Some of my visual inspiration for the current book.
The 'Shallow Sea', a fantasy set in tropical paradise, full of hidden danger.
Okay, my blurb needs work.
Feedback from my felow RORees was frank but supportive. It took me all of half an hour to see that I had to 'kill some of my darlings' to improve the book. So far I've written a new beginning for the book and because of this I've had to restructure it. I'm also shifting from three first person VPs to one first person and two third person. Sooo much work, but I'm loving it because I can see the book evolving into the vision I have in my head.
The only thing holding me back is cooking food, washing clothes and driving kids to the train station. But even as I do these things, the characters and visuals revolve in my head.
Photos taken on my phone, so they are a little grainy.
All we've done is rave about the food at ROR. So here is proof that people do some work. Here is Tansy writing book 2 of Creature Court.
More naked youths falling from the sky, I say!
And here we are preparing food while Dirk tells us what to do.
I'm 40 pages into a rewrite of the beginning of my book, thanks to the power of critiquing. Maxine did an 'invented noun' word search of the first 10 pages of everyone's manuscript and discovered I was the worst offender for overloading the reader with invented words. Sigh. I am trying to redress this.
It is good to be back home, mind you, the food was better at ROR!
Back from ROR, and just back from work, with a few minutes till I crash into bed. ROR was, as it always is, fun, daunting, fun, and just the most incredible time you can have with a bunch of writers on the top of a mountain. I had the most amazing time reconnecting with some of my favourite people in the world.
Something that I am always delighted and humbled by is the sheer generosity of my fellow ROR folk. We're all friends now, but it doesn't blunt our critiques. There's something truly delightful and daunting about five minds focused utterly on your story. Each of us has a different idea of how a story works, but everyone of us is equally passionate about story, and story structure; about the words and the characters and the worlds. And that excitement, generosity, and passion is carried into every critique.
Which is wonderful, and exhausting, because you only want to give your best back.
We worked hard on that mountain, my friends. Very hard. And I can say that my novel will be much better for it: a stronger, more balanced piece of writing. For me that's priceless.
The critiquing was only the start of it. Six people (six writers no less) in one small house, and not a single argument. When something needed doing we pitched in and did it. Six writers, people, in one small house ten minutes drive out of Montville – and we left with all our limbs intact, remarkable.
And then there was Dirk's cooking – which has been addressed before, but hey, should be again. So much food and so good. Not to mention the Daiquiris! How is it that I'd never had one of those before?
I'd not been to a ROR with Dirk before – I stupidly missed the last one – and I have to say it was a pleasure having him there. And not only for the food, his critiques were precise, concise and on the money – I've already got a new scene planned out for my book thanks to him, and one that closes a couple of serious plot holes. He added a whole new dynamic to the crits, and I can't imagine how we ever did without him.
Yes, it was an amazing four days, and a reminder to me of just how nice, and generous, my ROR family is.
I'm missing them madly, wishing all their manuscripts the grandest of outcomes, and wondering just what to expect in our next ROR in 2011.
Future visitors to the Montville Holiday House will find the following disturbing entries in the guest book, detailing what happened to the writers who were housed there last weekend...
Writer’s Retreat Day One 12 March 2009 Thursday
Curious. The house is lovely, it is true. And the mist-shrouded hills, ancient and gloried in their dark, brooding forests are indeed majestic. nevertheless, I cannot help but feel - anxious. Perhaps it is merely the great storm offshore. And yet, what is it that shadows Richard’s eyes when he hears the lonely call of the cerlew by night? Why does Maxine’s hand tremble as the forg closes in like a clammy shroud? More importantly, where is Margo? What has become of Marianne?
There are mysteries here. This green and pleasant landscape - it is the smile on the face of the serial killer, think. The bones of this earth are old, and they have seen much; too much, I fear.
I am anxious, yes. I believe I shall have to watch Trent carefully tonight. I did not like the sounds he made under his breath as the sun sank below the mountains, and a moonless darkness swallowed the world.
Writer’s Retreat Day Two 13 March 2009 Friday morning
After a sumptuous dinner of wanton chicken soup and Thai beef salad, followed by melon and ginger fruit cocktail and sweet lemon tarts, we rose in expectation of our breakfast to discover that Dirk has abandoned us in the night.
Where can he have gone? Did the strange sounds in the night affright him away? Is one of us responsible?
More importantly, who will cook my pancakes?
Oh, the rain drums hard on the roof as if it, too, has secrets to hide.
[Open the door, open the door, open the door]
They’ve left me. They’ve gone into Maleny for lunch. I told them I wasn’t feeling well, which is true. But...
What is it about this place? Isolated, beautiful, but with an underlying sense of menace. The rain has stopped and I just caught a glimpse of sun. All I can hear is the steady drip drip drip of the verandah. Footsteps? i just went out and checked, thinking the others had come back, but no one was there. Was that a snatch of conversation? I swear...
I’m going out to see if someone’s there.
Am I going mad? What’s happening to those of us who are left? We came back after lunch and there was no sign of our dear Rowena. Only a cup of coffee on the kitchen counter, still warm. We went outside, we called and called - no answer.
We talked about it over a mysterious afternoon tea and rum - strangely left for us by our departed Dirk. Should we flee? But then, what if Rowena and Dirk returned?? And what about Tansy? She is still with us, but more in body than mind. Distracted, vague - as if she’s in some other dimension, living some other life. Her words to us are empty, curiously devoid of meaning and emotion.
I made a terrifying discovery this evening. I haven’t told the others, they’ll think I’m crazy. We were finishing dinner - chinese soup with shallots - and one small piece of shallot fell off my spoon and onto the floor under the table. i dived down to pick it up - and there was a small, neat, round hole in the floorboard, perfectly, perfectly round. I swear it hadn’t been there when we arrived!
