About Me

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Perth, Western Australia, Australia
I am based in Perth, Western Australia. You might enjoy my books - The Dagger of Dresnia, the first book of the Talismans Trilogy, is available at all good online book shops as is Book two, The Cloak of Challiver. Book three, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation. I trained in piano and singing at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. I also trained in dance (Scully-Borovansky, WAAPA) and drama (NIDA). Since 1987 I have been writing reviews of performances in all genres for a variety of publications, including Music Maker, ArtsWest, Dance Australia, The Australian and others. Now semi-retired, I still write occasionally for the ArtsHub website.

My books

The first two books of my trilogy, The Talismans, (The Dagger of Dresnia, and book two, The Cloak of Challiver) are available in e-book format from Smashwords, Amazon and other online sellers. Book three of the trilogy, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation.I also have a short story, 'La Belle Dame', in print - see Mythic Resonance below - as well as well as a few poems in various places. The best way to contact me is via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/satimaflavell

Buy The Talismans

The first two books of The Talismans trilogy were published by Satalyte Publications, which, sadly, has gone out of business. However, The Dagger of Dresnia and The Cloak of Challiver are available as ebooks on the usual book-selling websites, and book three, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation. The easiest way to contact me is via Facebook.

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Cloak of Challiver, Book two of The Talismans

The Cloak of Challiver, Book two of The Talismans
Available as an e-book on Amazon and other online booksellers.

Mythic Resonance

Mythic Resonance

Mythic Resonance is an excellent anthology that includes my short story 'La Belle Dame', together with great stories from Alan Baxter, Donna Maree Hanson, Sue Burstynski, Nike Sulway and nine more fantastic authors! Just $US3.99 from Amazon. Got a Kindle? Check out Mythic Resonance.

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Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

Places I've lived: Geelong, Australia

Places I've lived: Geelong,  Australia

Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

Places I've Lived - Sydney

Places I've Lived - Sydney
Sydney Conservatorium - my old school

Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier

Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier
Blue Lake

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've Lived: Perth by Day

Places I've Lived: Perth by Day
From Kings Park

Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've Lived: Perth by Night

Places I've Lived: Perth by Night
From Kings Park

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Sunday, 30 December 2007

My best reads of 2007

It wasn't hard to choose my favourite books this year. Collectively, these represent less than half the books I've read during the past 12 months, and although they are the ones I most enjoyed reading, they were not all published in 2007. Some of them, such as George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, I wonder how I missed earlier! I've made no attempt to grade them because I loved them all and will no doubt read them again and again. They are listed, therefore, in alphabetical order according to author.

Just Deserts by Simon Haynes (FACP 2007) Comic SciFi. Haynes can always be relied on for a smile a page and a chuckle a chapter.
The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey (Luna 2005) Fairy Tale Fantasy. An incredibly versatile author, Lackey knows her mythology well enough to take the mickey out of it now and then, in the nicest possible way.
The Shadow of Tyr and Song of the Shiver Barrens by Glenda Larke (Voyager 2007) Magical Fantasy. These constitute books 2 and 3 of Larke's Mirage Makers trilogy. Unusually, I feel the middle book was the best of this excellent series.
Eagle of the East by L.S. Lawrence (Scholastic, 2007) Historical YA. A book for young men about a boy who becomes a soldier for the Romans. A great read for both sexes and all ages in double figures.
Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier (Tor 2007) YA Historical Fantasy. One of the loveliest books I've read in a long time, rivalled only by this author's earlier YA offering Wildwood Dancing.
A Song of Ice and Fire (series) George R.R. Martin Sword and Sorcery I bought these one after the other in England and carted them back to Australia - at the expense of much clothing that had to be discarded to make room for them. I'm thoroughly hooked now and like all Martin fans I'm anxiously awaiting the release of the rest of the series. So far we've had:
A Game of Thrones (Voyager UK 1996)
A Clash of Kings (Voyager UK 1998)
A Storm of Swords (Voyager UK - in two parts, 2000)
A Feast for Crows (Voyager UK 2005)
The Riven Kingdom by Karen Miller (Voyager 2007) Magical Fantasy. Possibly the best book to date by this author. Here again, I am longing for the third one in the series.
Crash Deluxe by Marianne de Pierres (Orbit 2005) Cyberpunk Fantasy. I've never thought of myself as a Cyberpunk person but I adore this series!
The Road to Nab End and Beyond Nab End William Woodruff (Abacus 2003) Autobiography of a self-made man who grew up in the industrial slums of Lancashire in the early decades of the twentieth century. A delightful read.

Several on the list have been nominated for Aurealis or other awards. It will be interesting to see how they fare.

What were your favourite reads of the year? Do leave a post and tell me!
Sunday, 23 December 2007

An Interview with Fiona Mcintosh

I have pointed out on this blog before that in recent years Australia has produced an amazing number of excellent fantasy writers, many of whom have made their marks on the international spec-fic scene. Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough interview one of them: the very popular Fiona McIntosh. You can read the resulting article here.

I'm pleased to report the muse is back, at least for now. I have half a chapter including a fixed plothole to prove it. However, given that this is the Silly Season it's quite possible that he'll flit off again before I pin him down to any more writing. I hope not. I'm dead miserable when I can't write.

Silly Season... mm. This has, of course, been a busy week and the next ten days will be worse. Every year I try excuse myself from the madness that is Christmas, but I've never yet succeeded and doubt I ever will, no matter how loudly I cry Bah! Humbug!. Never mind: it only lasts a fortnight and then we'll be back to normal. Well, as normal as most of us ever get!
Sunday, 16 December 2007

Visitor Counter

About a month ago I noticed that some bloggers have visitor counters. Ever acquisitive, I immediately wanted one for myself. It turned out there are several free trial versions and they are easy to download, so I nobbled one and started having fun.

You can learn all kinds of things from modern counters. They don't just tot up a head count: they're far more sophisticated than that. It's possible to see where your visitors come from, geographically speaking, and also how they found the site - through a search engine or another web page or by typing the address into a browser. You can see how often they come, how long they stay, and what they typed into the search engine.

In the last regard, some of my visitors must have felt quite frustrated when they got my page instead of what they were looking for! People tend to type whole sentences into a Google box and then wonder why they get so many irrelevant hits, not realising, perhaps, that if you put relevant bits of your query inside quote marks you're far more likely to get what you're looking for. For example, here are some of the searches that landed people on this blog:

• time to say goodbye in russian
• what is the background music to the tibetan personality test?
• fancy doorstops/paperweights
• coffee maker certificate, adelaide

If these seekers had typed instead, for example…

• "time to say goodbye" russian
• "tibetan personality test" music
• "fancy doorstops" paperweights
• "coffee maker" certificate adelaide

…they would probably have landed on more helpful sites. Although I don't recall ever discussing paperweights or doorstops, fancy or otherwise, so Google only knows how that shopper landed here!

Not that I mind them coming, of course. I'm delighted to see that I'm getting so many visitors. And there are many more regular visitors than one might imagine from the number of comments. Several people have come back over and over again, reading a few of my archived posts each time. That's flattering! If you are one of those, do please write a message to say g'day and tell me what brought you to my blogstep. I would love to hear from you.

It's great to see that my visitors come from everywhere - at least one from each continent, with the worldwide breakdown showing most visitors are from Australia and the Pacific; then North America; Eurasia West; Eurasia East and finally South America and Africa clocking in at just one each.

Hmm - how to get one of those little maps onto the blog? I feel a new project coming on:-) And the counter only goes to 500 before it turns into a pumpkin, so maybe I need to upgrade. Oh dear: technology, like Christmas, tends towards proliferation!
Sunday, 9 December 2007

When all else fails, keep busy

You know how you get those times when life is full-on and you feel as if you're running uphill to no good effect? Well, that's what the last two weeks have been like for me. A lot of it has been very enjoyable: I figure that if the muse has temporarily abandoned me I might as well enjoy myself. I must admit I waste a lot of time on Facebook, and judging by the site's popularity, so do a great many other people. We compare our scores on a plethora of quizzes, pet and feed each other's imaginary pets, pit our imaginary dragons against each other in races and generally fritter our time away. Delusion reigns! It's a far cry, let me tell you, from the austere daily routine of the monastery I lived in twelve years ago:-) Life is full of amazing contrasts, or at least, this life I'm doing has been so far.

More soberly, I've signed up for a program run by the Job Network, designed to try to get retirees back into the workforce. There is a whole industry out there centred on frequently fruitless activities that purport to help people find employment. I have had several chats with officials; signed an activity agreement; had a brand new résumé drawn up and attended a full-day seminar, which has a series of weekly follow-up ra-ra meetings. It's keeping lots of other people in jobs, even if the chances of my getting one are very remote indeed. In fact, the advice given to me so far is that I have two strikes against me – I'm over 50 and I'm not a local. It's a fact that employers not only prefer younger workers, they tend to give jobs to people they know. Less than 20% of positions are filled by advertising in the newspapers, or so they tell me. So it's the old thing of "not what you know, but whom". Never mind: it's keeping a few pensioners off the streets. The last thing we want is OAPs running riot because they have nothing to do. (Actually if we don't do much it's because we are trying to live on about 50% of the income that is supposed to mark the poverty line in this country, which is why I really truly do need to find work. Wish me luck.)

Nothing to do? I can't believe I just wrote that. Another good-fun time-waster is the start of the Silly Season. I went to my first Christmas luncheon for the year last week, with the Coastal Quills writing group from Millicent. Most of the attendees were from Mount Gambier, though, so that's where the break-up was held, and very nice it was too. The place we went to allows patrons to munch ad lib on the salad bar for only $7, so it didn't break the budget, either.

