - there wasn't that much dialogue. There was lots and lots of action, though, and for some reason it was all easy to follow. Normally I glaze over a bit when fights last long than a minute, but there was something about The Raid that meant you were glued to the screen all the way through.

We were a bit late, so never got introduced to the main character. This meant I wasn't sure who was the main character until right at the end, when he was pretty much the only one left. I quite liked it that way, because it kept it surprising. Normally you know the main character will live to the end, but if you don't know who the main character is anyone might be next. I wonder if this would work in a book? Hmm. Maybe a short story.

Enjoyed any good movies recently?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Year in the UK and meeting authors (squee!)

Today is the one-year anniversary of my arrival in the UK. It's kind of scary to think about. Time goes past so fast.

In the last year I have learnt to ride the underground like a natural-born Londoner (hmm. As I write that, I am reminded of two occasions in the past week when I stood on toes because I wasn't holding on. I had to turn my page! It was necessary! And the train braked at just the wrong time). I've decided that the most important things to do on the Underground are to keep moving (even if you go in the wrong direction. Turning on the spot is much better than standing still) and to memorise the best doors for each station.

I've learnt to carry an umbrella with me wherever I go. I've learnt to dress in proper layers, with a coat and everything. I've shopped in huge stores and caught trains to different countries and tackled the banking system. I've been to Germany and France and Wales and Northern Ireland (and will be going to Turkey soon! Stay tuned!). I've had a proper English Christmas dinner and snow and seen squirrels. Lots and lots of squirrels.

I've witnessed the preparations for the Queen's Jubilee (something faintly scary about the union jack EVERYWHERE. And apparently we will have bunting for our jubilee party next weekend. BUNTING). I've seen the changing of the guard. I've been stuck multiple times on the Underground and taken the slow roller coaster that is the DLR. I've been to a reception at Parliament and stood on either side of the Greenwich Mean Line and watched Shakespeare in the Globe Theatre. I have got tickets to the Olympics and the Paralympics.

And this week I have had a barbecue in the back garden and discussed the possibility of there being a WWII bomb shelter under the patio and watched Eurovision (interesting. Veeeerrry interesting). And yesterday I went to see Cassandra Clare and Maureen Johnson in Stratford, which was hilarious and involved discussions of cannibal ducks and kittens and putting your friends into your books. Sarah Rees Brennan was also there and I managed to get books signed by all of them. I also managed not gush too much when SRB said she liked my necklace (she likes my necklace! She does!), or tell her how I was once four hours late to work because I had to finish her book...

It's nice meeting authors. You can be sure they're real people, and not just internet/publishing industry secret conspiracy inventions.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Queries and synopses

Those dreaded things. Getting everything you've written encapsulated in a thousand words, or two hundred words. Or eight. I've been thinking of ways to do this that might produce a workable piece of writing, and having fun but possibly not actually getting anywhere.

I wrote a few different versions of queries, trying things out, and had the bright idea of writing down all the versions on a piece of paper, cutting them up and laying them out on the floor so I can pick and choose and mix and match into a cohesive whole. I quite enjoyed this, and it makes a nice pattern on my floor, but I haven't been able to choose in a few places because either I like all the different options, or I like none of them. More thought is needed.

My synopsis is at the point where I'm ripping it to shreds. Not sure if I should be or not... I think I'll do a few versions and then get opinions on the best.

And an update on the weather: it spends to challenges! At least, it does in London. Today and yesterday had highs of twenty six degrees Celsius and blue skies. Strange to think I was wearing my winter coat on Monday, and that it hailed last week.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

London Dungeon

Yesterday was a day for shopping and being tried for murder. Shopping was at Westfield Shepherds Bush, which I've decided I rather like. Unfortunately, the Central Line was closed at the station where i wanted to change to it, so I had to get out and brave the human obstacle course that is Oxford St to get to a station where the Central Line was running.

A girl handing out calico bags informed me that her shop had a half-price sale that I should check out. I went to find it. It had a grand piano at the entrance with someone playing Chopin, and I decided that, even if it was 50% off, it probably wasn't my kind of shop.

Later, I met a few friends at the London Dungeon, which is under London Bridge. It has a slight historic element to it, in that there's a section on the fire of London and on the Plague and on Jack the Ripper, but mostly it's just about people dressing up in costumes and scaring you. The actors were really good, jumping out and terrifying people by yelling at inopportune moments and ganging up on involuntary volunteers. One of my friends had his arm cut off by a seventeenth century surgeon, while another was burnt at the stake for heresy. The experience ended with being hanged, and then we were allowed to exit through the gift shop.