What's more, as a result of meeting a new friend through Coastal Quills, I've also joined a writers group, aptly named The Write Stuff, here in Mount Gambier. I went to my first meeting on Monday night. It was a cosy little group, just about the right size, to my mind, for sharing ideas and work. One member read out a piece she was working on for comment, and after that we threw in ideas for exercises. There had been "homework" which I hadn't known about. It was to write something with the title Teddy Bears' Picnic.

Now, friends, one of my many completely useless and un-saleable talents is the ability to write doggerel at the drop of a hat, so I did the gist of the song into sonnet form, extempore, in less than ten minutes. (OK, it hasn't the depth or the epigrammatic ending of a proper English sonnet but what do you want in ten minutes?) Later, we did an exercise in which we each wrote down an emotion, an object and a colour on separate pieces of paper, which were mixed into three piles from which we took back one of each. I drew "jealousy", "dictionary" and "turquoise". The result was, of course, more doggerel. I brought the pieces home and did another five minutes work on each one. Sadly, they remain firmly in the sphere of doggerel. Neither verse is ever likely to see light of day unless I share them with you, so bear with me.

Doggerel One: Teddy Bears' Sonnet
If down into the woods thou goest this day
Methinks thou shouldst prepare thyself full well
For great adventures shalt thou there essay
With monster bruins hiding in the dell.
If down into the woods thou goest this day
'Twere best that thou shouldst well accompanied be
Full beauteous are the woods this day, but stay
If thou canst bear it, safe at home with me.
For picnic time for teddy bears it is
See how they shout and play in yonder glen!
But when night falls then homeward they will wend
In parent's care, far from the world of men.
Then teddy bears will all go off to bed
And you as well, my little sleepy head.

Doggerel Two: Three Little Words
We laughed and loved 'neath turquoise skies
But now, alas, it's over.
'Twas jealousy that split us up
And spoilt our field of clover.

Bereft of my true love I thought
That I should write a verse
I wrote a bit of drivel then
I wrote some that was worse.

The dictionary I have scoured
From cover unto cover
To find some words to pen a poem
About my faithless lover.

But words, alas, will never take
This anguish from my head
So I'll put the dictionary away
And have a beer instead.

If you like writing doggerel too, why not put some in your comment? Meantime, I'll get on with being uselessly busy while I await the muse's return. Oh, maybe not entirely useless: sometime in the next couple of weeks I may have a chance to interview one of Australia's most popular fantasy writers for The Specusphere. Watch this space!
Sunday, 2 December 2007

Displacement Activities

I've just had the pleasure of reviewing one of the best books I've read all year: Karen Miller's The Riven Kingdom. It is the second book in a trilogy but never fear – it's a discrete story and you don't need to have read the first one, although if you're new to Karen's work you'll probably want to go out and buy all her others once you've read this one! With wonderful characters, all very different from each other, and an exciting plot about an orphaned princess's determination to claim her heritage, it has something for everyone. If you like lovable characters opposing a Machiavellian baddie, adventure, romance, mystery and magic, go check it out! But first, follow the link in the left hand column to read my review on The Specusphere.

And my own writing? Still in the doldrums, I fear. I continue to get critiques that demand more depth of character; more detail, and what's more, I seem to keep falling into plot holes. Oh, to write like Karen Miller. Or Glenda Larke. Or Juliet Marillier. Or, right now, anyone but me:-( Perhaps I should read more while I’m not writing and make noticing details in other people's work the focus of my reading. I'm afraid I'm usually a great one for skimming detail.

In the meantime, there are plenty of displacement activities for blocked writers. Following blogs is one, and I've just found a new one to add to the list. It is called Writers Read, and in recent weeks two of my favourite writers, Juliet Marillier and Simon Haynes, have shared their current reading matter. It is fascinating to see the variety of tastes, even among genre writers.
Sunday, 25 November 2007

The Time has Come

After eleven and a half years it's high time we had a change of government here in the Land of Oz. I am fairly cynical about politics and politicians of any shade, so I will not expect Shangri-La to manifest any time soon. However, there is always a honeymoon period when a new party takes power, so I hope they get stuck into some of the things they've promised - like improvements to health and education. Of course, they will be up against arguments from the state governments (this country is hopelessly overgoverned, IMO) but they can hardly do any worse than their predecessors:-)

I must admit to feeling a bit of compassion for the ex-PM, if he does indeed lose his seat, and it's looking very much as if he might. An ignominous end, but one that shows how little pollies learn from history. Apparently the only other Aussie PM to lose his seat while holding the Top Job did so because of an arrogant attitude to industrial relations, which is exactly why Johnny got his comuppance.

Our new PM-elect seems to be a decent sort of chap, full of energy and enthusiasm. And we have 5 senators from the Greens party in the senate, which has got to be an improvement. Maybe things will look up under the new regime. I certainly hope so.

And oh, Kevin, if you're reading this, how about a bit of a rise in the pension? I really can't live on $600 a fortnight. You'll be glad to know, however, that I've become involved in one of the last government's initiatives designed to get retirees back into the workforce. Whether or not employers can ever be convinced that people over 50 are worth employing, of course, is another matter altogether!
Sunday, 18 November 2007

The Creative Cycle

A few weeks ago, I blogged a Writers Workshop I'd attended, facilitated by Peter Dunn under the auspices of the Coastal Quills Writers Group. Last Wednesday was the follow-up meeting. Being in the evening, and a cool dark evening at that, it was less well-attended than it might have been, but in a way that was good because it allowed for a more informal approach and time to chat. Peter had set up a plan centred on the idea that the writing process can be seen as a cycle. I have always thought if it as linear - Beginning (research, ideas, planning) Middle (start the project) and End (polish and market the product) but for his analogy, Peter Dunn used the annual cycle of seasons:

Spring – awakening, enthusiasm, planning, creating
Summer – relaxation, confidence, enjoyment
Autumn – consideration, slowing down, ripening
Winter – static, frozen, unfruitful, but also gestation, preparation.

The keywords are not necessarily those Peter gave us to play with but my spin on them. The concept gave me another of those "Aha!" moments when I realised that the creative process is not linear, but cyclical. It put the idea of "writer's block" in perspective, as simply being indicative of a time when ideas need to lie fallow like autumn-sown fields, ready to spring to life when conditions are right. And like winters, some such periods are long and others are short. For the last few months I've been going though a longish one – I say "longish" because one hears of writers being blocked for years on end – but I've come to the conclusion that it's best to be patient; to wait for the seeds to germinate in their own time. In the interim, I do what I can – research, edit, and write a few words here and there as mini-ideas surface.

One excellent tip I've had was "ten words" – just write ten words a day! The idea came from Naomi Novik, author of the Temeraire series. All the tips are worth reading, as evinced by the fact that they are sprouting up on blogs all over the internet. Just Google for "Naomi Novik" + "ten words" and you will find them.

Novik wrote the tips for participants in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). A number of friends including Simon Haynes are participating in this once-a-year writing marathon. They aim to write 50,000ww during November. I'd have as much chance of doing that as doing what Sean Williams is doing - growing a mustache for the Movember (Men's Health) Foundation! Sean is charting his progress in haiku and pictures.

That's more links than I've ever included in a post before. I hope they all work:-)
Sunday, 11 November 2007

On My Other Blog...

The hayfever has made me so non compus today that I was going to give blogging a miss - until I found a Shakespeare meme on Karen Miller's blog. Unfortunately Blogspot is being silly again and wouldn't let me post it here, so I've put my effort up on My LJ instead. It's a hoot.

I hope to have a clear head to blog properly next weekend - maybe even before if I feel inspired and gain some clarity!
Sunday, 4 November 2007

The Nice and the Nasty

Several nice things have happened over the last few days. First, my friend and cousin-by-marriage Elfriede rang me from Germany, which was a delightful surprise as we hadn't chatted in a while. It's autumn over there, of course, and from the sound of things they are having pretty similar weather to us. It's still very cold here in the southeast of South Australia. We've gone back to twelve degrees Celsius during the day, complete with pouring rain and howling winds, and at night it's dropping to two or three degrees Celsius. Brr. The dearth of warm weather is one of the things I really don't like about living here. In fact, one not-nice thing that happened this week was an electricity bill for nearly $400! This flat has a built-in electric space heater and I've been very glad of it these last few months, but I've been dreading the bill. I've been paying a bit into the account every pension day but I'd still only paid half of it by the time the day of reckoning arrived. I hate to think what I've done to my carbon footprint, too. It's obvious that I'm going to have to allow $50 each and every pension day to pay for electricity. (Blankets and hot water bottles are fine, but they don't warm my hands while I'm typing and sometimes my frozen fingers just won't hit the right keys!) This amount is at least twice the budget I used to allow for electricity in Perth. Sometimes I think I might as well have stayed over there and gone broke as moved over here to do it! So thank heavens for the nice things. I'm trying to focus on them instead of panicking about finances.

Another nicey was a tiny Lotto win – probably only about $20 to collect but it will go towards that wretched bill! And one really exciting thing is that a friend in Perth has offered me a free plane trip over for sometime next year – WOW! I'll keep you posted on that one. Maybe I'll make it to Swancon after all!

The fourth nice thing is that over at Writer Unboxed there is an interview of one of my favourite writers, Jacqueline Carey, by another of my favourite writers, Juliet Marillier. The first of three parts is up here. The remaining two parts will appear on successive Fridays. The preceding post on the blog, Dear Charlotte is also Juliet's – it’s about Charlotte Bronte’s letters.

I'm afraid there's still nothing happening on the writing front apart from a bit of editing, and for the same reason as last week – I've been out most days and when I haven't been out I've been catching up on e-mails and critiquing. I'm starting to think that maybe I need this break from the WIP to allow the story and my handling of it to simmer for a while. Well, that's my excuse, anyway!
Sunday, 28 October 2007

Writers, Depression and Addiction

This has been a busy week. Every day I've had at least one commitment that entailed going out, and I'm one of those people who can't seem to write and function out in the world as well – so no writing and very little editing has been done. I know some writers who manage to hold down full-time outside jobs or have enormous family commitments and still manage to write something meaningful every day, but not me. One well-published writer of my acquaintance says you can train yourself to do it, but so far my psyche refuses to co-operate. I need at least three days of down time with no human contact to get any useful work done, writing-wise. I do think that by nature, writers tend to be loners.

Apropos, over at Storytellers Unplugged, Richard Steinberg has written a piece called "On being not-too-bright" which touches on the idiosyncrasies of writers. Steinberg says "I know (meaning know well) thirty-seven professional writers. In reviewing the list, I discovered that four of them could be called happy pretty much all the time, two others were happy more often than not, one pretends she’s happy to please her husband and children, and thirty were pretty much depressives on one level or another, like me." He also touches on the well-known predilection for addiction often mentioned in connection with not only writers, but creative artists in general.

I posted the link on one of the mailing lists I subscribe to, with some interesting responses. One lister said "I think the world created a romantic but distorted ideal of the writer and artist being alcoholics, drug addicts, and tortured souls."

My feeling is that the "tortured souls" part is the essence of it. Happy people don't become alcoholics or drug addicts, AFAIK. Mind you, there are not many truly happy people about and the ones that are often simply delude themselves. Life is hard, and I think the creative part of us knows that and longs to hold up a mirror to it. And for some, turning to drugs or other addictions is one way to hold the inherent misery of life at arm's length. Addictions do not, however, make one more creative and often they have the reverse effect.

In other words, the creative urge springs from our recognition of the harshness of life, often because circumstances made us realise this harshness from a very early age. Addictions spring from the same place. Not infrequently, the two go together, but many such people realise that their addiction hinders their creativity and take the necessary steps to overcome it. For most of my life I was the archetypal co-dependent (although I did go through a phase of abusing booze myself) but it wasn't until I'd done several years' work on myself that whatever little creative flair I have stuck its head up and asked "is it safe to come out now?"

I posted these thoughts to the mailing list and had three interesting responses. One lister said "Actually, as one pretty well versed on the subject, I believe that addictions are genetic." Another said "The writing life - hours alone, unpaid, unsung, the longest apprenticeship in the world - is enough to drive anyone crackers," and also "addictions are a way we avoid problems instead of dealing with them."

You know, I think all the above are true. They are three ways of approaching the same topic. It's a bit chicken and eggy, really. Writers - in fact all artists, I think - tend to come from dysfunctional families, which are often dysfunctional because of a genetic tendency toward addictions. This situation turns out loners - who wants to be with people when being with people causes so much pain? - and spending so many hours alone just makes folks more and more eccentric. And we learn fairly early that getting involved in a creative project is a great way to forget the pain. It's just another addiction, in some ways.

What do you think? Check out Steinberg's article. It will make you laugh and make you cry.
Sunday, 21 October 2007

The Importance of Sensory Detail

This time last week I was feeling really despondent about the critiques I've been getting. For years, people have been telling me that my characters need more depth; build-up needs more tension; narrative needs more showing, less telling - and the one I forgot, which has actually turned out to be the really essential one - I don't use enough sensory description.

In despair I uploaded a new chapter to OWW with a plea that critters would not just tell me these things, but show me exactly where and how to include them. Now most critters balk at this. Re-writing another's work looks arrogant. No sensitive critter will do it. But why not, just now and then, put a practical spin on the adage we keep passing around like a mantra "show, don't tell"? In this case, it turned out to be the final ray of light that illuminated the room where my book lives.

Here's what happened: by (unwillingly, I might add) actually rewriting two sentences of my WIP, crit buddy Ursula demonstrated what people have been telling me for at least five years. Her review lifted me from down-in-the-dumpiness to up-in-the-cloudsness in the time it took me to read her advice. Look at the difference between these ways of writing the same thing.

My original version:
Her visitor strode across the room, swung his pack from his back to the floor and bent to kiss her cheek before taking the seat opposite hers.

Nothing wrong with that. It gets across what happened in a few succinct words. But look at Ursula's rewrite:
He brought a draught of cold air with him as he strode across the room. Shrugging free of his pack he tossed it to the floor and caught her in a hug. His skin was chill against hers as he bent to kiss her cheek.

In that brief passage Ursula caught the essence of what people have been trying to tell me all these years. All those criticisms were saying the same thing, as if my critters were coming into my story-room through four different doors; doors labelled Depth of Characterisation; Tension Building; Sensory Description and the old chestnut, Show, Don't Tell. At last, I've realised these are just four doors into the same place.

Adding sensory detail makes it easier for the reader to see the character close up. To walk a mile in another person's shoes we have to feel those shoes pinching. If we don't feel the sensation, we won't understand what s/he's going through. In experiencing what the character is feeling on the physical level, we more readily feel the tension not just in the character's body but in the situation s/he is in. And through that feeling and experiencing we are being shown, not being told.

To think of all the times I've been reminded to do these things and not understood what was needed! Dear critters, you must have been thinking that I was either dense or stubborn. Perhaps I am both, but most of all, I am obviously a slow learner. But now, please rejoice with me, for reading that passage Ursula re-wrote made me see that all my problems boil down to one: the need for More Sensory Detail.

So although I've written one and a half chapters this week I've actually spent more time editing; playing with the interconnectedness of those four persistent criticisms. Thank you, Ursula, for your kind help, and thank you all the people who were probably dying to re-write my stuff but hesitated because I never thought of asking you to. At last your patience has paid off, and hopefully you'll start to see an improvement in the functioning of all four of those doors into my story!
Sunday, 14 October 2007

The chorus is never offstage

The promised new chapter is written – but it was a blood, sweat and tears job. It took me all week to psych myself up to writing 1500 lousy words to serve a first draft and while I feel reasonably pleased with the outcome I was totally drained afterwards.

While I don't want to bore you with a load of internal angst, I will share with you the realisation that I am actually pretty scared of finishing this novel. Why? Because I fear it will be another book that is Nearly Good Enough.

Nearly Good Enough books are easy to find. Heck, some of them actually get published. I know I've read several and I expect you have, too. Usually the author doesn't get another chance – at least, not under the same name – and fades into ignominy without even selling out his or her advance. The reading public knows an NGE book when it sees one and is unlikely to look for a sequel. I've already written two NGE books and it's time I wrote a Goodenough one. (Now there's a thought – a new pen name! How would "Satima Goodenough" look on a cover?)

It's frustrating, this fiction-writing. After several years of solid work, I still get crits for the same faults – characters need more depth; build-up needs more tension; narrative needs more showing, less telling. Every time I do a rewrite I think "Aha, got it nailed this time," only to get the same old comments back from critters. They sometimes sound like a Greek Chorus, commiserating with me while pointing out the Fatal Flaws that doom the fruits of my labours to oblivion.

OTOH, all the published writers I've read on the subject agree that there is one characteristic no writer can do without, and that's perseverance. I'm not sure whether to be cheered or disheartened when I read of Writer X who sent a ms off thirty times before finding a publisher and Writer Y who wrote for twenty years before getting published. In one sense, these stories are encouraging, in that they demonstrate the value of hard work and persistence. However, at sixty-four years of age, haven't I left my run a bit late? Shouldn't I be spending my time down at the Senior Cits Centre, playing bridge and listening to U3A lectures?

Ye gods and little fishes, no! So what's the alternative? I know, I know - to get back on that bloody keyboard and write! Be it ever so difficult, unrewarding, frustrating and even heart-breaking, there never really was any other option, was there?

So, Musa volente, I shall write another chapter this week. In fact, even if the muse is not willing I'll do it. Slow progress is better than no progress, after all!
Sunday, 7 October 2007

New Writerly Friends

I had a very pleasant day yesterday, as I attended the first writers workshop I've come across in the southeast of South Australia. I only moved here a year ago and I still miss the many wonderful groups I belonged to in Perth. Since Perth is a city of over a million people, you can find groups or classes for almost anything you care to name: in the twenty years I lived there I belonged, at various times, to groups devoted to Astrology, Ballet, Belly Dance, Buddhism (all schools are represented in Perth), Chi Gong, Editing, French conversation, Genealogy, Indian dance (Bharat natyam style, but it was possible to find groups for other styles, too), Meditation, Operatic chorus singing, Personal Growth, Sanskrit grammar, Shakespeare, Spanish Dance, Speculative Fiction, Tai Chi, Writing and Yoga. (There were probably others: those are just the ones I can remember with a couple of minutes' recollection.) In short, there are things happening in cities that simply don't happen in country towns, and those, together with ready access to the state libraries, art galleries and museums are the things I miss most about city life. And that's before I even start to think of dear friends and family members who still live in Perth while I live over 2,000 miles away. Now I'm feeling sorry for myself:-)

Yesterday, however, was an oasis in a desert of days. A group known as Coastal Quills ran a superb one-day workshop called Writer's Journey, facilitated by the delightful Peter Dunn, a writer and illustrator resident in Millicent, a small town some 30 miles from where I live. Peter has cleverly devised a series of reflective exercises to help writers consider the outer journey as parallel to the inner one. We spent time meditating on the history of our lives in writing – when did we first realise we wanted to write? How did the desire manifest? What barriers might have presented themselves on inner and outer levels that prevented us from fulfilling our dreams? What events or defining moments reveal, in retrospect, that the vision stayed alive, even if not manifesting on an outward level? What do we really want out of life? If we want to write, how can we, starting with the tools and opportunities we have in the here-and-now, set tangible, realistic and measurable goals towards fulfilling our writing dreams?