All in all, an interesting day.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Writing synopses (and pretty bunnies)

First, an update on the weather. We had about an hour of extreme sun on Tuesday! I.e. the sun shone in a steady beam unhampered by clouds. Following this, we had a bit of extreme rain, then some extreme hail and some extreme thunder and lightning. Interesting day for weather.

In other news, I have been writing a synopsis. I followed some advice given by Nicola Morgan (she has an excellent writing blog, by the way, and also writes very good books) and left all my notes at home with my laptop and iPad and sat in town (45min away, or that particular day, 2 hours of defective tube train away) with nothing but a blank sheet of paper and a pen.

The idea here is that you write what you can remember of your story, and hopefully these will be the most important bits. You don't get hung up on trying to condense each chapter into fifty-seven words, and you get into the flow of writing rather than thinking about how to fit everything in.

It was an interesting experience. I write so much on my laptop or my iPad that it took me a bit to get back into writing by hand. Once over the initial hurdle, though, I got right down to it and got some good stuff out (I think).

I did notice an interesting thing while I was doing it. My procrastination was a lot more noticeable. When you're on a connected device, it's very easy to convince yourself that Wikipedia research is very necessary and needed right at this moment, so you don't really notice that you are procrastinating. When it's only you, a pen and a piece of paper, though, the difference between work and not-work is much easier to define. At one point I found myself staring at my pen and thinking 'ooh, pretty bunnies', which I immediately knew was not work (it was a new pen. With bunnies on it).

I guess it's good to switch modes of writing every so often, to give yourself a change and see if anything new and more productive comes out of it. I know I wouldn't have done as much if I'd been on my laptop. I would have been too busy checking things and changing things and believing it was all work.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

London: They're not lying about the weather.

Today I am complaining about a subject dear to any English-person's heart: the weather. (Do people complains about the weather in places where the weather doesn't really change? What else do they talk about to fill in the gaps in conversation? Or are they just better conversationalists all round? I feel there is an academic paper somewhere in there.)

I was woken yesterday morning by the dawn chorus, which is quite nice at around eight a.m. on a Saturday morning. But not at four a.m. Yes, it is now light at around four in the morning (I may be slightly off here - I groaned and squinted at my watch, and the hour number was a four. I can't remember what the other numbers were).

I associate long days with warm weather, somewhat understandably I think. This does not seem to be the case in London, where we had a few very nice days some time last month when the days were nowhere near as long, but we're now back to wearing coats. Of course, last weekend was a bank holiday weekend (I spent a few days relaxing in Ipswich, which was very nice) so that may have affected the weather. It can't be sunny on a bank holiday.

We're supposed to be conserving water, too, because the last two years have been the driest since the seventies. That didn't stop April from being the wettest April on record. I did kind of enjoy the change from eternally-overcast days, though. New Zealand weather seems to be more extreme than London weather, so I relished splashing through the flood puddles (ah, home!), but where is the extreme sun to go with the extreme rain?

Take that as a challenge, weather.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chess piece characters

It's Wednesday! So I'm getting back into writing Wednesdays.

I've been thinking about character and plot, and how sometimes they can work at cross-purposes. You want your plot to move in a certain direction, but if you force your characters to conform to the plot the story isn't believable. It's like your story is a chess board, and you're picking up your pieces and plonking them where you want them to go. It suits the larger gameplay, but your characters should not act like chess pieces. At least, not like normal chess pieces.

Sometimes you just need to give a few nudges in the right direction. Figure out why they might act the way you want them to, and slip in some details to smooth the transitions. You don't want a reader questioning reactions or motivations, or being jarred out of the story.

Other times you need to do a bit more work. You've plonked your character in a square they'd never normally go near, so maybe you need to think a few moves ahead. Figure out what story beats you want to hit (what squares you absolutely have to get to) and let the character guide themselves to the square. You might not need the squares you were trying to force them into.

You want walking, talking chess pieces that move themselves across the board, rather than doing exactly what they're told.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Mussel Fritters

This post is dedicated to Frank, whose mussel fritters I am making tonight.

First: take two dozen mussels (or thirty-one, because that's what came in this packet. You don't seem to get live mussels in UK supermarkets, unlike NZ. These ones came all the way from Chile).

Next: chop onion to taste (I used half an onion, despite the picture. I just liked the pretty pattern the onion made on the chopping board).

Next: chop garlic to taste, and get salt and pepper.

Put it all in a bowl.

Mince (see my ingenious spatter-stopper).

Add two tablespoons self-raising flour, and two eggs. Mix together.

Fry with oil. You can see I have a fine career ahead of me in food photography.

Parsley from the garden (planted by me!).

And serve. Frank would probably not approve of the rabbit food bed on which the fritters are laid, but I thought it looked (and tasted!) quite nice.

Clean plate. Frank would approve of that.