I think every one of the eighteen participants, some of whom had travelled for up to a hundred miles to attend the workshop, went away uplifted, enthusiastic, and no longer feeling quite as alone as they did. For we writers are a queer breed. Generally, we prefer our own company to that of others and oftimes we find the inner life more interesting than the outer one. Yet we crave occasional contact with like-minded others to reassure us that we are not anti-social misfits or crazy eccentrics. We need opportunities to remind ourselves that we have an important place in society. We are the chroniclers of past, present and future; investigators of the human condition in all its many forms, real or imagined. No civilisation has ever survived without such chroniclers, nor ever will.

We are writers. And to the individual writer, the journey of investigation is more important than the destination.

There were five or six people in the group who live close enough to me to make regular connection possible. At least one attendee was a fellow spec-fic writer; others shared my passions for history and genealogy and one or two even expressed interest in joining a Shakespeare group if I form one. Another is a fellow Belly Dance enthusiast and has promised to put me in touch with a teacher. WOW!

Great hopes are in the air and great plans are afoot, therefore. Add to this that my friend Annalou in Adelaide has invited me to stay with her for the duration of the Writers Festival in March next year and you have one cheerful and hopefully unblocked Satima. I plan to set aside a day this week when I will not edit, not critique others' work, not answer e-mails nor answer the phone. I will sit down and write the first chapter of part three of the WIP, even if it's crap.

Now, all I have to do it psych myself up to that – wish me luck!

PS I want to publicly express my thanks to Peter Dunn (get a website, Peter!), Steven Davies and the Coastal Quills crew for putting on such a fine workshop. More, please!
Sunday, 30 September 2007

New Books - and more on Writer's Block

Well, I'm sorry to report that I’m still not back with the WIP (of which more later) but OTOH I'm delighted to tell you about a super new book by one of my favourite authors, Juliet Marillier. Cybele's Secret is another Young Adult book, following on from Juliet's earlier offering, Wildwood Dancing. I have a real weakness for good YA books and this is the second one I've fallen in love with this year. The first was L.S. Lawrence's Eagle of the East, which I also reviewed for The Specusphere. You can follow the links at left to read my critiques, and if they appeal, hie thee down to thy local bookseller and ask for them to be ordered if they aren't in stock. If you love good historical fantasy you won't want to miss either of these.

OK, back to the WIP. Or rather, back to discussion of Writer's Block, the reason for not wipping this fortnight past. After last week's post, I had e-mails and comments from several writing buddies and I'm sure they won't mind my passing their suggestions along.

Carol Ryles says:
Personally I like to go for a walk and listen to one of my audio books downloaded on my iPod. Before I got the iPod I used to listen to cassette tapes borrowed from the local library on my walkman. It's nice to listen to prose rather than read it. It enters your mind through a sense we under use when reading and writing. Already our eyes our tired from reading, our sense of touch filled up from typing, and all the while, we've been closing our ears to outside sounds, trying to concentrate. Therefore, when walking I can use other senses: the smell of fresh air and the sound of prose in my ears. My mind takes it all in and quite often a spoken phrase or paragraphs connects with something I've been trying to write and inspires me to try again.

Carol also recommended two excellent web sites:
Exercises for Writer's Block
St Cloud State College Literacy Education
Each offers helpful tips, some of which echo those given here and others that range from the quick fix for temporary blocks to serious long-term projects for the hard cases.

Joel Fagin says:
If it's a case of not wanting to write what you need to write, then I'd say: don't. Write something that's purely fun just for you and come back to the thing you don't want to do after a bit of a break.

Sonia Helbig says:
I've learned three tricks which help me when I'm stuck.
(i) Write out the crap (be prepared to write whatever comes out, be non-judgemental about it, in fact expect it to be crap which gets rid of my nasty editor that perches on my shoulder).
(ii) Believe that I often will have to write my way into the story (keep writing, keep the hands moving, and eventually something useful will appear on the page)
(iii) Have fun (if I'm not having fun, why will my reader)

Over the course of this week, I've actually come to the conclusion that the reason I can't get on with the WIP is that I'm not happy with the way I'm presenting the main character. Several critters have commented that she seems "too nice", lacking depth, even uninteresting. I want to get across what I see as her greatest strengths - her ability to withstand stress without getting riled and her way of treating people, even servants, with humanity and respect. I want her to come across as a decent woman who takes on more than she can cope with when she enters into a pact with an otherworldly being and finds she has to pay the piper. Her biggest fault is her tendency to push unpleasant things aside and when she has to confront sheer nastiness she tends to dither. She's always been the nice lady who helps and counsels people, which apparently comes across as shallow and boring. Problem: how do you write such a character without making her into a Mary Sue?

Any and all suggestions gratefully received!
Sunday, 23 September 2007

Writers' Block - the dreaded malady

I'm at the dreaded two-thirds mark of my WIP and find myself stuck. There is no reason why I should be stuck—I have what looks like a workable outline and I'm reasonably happy with the first two thirds, at least for a first draft—but somehow I can't seem to motivate myself to write the last third.

I've struck this blocking point before and I've read of it happening to others, too. I've spent hours in self analysis. Am I really happy with the outline? Am I scared to finish the novel? Is the room too hot? Too cold? Do I need more vitamins? More chocolate, maybe? Or do I just need a swift kick in the pants?

I wish I knew. If you have any cures for this malady (other than an 18 month break, which is how long it took me to get back to my first novel after the same blocking point!) do please share it with me.
Sunday, 16 September 2007

Another test to try

Here's a meme that's doing the rounds (I got it from Simon Haynes who had it from Anysia.) I've blogged my weakness for doing tests before - I've even signed up for Hey Cupid (and Cupid is the last deity I want to notice me, thank you!) because of the entertaining range of tests the site offers.

This one, however, is a bit more serious in intent, albeit good fun to do. Go to Career Cruising and sign in with the username: nycareers and the password: landmark. Take their "Career Matchmaker" questionnaire.

What did they come up with for you?

My results, obtained after three rounds of questions, demonstrated yet again that the things I like and am good at don't make any money – unless you're very, very good and very, very fortunate. My top three? Ha! Historian, Anthropologist and Writer.

If all the people with MAs or PhDs in history or anthrop had jobs in academia those departments would have ten or twenty or a hundred times the number of staff. As it is, such graduates can be found in working in offices and factories; as bus drivers, mail deliverers and in all sorts of other jobs that are, by and large, quite uncongenial to their personalities. Of course, with another year or two of training they can become teachers or librarians, but I'm sure if they'd wanted to be teachers or librarians they wouldn't have signed on for a higher degree in the first place. It's a sad fact that a higher degree in the Humanities only sets you up to be an academic. If you can't get an academic job you have to do something else altogether.

With writing, it's just as hard. A degree in creative writing will not guarantee you publication. Nor will many years of starving in a garret while you learn the craft of putting stories together. Here again, there are only so many books published in any given year and there are so many good writers about that it really does boil down to luck when it comes to attaining that elusive goal – getting published. And sadly, the performing arts are just as bad or worse.

My list of 40 possible occupations included lots of things that I've had to do in the many and varied jobs I've had, such as ESL teacher (#9) Critic (#11) Researcher (#16) Technical Writer (#20) Archivist (#32) Dancer (#35) and Print Journalist (#40). I've only incidentally taught in scho0ls (teaching crops up again and again on the list in various guises) but I taught dance for over 20 years and in the process had to be a Special Effects Technician (#13) Casting Director (#30) and something of a comedian (#6). In days long past, I trained as an Actor (#7) and a Musician (#21). I even have some training towards being a Foreign Language Instructor (#15). Mind you, there are a few things on the list (#5 Political Aide, #18 Artist or #23 Criminologist) that I can't picture myself doing under any circumstances but by and large Career Matchmaker is as good a vocational guidance test as I've ever done. It showed me yet again that like many people whose gifts lie in the Arts and Humanities, I'm a jack-of-all-trades. I take consolation from the fact that most published writers have the same kind of story to tell.

Now, all I have to do is get a book or two finished and start taking tickets in that Publication Lottery!
Sunday, 9 September 2007

Favourite Modern Authors and Books

OK, friends - here are my favourite modern authors and their books. This is not the definitive list, you understand. It's a list of my current faves in the fantasy and historical genres. I won't put them in order because that varies day-by-day, let alone week-by-week or month-by-month! Instead they are in order of author, by surname. Top ten? Hah! This is my top 25 + ring-ins and even so I'll bet I've left someone out.

Here and there I've had to include a series 'cos I just can't separate them. These are very subjective opinions so don't take them as required reading. Your taste might be quite different – as might mine, next week!

Anthony, Piers: Cthon and Prostho Plus. I was at one time a serious PA fan and these are the two I remember enjoying the most. Two more different works from one author would be hard to find. I must check them out again some time in light of my now advanced years and superior wisdom:-)

Carey, Jacqueline: Kushiel's Dart. Her others in that trilogy are nearly as good, and it's possible that her new trilogy, starting with Kushiel's Scion, is just as good or better. What do you think?

De Camp, L. Sprague and Pratt, Fletcher: The Incompleat Enchanter and other, related works. These have a complicated publishing history and have appeared under a variety of titles. All are very funny, but they are a bit dated now.

De Pierres, Marianne: The Parrish Plessis books. Incredibly original cyberpunk fantasy. Not normally my kind of thing, but I loved these.

Gaiman, Neil: American Gods and Anansi Boys. I mean to read more Gaiman as I suspect I'd enjoy all his work, as I love anything with a mythological basis. These two obviously come out of sound scholarship in that field.

Haynes, Simon: The Hal Spacejock series. These are really, really funny!

Hearn, Lian: Tales of the Otori series. I'm looking forward to reading her new prequel, Heaven's Net Is Wide.

Hobb, Robin: The Farseer Trilogy. I've actually liked all of this author's work to date, but I hope she goes back to the world of these early novels soon.

Jerome K. Jerome: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog!) and Willis, Connie: To Say Nothing of the Dog. I had to pair these because I bought them together and read them sequentially. The original was my favourite book when I was twelve and revisiting it with Connie Willis's take on it to follow was a delight.

Kay, Guy Gavriel: The Sarantine Mosaic (2 books). I love all this man's work, especially A Song for Arbonne, Tigana and The Lions of Al Rassan. My admiration for this writer, as with Carey, Luckett and Marillier, is based not just on his excellent plots and easy-flowing style but on his scholarship in the fields of history and linguistics.

Kerr, Katherine, Daggerspell. This was one of the best fantasies I'd ever read but sadly, I couldn't learn to love the sequel and haven't read any of her others. That's my failing, not Kerr's, and I shall try again some time.

Larke, Glenda: The Isles of Glory Trilogy and The Mirage Makers Trilogy. One of the most original writers on my shelf. The Shadow of Tyr, book two of Larke's second trilogy, is one of the best reads I've had in the last ten years.

LeGuin, Ursula K.: The Left Hand of Darkness is a strong contender for my very favouritest book of all. I also love her Earthsea books, which are officially YA but I don't let that bother me!

Lewis, Ada: Jenny. A sentimental fave from my teen years. Like others of that era, Lewis's work is a tad dated now. Nevertheless, I re-read this one every few years.

Luckett, Dave: The Tenebra Trilogy. (Officially YA, but see above!) Luckett is meticulously correct with his history and linguistics, even though his books are set on another world.

Marillier, Juliet: Wildwood Dancing. Another YA book. I love all this author's books but this is my top fave. Her three series, Sevenwaters, The Bridei Chronicles and the Saga of the Light Isles are also top-notch in my book. Like all good historical fantasy writers, Marillier does her research thoroughly and as with Carey, Kay and Luckett, we can be sure than her history and linguistics are up to scratch. Watch out for my review of her new YA one, Cybele's Secret, coming soon!

Martin, George R.R. A Song of Ice and Fire (series) I can't separate these, and in fact one should not because they are one long story, broken into instalments. One day it must end, I shall grieve…

McIntyre, Vonda N. Dreamsnake. This is the only thing I've read by this author, one of the most highly acclaimed of the last 30 years, but her fans assure me all her stuff comes up to the mark.

Miller, Karen: Kingmaker, Kingbreaker (duology). These are hard to beat for intrigue and adventure. Miller is just one of the many wonderful female fantasy writers Australia has produced in recent years. If I included them all this blog would fill the page.

Seton, Anya: Katherine. Not as historically accurate as a purist might like, but a good read and a sentimental favourite from early teen years. In those days I devoured Elizabeth Goudge as well but her work is hard to come by now and I didn't keep any of them, more's the pity. Mary Stewart and Rosemary Sutcliff date from that era as well.

Stewart, Mary: The Crystal Cave Another contender for top favourite. I found the others in the series good reads, too. Another meticulous writer, whose research is second to none.

Sutcliff, Rosemary, The Eagle of the Ninth (OK, what is it with me and YA books?)

White, T.H. The Once and Future King. A classic, and rightly so.

Woolley, Persia: Child of the Northern Spring. Unfortunately I didn't catch this author until her famous King Arthur trilogy was O.P. and now the books command ridiculous prices second hand, so I haven't read the others:-(

Wyndham, John: The Chrysalids. I have all Wyndham's books and read them again every few years, but this is my favourite.

Zelazny, Roger: Nine Princes in Amber et seq – at least up to book five, when I thought they started to fall off. Funny thing; I haven't really liked anything else of his.

So there you have it! Do we share any favourites? Please tell me yours!
Sunday, 2 September 2007

My Top Three

I intended to make a list of my top ten books for this blog, but when I started I realised that perhaps I should do my top ten authors, since in the Top Ten the same authors often appear more than once. Then I realised that my top ten authors would take up at least three posts so I cut it down to the Top Three. Anyway, my top ten books fluctuate month by month, and while in many cases the authors on them change only over decades, my Top Three, Shakespeare, Tolkien and Chaucer, never change.

That doesn't mean I read these guys regularly: in fact, in the case of Chaucer I'm too lazy to read the original language. And when it comes to Tolkien I liked the LOTR movies as much as the books. (Do I hear mutters of 'philistine' from among the ranks?)

Shakespeare, however, is different. I do read his works, preferably in a group and out loud. It's sad that many school children today find his language as difficult as I find Chaucer – but then, they find Tolkien as difficult as I found Dickens when I was young. Language changes and with modern technology it is changing faster and faster. The language-based arts, therefore, have become more ephemeral than ever.

Nevertheless, like many English speakers, I still admire William Shakespeare most of all. In my book, he was the best fantasy writer of all time - and he did it all with words. His plays were intended to be spoken on stage with minimal props and sets, so his words needed to stand alone without the help of the brilliant FX available to modern screenplay writers. He hardly ever came up with an original plot, either, but do we remember his sources today? Of course we don't. His contemporaries likewise plagiarised earlier writers and we don't remember them, either, until we study English lit at uni and are made to learn about them and their works:-)

And Shakespeare wasn't only the best fantasy writer but also the best poet. Not only are his plays are full of poetry but also his sonnets, read aloud, are perfect little monologues. He bridged the boundary between reading and performance better than anyone else I've read.

Tolkien I love not just for his stories and his influence on my beloved genre, but for the tremendous amount of background work he put into his writing. Anyone who invents a dozen or twenty languages, several of them in great detail, while holding down a day job deserves a medal and a pension. But his books are far richer because of this work and in my book he has set the mark for all fantasy writers after him. It is one of the things I harp on in my critiques. We can't all be Tolkien – in fact, we don't need to be – but if we are writing works set in another place and time language must be an important component. I recently mentioned in a critique that consistency in naming patterns and language generally can be a big help to the reader in sorting out who belongs to which race and fights on which side. Guy Gavriel Kay, a disciple of Tolkien, is the modern master of this discipline.

And Chaucer? I love him for his stories and his witty, wicked, compassionate understanding of human nature, but even more so because he is generally credited with being the first person to use the developing English language, rather than Norman French, as a medium for popular fiction. He is the twenty-somethingth great-grandfather of us all.

Several other writers almost make it – Defoe and Austen, for example, are probably four and five on my list, and if we look beyond the boundaries of our own language where do we stop? Dante, Horace, Goethe… Hey, I have to get ready to go out!
Sunday, 26 August 2007

Blogging alternatives

I've promised to try to keep my blog up-to-date, but what do I do when I have nothing to write about? I've had a quick skim around other blogs to see if there are any easy answers.

There aren't any easy ones, but there sure are some interesting and inventive possibilities. Some writers have fascinating hobbies or day jobs (just check out Glenda Larke for a really superb example) and some, like Karen Miller, also have the knack of interviewing other writers as well as sharing their own writing experiences. Still others have hit on the idea of joining forces and blogging as part of a team. SF Novelists is one such. Recent entries include Mindy Klasky on To Spoil or not to Spoil; Jim C. Hines on Secrets of a Good Villain and Simon Haynes on School Visits.

Another goodie in like vein is Writer Unboxed. Here, writers from a variety of genres write about the joys and sorrows of the business as well as offering articles on various aspects of the writer's craft. One of my veryverytop favourite historical fantasy authors, Juliet Marillier, blogs on Writer Unboxed as well as having her own web site

A blog I like to check on every week or so is Call My Agent. The blogger, an Australian literary agent, follows in the footsteps of the inimitable Miss Snark and says she "hopes to shed light on the sometimes shadow-shrouded world of publishing in order to help writers work out how the hell they get published". That's of interest to an awful lot of people, including me:-)
Monday, 20 August 2007

Congratulations, Helen!

I was over the moon this morning to read an e-mail sent by writing buddy Sonia Helbig to the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre SF group, telling of the success of our friend and fellow group member Helen Venn in the Centre's SF competition for 2007. This competition is an annual event, receiving scores of entries from all over the country. Previous prize winners and commended entries have come from people who have gone on to make names for themselves in the Aussie SpecFic scene including Lee Battersby; Dave Luckett; Karen Simpson Nikakis; Tansy Rayner Roberts; Carol Ryles; Cat Sparks and Lyn Triffitt (now Battersby). Helen herself has been on the short list at least twice before, which just goes to show that hard work and persistence will pay off eventually - if, of course, you are in the right place at the right time. Well, this was the right place and right time for Helen and also for Sonia, whose name appears among the commended authors. A million congrats and big woohoos to both of them and to all the other shortlisters. The full list can be found on Helen's blog

OK, Satima, I hear you ask, WTH are you doing about your writing? Well, I'm pleased to say that the WIP has grown to over 50,000ww in the five weeks since I returned from my wanderings. If I keep on at this rate I should have a decent enough first draft within the next couple of months. I'll keep you posted. I shall try to be more regular in my blogging, too (apologies to those who've been complaining and writing to ask if I'm ill!) but I've been busy getting my head back together after the peripatetic peripeteia of the last few years. Furthermore, my ISP has been speed limiting me too often, and as blogging is a hog for kilobytes I've been trying to be careful. Well, that's my excuse, anyway:-)
Sunday, 29 July 2007

Shuffling Papers

Two weeks have fled the calendar: two weeks in which I seem to have accomplished very little. I find myself discombobulated (is it possible to be combobulated, do you think?) and strangely unwilling to knuckle down to tasks that need doing; an after-effect, I expect, of having spent five months away. There is a mess of papers on the kitchen table that glowers at me when I walk by, so I avert my gaze. Now and then I feel guilty, so I shuffle the components around a bit and divide them into piles, but they keep telling me that's not what's needed. I refuse to acknowledge that they really do have to have Things done to them, so the papers and I are engaged in a Mexican standoff.

When I arrived home, I found several books waiting to be reviewed, largely from Hachette Livre who have recently set up shop in Australia under the Orbit banner. Two of them found homes with other reviewers, and I have just uploaded one of the others, which I reviewed myself. It is Feast of Souls by Celia Friedman, an excellent tale of magic and despair. Now I'm reading Dr Whom (subtitled "ET shoots and leaves"!) by A.R.R.R. Roberts. You will gather from the title that it is a spoof on all things speculative and many things linguistic:-) I should be able to get the review on line sometime this week.

At the same time, I have also been at least a bit active on the Family History front. I received lots of new information from cousins old and new while I was travelling and there were also several requests for information clogging up my inbox on my return. I think I've dealt with most of those now and am a fair way through entering the new info into my data base. I currently have a collection of 21,877 relations, most of them dead. I keep telling myself "Enough, already!" but then someone will send me a new and intriguing line to investigate and I'm off again. It's awful, loving lots of things. I've never been able to give up any of my favourite activities, with the inevitable result that I've become a jack-of-all-trades. I long to get back to my writing, but it will have to wait until I've finished entering the rest of the Dead Rellies. And, of course, dealing with that ominous paperwork:-(
Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Home again, home again, blogetty-blog

Five months ago almost to the day, I set off on a great adventure. I met many friends and rellies, new and old, and saw so many historical and scenic places that my mind is quite boggled. Two new favourite cathedrals, Winchester and Canterbury, have been added to my collection (tick, tick, - ye gods and little fishes, I've turned into a tourist!) and I've fulfilled a long-held ambition to tread where my ancestors trod in Staffordshire and Yorkshire. The Rhine and its magic will live forever in my heart, and the dizzying contrasts of Luxembourg have also created lasting memories. And the time I spent in Perth, Western Australia, recently was a precious bonus, thanks to Sandra and Ashlea who gave me the chance to house-sit for them. Am I not the most fortunate of little fat old ladies?

However, it seems that it is now time for me to settle down in Mount Gambier. I do so with not a little kicking and screaming, mind you, for part of me will always call Perth home, but I think the heavens are pointing out to me that my future lies here. First, I thought I had another house-sit in Perth lined up - for three months! Joy oh joy... but the joy turned to ashes when the owner returned unexpectedly. Then, just as I was packing for the airport, I had a phone call from Homeswest, the public housing authority in Western Australia, to ask if I wanted a refurbished flat in Subiaco. I could have wept a river, believe me, since when I found myself homeless I had to borrow the money to move to Mount Gambier. There is no way in the world I can afford to move back to Perth. That was really painful - if only they'd had a place to offer me this time last year!

While in Perth I was able to attend meetings of my face-to-face writing group and to catch up with several friends from the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre. I also went to a couple of meetings of the Society of Editors and one with the Shakespeare Club of WA. It's sad to think that I won't be able to do any of those things in the future. Nevertheless, there are some things I can do even from the wilds of country South Australia, like my work as Reviews Editor for The Specusphere. I've recently uploaded no fewer than eight new reviews, two of which I wrote myself - see links at left. (Others were kindly submitted by Edwina Harvey, Donna Maree Hanson and Bobbi Sinha-Morey.) I can also stay in touch with writing buddies and exchange crits by e-mail. And there's always the phone, and Skype, and texting - no, my friends in Perth and elsewhere have not heard the last of me!

And I can submit works for publication by e-mail. In fact, I have a piece in a new poetry anthology, The Weighing of the Heart, edited by Roland Leach, Shane McCauley and Donna Ward, with an introduction by John Kinsela. I'm in extraordinarily good company, with people such as Kevin Gillam, Mardi May and Ross Bolleter, among others, being represented. There are some very fine poems in the antho. Mine is the only conventional one, being a sonnet, but if you like modern poetry you will love this book. New Editions in Fremantle has it, or you can order it from the publisher, Sunline Press in Cottesloe, Western Australia. They can be found at http://www.sunlinepress.com.au/sunline/

Enough procrastinating. I really must get back to sorting out the mess I've made with unpacking!
Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Friends and Rellies

I've had a wonderful few weeks in Perth. I've caught up with many old friends and had some great yarns over coffee. It's so good to be with like-minded people who like to discuss matters of mutual interest in some depth. Being with fellow writers has inspired me to get on with the Trilogy. I'm nearly 40,000ww into the new book one and have had useful critiques from several writerly friends.

Through a family history site, I've also met a new cousin for the first time. Andrew is my second cousin, being descended from Emanuel and Martha FLAVELL who married in Dudley, England, in 1873. Andrew's family immigrated in 1958 on the Stratheden, the same ship my lot arrived on in 1952! His had the sense to get off in Perth, however, and have stayed in WA ever since. I had a lovely coffee-chat with Andrew and his wife and his dad, too, last weekend. His dad, now in his eighties, remembers my father and grandfather as well as Manny and Martha in person! How strange that we've lived in Perth so long without knowing each other! However, we intend to swap family photos and stay in touch now. Family history is a super hobby as you meet such nice people:-)

Did I mention this is the best place in the world to live? It's just such a darned shame that property prices have gone up so much that many low-income people such as aged pensioners (like me) can't afford to live here any more. We are moving to the country in droves, apparently, and with a one bedroom flat in Perth likely to cost you over $200pw there's small wonder. I'm feeling around for more house-sitting so I can stay in Perth a while longer or come back next year! If nothing turns up now I fly out on Wednesday 11 July:-( A bright spot: son Scott is back after five weeks in the States and I'm looking forward to spending time with family over the weekend.

Happy Fourth of July to all my Stateside friends!
Saturday, 23 June 2007

Progress on the WIP

Since being at my friend Ashlea's house I've had lots of time to write. I have the computer to myself a lot of the time and Ash has unlimited broadband - whee-ee! Kaya, the house's Elder Daughter, is just back from India and catching up with all her friends, so there are young people in and out at all hours. It's nice. It reminds me of my student days, or the time I was running a dance group in Enzed and always had dancers sleeping over in the studio and sometimes on the floor of my flat as well.

I caught up with most of my Perth friends within a fortnight of touchdown, so the social pressure is off. (Mind you, I hope to see them all at least once more before I head back to South Oz on 11 July!) I'm back into writing mode, therefore, and it feels good.

With the help of my Face-to-Face group, I actually drafted a plot outline for The Trilogy before I went to England early this year. Having struggled with the monster for nearly four years it's about time I got all those characters and their shenanigans into some kind of order. Now I've actually started writing, I find the storyline changing a bit under my fingers, but not so much that I lose sight of the plot. I thought that planning might make the actual writing tedious (what's the point in a story if you already know the ending?) but actually I'm finding it just as exciting as "flimmering" my way through. Now the excitement is in things like little details of setting and nuances of character rather than "what happens next".

The first thirteen chapters are in first draft and already it reads far better than anything else I've written. (That's not just MHO, BTW - my critters all say the same, which is encouraging.) Part of the improvement lies in a better grasp of the way readers like POV presented these days. Having grown up with Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransom and Rudyard Kipling and later graduating to writers of the sixties and seventies, I was used to the omniscient author style, in which it's fine to foreshadow events or to comment on the character's predicament. ("Little did he know that this would be their last meeting...") Intellectually, I could see that these techniques were out of favour, but I still didn't manage to get myself right out of the story and let the characters get on with it. I think I'm managing to do that much better now.

Not that the "tight third" POV is anything new. Jane Austen used it somewhat. In fact, Austen never strays very far from her character's thoughts and feelings, even if she doesn't always express them quite as intimately as a modern genre writer would. My friend and teacher Michèle Drouart assures me that Flaubert was actually the first writer to use this style. Being academically trained (she has a double major in French and English lit!) Michèle calls it "FID", which stands for Free Indirect Discourse. If you live in Perth and aspire to write, BTW, you could do worse than to enrol in Michèle’s writing classes. They are not only instructive, but great fun as well. And if you haven’t already read her autobiographical novel “Into the Wadi”, please get hold of a copy. It’s a great read.

Ok, Ok, I hear you. (Or is that my conscience speaking?) Blogging is displacement activity. I shall get back to the monster now.
Monday, 11 June 2007

England in Retrospect

Dear bloggie, did you think I'd forgotten you? Once again I've had only limited internet access so blogging has taken second place to checking e-mails and looking after mailing lists. However, I've now settled into a very comfortable house-sit in Mount Claremont, Perth, where I expect to stay for another week or two. I've caught up with most of my friends and have had some wonderfully warm welcomes. Good old Carol put on a BBQ for KSP members to get together and once we'd finished scoffing all the delicious tucker Carol and her mum had prepared for us we talked writing until we were hoarse. I've also had one meeting with my lovely Face-to-Face crit group, with super feedback on the opening chapters of my WIP - a whole fresh start on The Trilogy. Note upper case. The Trilogy has taken over so much head space that it really should be called The Encyclopedia Satimica.

Who in their right minds decides to start their writing career with a trilogy? Well, I did write one novel beforehand but that was very much a praccie run and no one likes it except me:-) I've had a few goes at short stories but they don't seem to be my thing. Casts of thousands and complicated plots are what I like best. (Read George RR Martin if you don't know the kind of thing I mean.) However, it was probably a bit greedy to try and write a trilogy in that style right off, and for three or four years I've been bogged down in a superfluity of characters and situations that don't go anywhere. What's more, all my characters seem to have loads of friends and siblings who want to be in the story too, so it's been very much a learning process for all of us:-)

I'm back in the writing fray now, however, and I'm sure my recent travels will continue to simmer in the stockpot of my mind and eventually become entries in the aforementioned Enclyopedia Satimica. All that history: the wonderful old buildings; the graves of ancestors; Canterbury Tales; the house where Jane Austen spent the last weeks of her life; the Sedgley Beacon, the amazing C18 house A la Ronde in Devon; sites of ancient battles; Roman and Saxon artefacts - all that and more, especially the glorious English countryside, will be fuel for the creative flames. (Although in my case perhaps 'the creative flimmer' would be a better description.) But much as I love the land of my birth, I would not want to live there.

Why? Well, basically, the place is overpopulated. The most obvious consequence of this (apart from the overcrowded roads) is the style of housing. So many rows of red brick terraces with no focal point eventually made me want to scream out for some open space with individually designed houses set on their own plots of land, like the ones we have traditionally preferred in Australia. English houses tend to be dark and stuffy inside, too, with poky little rooms. Add the almost sunless climate and you have a recipe for severe depression. Mind you, when they do have a genuinely fine day in England it is idyllic, but you can expect to see, at best, half a dozen such in any given year. And there are some truly beautiful houses, but the cost would be way out reach of the average person. We think housing is expensive in Oz, but it's twice as dear in England, whether you are renting or buying.

Which brings me to my other major gripe: the cost of living in the UK. It is positively scary, especially if you're on a pension. There was so much more I wanted to see and couldn't because even a short bus ride set me back the equivalent of $AUS10! For the price of a round trip coach ride from Exeter to York I could travel halfway from Perth to Bali. Not that I'd want to do that, of course, since I'd be in the briney, but the fact is you can travel three times the distance in Oz for the same price. And the trains are even dearer.

It is very expensive to eat out, too - here in Perth I am used to meeting friends for coffee once or twice a week and it doesn't break even my pension-based budget, but in England, with a badly made capuccino costing the equivalent of $AUS5, that just wouldn't be a goer. And if you like to dine out, forget it. Clare took me to a carvery one day and it cost £11 each - and that was on special. Eleven pounds, dear reader, is about $AUS27, for which we could have as much meat as we liked (fine of you're not a vegetarian!) and a serve of baked spud and overcooked cabbage. No salad. No dessert. No coffee. Eleven quid. I truly don't know how pensioners keep their heads above water in England, let alone have any quality of life.

The banking system is way behind that of Oz, too. ATMs in England generally only cater for credit cards, so you can't take money from your savings account and nor can you make a deposit. And there are charming ideosyncracies in the transport system as well - you can book the same train fare, for instance, in six different parts of the country and pay six different - and widely varying - prices.

The funniest thing though, transport-wise, happened when I tried to find a timetable of buses between Winchester and Salisbury at a bus company's office in Winchester. "You'll have to go to Salisbury for that, love," said the woman at the desk.

"But how can I get to Salisbury to get a timetable if I don't know when the buses go?" I asked.

The woman shook her head impatiently, "Different bus company, love. They don't have an office in Winchester." It obviously hadn't occurred to the bus companies concerned that they could stock each other's timetables. No wonder tourism in England is such a hit and miss affair.

Oh, and if you're into hostelling, be warned - the YHA's prices can actually be anything up to twice the advertised rate.

So I'm glad to be back in Oz, and I'm glad I went to England too, even though my credit card is maxed out, my cheque account's in overdraft and my savings account contains $50. I am deeply grateful to my sister Clare and all the other kind people who not only made the trip possible but opened their homes and hearts to me as well. I wish you all lived in Australia:-)
Thursday, 24 May 2007

Fast Forward

The last ten days have been so full that I suspect I've ceased to take in details. Those I have assimilated have already run into each other like water colours on porous paper but I'll try to remember as much as I can so that the precious memories don't vanish altogether.

On Wednesday, 16 May, Clare saw me and my very overweight suitcase off on the coach to London from Exeter. We were sad in our goodbyes, for it seems unlikely that we will ever meet again - but who knows? Back in the Land of Oz, I shall resume my regular purchase of Lotto tickets. They've never brought me more than about $20 and that very rarely, but I remain the eternal optimist.

On arrival in London I reported to Diana's place and the pair of us caught up on gossip as I repacked my bags in readiness for a few days' meandering. It was 10.00pm before I arrived at my first destination, St Neots in Cambridgeshire, where I was met by e-cousins Dennis and Sheila, who provided me with a cosy room and a welcoming bed. Sheila had to go out the next day but at her suggestion, Dennis drove me to the neighbouring village of St Ives - the real one, of seven wives and multitudinous sacks, cats and rats fame. A very pretty place it is too, with a tiny medieval chapel on a bridge and an excellent local museum. Dennis and I talked family history non-stop, for we have two names in common - FLAVELL in Staffordshire and HINCHCLIFFE in Yorkshire, although the latter has so far failed to provide a link between our two branches. Mid-afternoon soon rolled around and it was time for me to catch the first of three buses that would stage me to Canterbury.

What can I say about Canterbury that hasn't been said already? Nothing, I suspect, since Chaucer's characters are all alive and well there, albeit in modern guise. Today's "pilgrims" come from much further afield than Bath and northern France: visitors of many shapes, sizes and colours stroll the streets. Even veiled Islamic ladies can be seen touring the famous cathedral alongside parties of students from mainland Europe and eager tourists from America, Asia and the Antipodes. No doubt each one would have a tale to tell if time permitted them all to be collected.

Touring Canterbury Cathedral is no mean undertaking. Like its sister in Winchester, it is enormous, and like all British cathedrals it is full-laden with history. I paid my respects at the tombs of a dozen or more direct and indirect ancestors, several of whom were of the priestly persuasion. (They were among the indirect ones, of course - or so one hopes!) On the tomb of Edward, the Black Prince, his effigy reclines in gilded armour and a nearby wall cabinet houses his orginal "funerary achievements", comprising an enormous helm, a tunic, a shield and sword. On the other side of the quire repose his nephew Henry IV and his second wife, Joan of Navarre. The tomb of Henry's daughter-in-law, Margaret HOLLAND, dominates the side chapel of St Michael, which Margaret herself had founded. She lies buried with her two husbands, John BEAUFORT (half-brother to Edward, the Black Prince) and Thomas PLANTAGENET (son of Henry IV and his first wife, Mary de BOHUN). I wonder if medieval tomb effigies were good likenesses? Certainly the ones in Canterbury Cathedral all look like real individuals, not just idealised role-representatives.

In any case, the ancestral images were just the icing on the Canterbury cake. The cathedral is, of course, the site of Thomas Becket's martyrdom and a chapel now graces the vestry where he was slaughtered. I winced to see several people sitting on side benches, chatting on their mobile phones. However, I should imagine Thomas is big enough to encompass C21 behavioural peculiarities.

The brevity of my visit meant that I couldn't attend any services; however, it was a bonus that the marvellous choir was practising for part of the time (three hours!) I was there. Footsore, I wound up in a nearby Starbuck's to recover before waddling down to the ancient chapel of St Mildred and the very impressive ruins of the town's Norman castle, by which time I'd had enough of journeying and headed back to the Youth Hostel and the closing chapters of George RR Martin's Steel and Snow part one. (I have only recently started reading Martin and I'm already a born-again devotee. His characters are clearly delineated and his stories superb.)

On Saturday I humped my bluey down to the bus station in the hope that they had a left luggage facility. They didn't ("because of security", a booking clerk explained) but a further query at the Tourist Information Office resulted in my grateful dumping of a large bag (I don't do small ones) at the nearby Kings Inn B&B.
They kept it for several hours for only 1GBP, which freed me to wander unencumbered to the C12 Eastgate Pilgrims' Hospice, a picturesque and atmospheric place with a vaulted roof and Norman arches which even today provides accommodation for several elderly people. An early C12 tempera mural of Christ in Majesty still graces a wall in the old refectory.

Then I hied me down to the delightful Greyfriars Gardens where I consumed my packed lunch beside a stream bordered with lupins, ivy, periwinkles and peonies before making for Canterbury's wonderful Roman Museum.

What a treat! A partially excavated Roman villa with a hypercaust that would have heated the bath-house and its hot pool. There are remnants of a mosaic tiled floor; not as complete as the one in Luxembourg, but lovely, nonetheless. Numerous items excavated from this and other local sites demonstrated some of the minutiae of Romano-British life in a very realistic "shop window" type of display. Armour, hairpins, pottery, jewelery and tradesmen's tools all help build a picture of an era that ended less than a century before the Saxons began moving in.

There are many other sites worth visiting in Canterbury: had I had cash enough and time I would have stayed longer. St Augustine's Abbey and the nearby church of St Martin, which has stood for over 1600 years and is the oldest parish church still in use in the UK, would have been a fitting finale to my visit to Cantebury. However, London was calling, for I had never seen Buckingham Palace and Diana had promised to take me there on the Sunday.

Sunday was a lovely day. We had plenty of sunlight for our photos outside the palace gates, after which a number eleven bus carried us to St Pauls. Nearby, we found a handy pizzaria wherein we fortified ourselves for evensong.

Evensong at St Pauls is
an experience not to be missed if you're in London on a Sunday. The sound of those exquisite voices reverberating around the dome is passing indescribable.

Monday dawned gloomy, reflecting my mood as Diana and I set off for Heathrow, where the kind check-in clerk made no comment on my overweight luggage. (How did I acquire nine kilos of books and souvenirs?) A long chat over coffee then I bade Diana a teary farewell before heading up to the departure lounge to board my flight to Dubai.

At Dubai airport, inspectors deprived me of a tube of toothpaste as it was over the acceptable weight. The Aussie immigration authorities are very thorough, which is consoling in regard to terrorism, but not toothpaste. After no fewer than four baggage inspections, a dreary flight home to Perth, and here I am, two days later, very jetlagged but looking forward to seeing my many friends here as I housesit for the next two weeks before returning to Mount Gambier.
Tuesday, 15 May 2007

A visit to Sedgley

Another long silence, mainly due to lack of internet access. I can have a free half-hour at Topsham library each day but today that was wasted by a system failure. I'd paid for an extra hour and half and it's nearly all used up with e-mails, so I hope I can get this post up before the machine boots me off!

I spent three days last week in the town of Sedgley, Staffordshire. Like Dewsbury in Yorkshire, this is one of my ancestral home towns - my father's family lived there for generation after generation until they moved to Yorkshire in the late C19. For the most part, they were coal miners and nail makers, and as the region is known as part of what's called the Black Country, I was expecting a desolate old industrial town that had lost its way, like so many others in the Midlands since the death of the mining industry.

Not so. I found a delightful collection of villages, separated by rolling green fields and woodland, interlaced with lovely parks and quiet lanes. Rhododendrons and peonies are in full bloom, and even the roses are putting on a beautiful show - all at least three weeks early! Well, I came intending to enjoy an English spring and I've certainly had that, albeit a highly compressed one because of the early warm weather. Now the trees are wearing summer green and it's nearly time for me to go. I return to Perth next Monday, but I hope to have at least one or two more adventures in the interim!

I met several e-cousins in Sedgley - Jean and Keith, together with Christine and her husband Stephen, made me feel very welcome. Christine should have a medal for her help - she spent a whole day with me at the local archives, where we uncovered a few more details about my KEELING, HODGETTS, PERSHOUSE and DUDLEY ancestors. Christine and I have a lot in common - like me, she is an editor and a Shakespeare enthusiast and she has managed to combine these skills because she actually edits editions of the plays! One she was involved in recently is the OUP's new Othello under the leadership of Michael Neill - a handsome book and all the better, I'm sure, for having Christine on the editorial team.

On Friday Christine and Stephen took me to Dudley Castle, residence of a long line of my DUDLEY ancestors but now a zoo. (Sic transit!) The building was largely destroyed in the Civil War, but it is still possible to see the layout and to go into the undercroft, which boasts an excellent historical and archeological display. The zoo is home to several endangered species and is doing its bit for conservation. Like all such establishments, it is short on funding. I wish I had pots of money to donate.

Having walked the stones where my DUDLEY ancestors walked, I brought myself back down to earth with a decent feed of fish and chips in the castle's restaurant, where I met another DUDLEY descendant; Lucy from the States. Christine took a photo of us together and commented on our resemblance. No doubt Lucy and I are cousins twenty times over, as are many folk of British descent, especially those from the Black Country, it seems:-)

Having fortified ourselves with fish'n'chips, Christine, Stephen and I headed for the nearby Black Country Museum, a wonderfuly recreated village set on 25 acres, complete with shops, houses, a school house, a church and workshops of various industries including a working glassmakers' where souvenirs can be purchased. The main industries of the area - coal mining, iron smelting, brickmaking and the metal trades - were also represented.

Many cottages in the Black Country had small workshops attached for the manufacture of nails and chains. I tried to envisage my great-great-grandmothers and their older children forging nails on the sturdy little anvils while the younger children, even toddlers, worked the bellows. The menfolk, of course, would have spent long hours "down the pit", hewing coal. These people were poor - sometimes desperately so - but they had a toughness and resilience that enabled them to maintain an optimistic outlook despite the back-breaking labour and poor conditions that left them open to outbreaks of cholera and other deadly diseases. Even so, many survived to a great age: my four great-great grandparents on my father's side lived to an average age of 83.

How, you might ask, did I come to have some ancestors at the castle and some in tiny cottages? Well, that's life, eh? A few generations can make a huge difference to the fortunes of a bloodline, going from high to low due to illegitimate births, girls "marrying down" and the inability of most families to provide an inheritance for any children other than the eldest son. The reverse journey, from low to high, is much less easily achieved, fairy tales and fantasy novels not withstanding:-) I love my miners and nailers no less than my lords and ladies, and I wish I could visit the little cottages and workshops of the former. The closest I can get is to visit places like the Black Country Museum as well as the churches where they married, had their children baptised, and were buried.

In All Saints Church, Sedgley, Christine showed me the pew paid for by my 10xgreat-grandfather, Richard PERSHOUSE. He preferred the variant PARKSHOUSE, so the carved letters over which I ran my fingers read Ricardus Parkhousus, 1626. I'm sure Richard and his wife Jane would also have run their fingers over the letters with great pride when they first inspected this symbol of their status in the Sedgely community. Richard had done well for himself - the scion of an old yeoman family, he had risen to become attorney and estate manager for Edward, the fifth SUTTON lord Dudley, and had married Jane DUDLEY, milord's illegitimate daughter. Edward and Richard, it seems from some accounts, sometimes exhibited behaviour that was far from gentlemanly, dispossessing tenants with threats and violence. But might not my poor miners and nailers, or even I myself, have done the same, given the power? Who knows? That Edward loved his mistress, my 11x great-grandmother Elizabeth TOMLINSON, there can be little doubt, and there is no reason to believe that Richard was anything other than a kind husband and father. What a strange mixture we humans are, with our kindness and cruelty, generosity and selfishness. Lords or miners, we are all capable of the lot, aren't we?

Saturday brought a long walk up to Sedgley Beacon, a vantage point more than 700 feet above sea level and the highest point for miles around, affording magnificent views of three counties - Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire. The Black Country is no longer black, and the view of the Welsh border must be much as it was in medieval times when some of my ancestors made their way from Wales into the Midlands. The walks Christine and I took around Sedgley enabled me to appreciate the local styles of architecture, which are much more varied than those of other places I've seen in the UK. True, the ubiquitous red brick still dominates the streetscapes, but there are far fewer dreary rows of terraces and semi-detached houses. Instead, there is a charming mix of single and double storied designs and individual facades. The Black Country bred tough, individualistic folk and this is reflected in their architecture.

I am deeply grateful to Stephen and Christine for giving up hours of their time to show me around this very special part of the world. Now I'm getting ready for London, Cambridge, Canterbury - and home!

I'm about to get booted off the computer - no time to check for typos!
Friday, 4 May 2007

Day Trips

My long silence has been due to inactivity. I've spent the last two weeks lazing about, for the most part, although I have had a couple of enjoyable day trips around Exeter. I've also spent a lot of money on summer clothes, having foolishly assumed that it would not get hot here until after I'd left in late May. In actual fact it has felt like summer for nearly four weeks, April having been the UK's hottest on record. (By "hot" of course, they mean it's over twenty degrees celsius. A trip to Perth, Western Australia, in the height of summer would show them what "hot" is!)

So I've been haunting the second hand shops picking up lightweight garments. Clothing, new or second hand, is no longer cheaper here than in Oz. In fact, I haven't found anything that's cheaper here except cheese and antiques. Yet wages here seem no higher than in Oz, so how low-income people survive I can't imagine.

Although antiques don't feature in my budget, cheese certainly does. The array of cheeses available in this country is amazing. I've been working my way through a few of them and found them all delicious so far. I'll carry on testing them in case there are any nasty ones:-)

The big expenses for me are internet access and transport. I'm hoping to take a bus trip next week to Sedgley, in the West Midlands, one of the ancestral villages, and it's going to cost me just over $AUS100 for bus fares! Even a local ride costs over $AUS5.00, so I haven't been taking as many day trips as I would have liked.

I'd love to see native British animals, but the parks and zoos that feature them are way out of town and inaccessible by public transport, even if I could afford it. I have, however, been to several local villages including Exmouth, Sidmouth and Ottery St Mary. The last named has what is said to be the best parish church in Devon, and indeed it is a lovely C14 building, much of it original. It is a miniature version of Exeter cathedral, and even though it is on a smaller scale the design still works beautifully.

Exmouth and Sidmouth are also delightful. The latter has a really excellent shopping centre with old establishments jostling new ones in a large pedestrian precinct. Exmouth is quite a big town. It reminds me a bit of Fremantle (minus the capuccino strip) with its winding streets and old buildings that must have once served as administration centres for the port. Like Fremantle, it was once the port for the region's main city, but those days of glory are gone. Now it is purely a holiday place and a dormer for people who work in Exeter. It does need someone to go and set up a good coffee shop, though. No one here seems to know how to make capuccinos properly. You know, the kind where the foam heaps high over the cup's rim and is crowned by a decent amount of chocolate...

Back in Perth in a couple of weeks. A cappucino will be my first purchase!
Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Recuperation Time

I've spent the last week lazing about, for the most part. This travel stuff gets more and more strenuous as one ages, especially for one like me who is genetically incapable of travelling light. I've always envied people who could backpack with nothing but a spare pair of jeans and a towel. I've never been able to do that and as I get older I find myself more and more attached to necessities such as talcum powder, vitamin pills and at least three or four books. I always tell myself that I'll pass the books on when I've read them, but when push come to shove I find I can't. And people know I read so they give me more.

I did have a day in Exeter last Wednesday, renewing my acquaintanceship with the cathedral and checking out the oldest churches. Tomorrow I hope to visit the museum and maybe see the old Roman wall.

On Saturday night I attended a lovely concert of medieval music at St Margaret's church, given by a group called Compagnie Guilia. They played a variety of instruments, not all of which are necessarily associated with the period - bass viol, bouzouki, mandolin and concertina - but the arrangments worked beautifully. The program comprised many works by that revered composer Trad, together with pieces by Machaut, de la Halle, Codax, and Anchita. Original material by the group's leader, Julia Thomas, and another modern composer, Dave Whetstone, was also included and were well in keeping with the period. Two members of Companions of the Quest demonstrated dances and led us in a merry farandole. For the first time ever, I danced on someone's grave - several someones' actually, for like many old churches here in the UK, there are graves under the floor of the aisles. I doubt that the old place (St Margaret's dates back to Norman times) has seen such merriment in many a year! You can check the group out at
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