Am I going mad? I came here to relax and recover - surely the illusions can’t have come back to me now.
Having a delightful time. The evenings in particular possess a certain calm, a soft, relaxing quiet that even the odd scream or two cannot shatter - besides, that is why I bought the ear plugs.
I wish everyone would just chill. Writers are so high strung. Hey, with Dirk and Rowena gone there is more than enough room for the rest of us.
I wish Richard would stop staring at the kitchen floor. If he wants it swept he can do it himself. I’m relaxing, damn it.
At least I can look forward to a good night’s sleep, have been having the most peculiar dreams. Spoke to Dirk last night, in my dream, of course. He was cooking dinner, a rather nice soup, although I swear it had writerly fingers in it, a good twenty or so. I asked him about it, and he turned to answer. No eyes, he had no eyes! The soup was nice though: the fingers chewy. My other dream was even more peculiar. I sat watching House, my fellow writings clawing at the windows. Horrible, I never watch House!
Damn it, Richard, I must sweep that floor.
They think I’m gone THEY THINK I’M GONE THEY THINK I’M GONE, OPEN THE DOOR OPEN THE DOOR OPEN THE DOOR OPEN THE DOOR OPEN
Writer's Retreat Day Three Saturday morning, 6am
I slept last night on the sofa. When I lay in the bottom bunk (because Rowena has not yet returned) it felt strangely crowded. As though someone else was in the bed too.
I didn’t sleep well - I kept hearing breathing outside the window, and when I finally got to sleep, Richard woke me by switching on the kitchen light. He was under the table, muttering, and trying to see through the hole in the floor. I could hear humming from Trent’s room.
Nobody is awake yet. I shall go for an early morning walk, sharing the dawn-fresh world with the sweet-chirping birds and rainbows.
I shall also check out the garden shed. There may be implements. Sharp ones.
Saturday morning, 8am
Where is everyone? I heard Richard and Trent fighting in the kitchen, chouting about sweeping and holes... couldn’t they leave the housework until a decent hour?
Now the kitchen is empty; no sign of them. Maxine is nowhere to be found. Someone has thoughtfully left a stack of pancakes on the table - can’t think who, Dirk is the only one who could cook, and he went missing days ago.
As I bite into the first mouthful of pancake, bacon and maple syrup, I hear a cry, and then a knock at the door.
Has one of my companions returned? I can head voices not, gathering around me. I could swear they were coming from under the kitchen table, but that can’t be right.
Another knock. I should get that.
Sometime later, in shaky handwriting which might belong to Tansy:
Ha! I'm home, and evidently I'm first to turn to The Internet, so I get to report on the ROR meeting. However -- there was so much sheet goin' down theah, I'm gonna let the other homies talk about all sorts of stuff. Things we talked about. Stuff we read. Stuff we wrote (you are soooo gonna love what we did to the guest-book!)
I'm just gonna post the menu, and that's my prerogative because I wuz the cook.
Actually, my role as cook started at the last ROR. In part, I did it because I live in the north of Tassie, which is where the last ROR happened, so I knew the local ingredients. And in part I did it because I figured if I did the cooking well enough, they might not throw me out on the basis of my manuscript about alien boogers. And I also figured I might not have to wash up. Also, I thought if we ate in a lot, it would save time and money... and most of all, I didn't really trust any of the others to cook, because I'm an egotistical bastard with an overweening regard for his own culinary efforts.
The menu at the last ROR went over very well, thanks, and I recall that overall, the cost-per-head was stupidly low. Well -- prices have climbed a lot since then, but I'll lay out the four-day menu for y'all, and you can judge for yourself whether we got value for money.
Thursday night: I got there late, due to all kinds of disaster. Dinner was Yum Nua -- spicy Thai beef salad, followed by a salad of watermelon, rockmelon, mint leaves and ginger syrup. The melon salad is another Thai recipe I've stolen, and I think it compliments the spicy-as-hell beef salad with its flavours of chili, lemon-grass, basil, onion, lime juice and fish sauce quite well. The concensus was pretty positive, anyhow, and there was nothing left of either dish. (Actually... that was a bit of a repeating theme.
Friday: Breakfast was simple -- crusty rolls with avocado, tomato and crispy prosciutto. However, I'd made a chicken stock the previous night, and being unable to get chicken bones and frames, I'd used lots of wings and drumsticks... so once I pulled them out of the stock, I coated them in a crunchy, spicy polenta mixture and baked them. As a result, we had super-tasty crunchy twice-cooked chicken for snacks and lunch and more snacks... Dinner was won-ton soup, with pork-and-ginger won-tons in a fine Chinese-style stock, plenty of fresh vegetables, shallots to garnish. And of course, by Marianne's request, there were Lemon Tarts for dessert. I'd never made them before, but they came up well, I felt.
Saturday: Breakfast was... umm... well, imagine a light quiche with feta cheese and herbs. Only instead of a crust, imagine it's been baked in a shell of thin-sliced smoky ham that goes all crispy-delicious. And then, when the quiche is mostly done, put slices of vine-ripened tomato all over the top and crank up the grill until the tomato is all soft and tasty. There was argument, but in the end, Richard christened it the "He-uiche", pronounced 'heesh'. Apparently, real men do eat it. Lunch was catch-as-can: bread rolls, ham, tomato, fine cheeses, etc. But for dinner, I took the rest of the chicken stock and ran up a risotto with chorizo and mushroom. If you don't know the delights of spicy Spanish chorizo sausage -- I'm sorry for you. Suffice it to say that the risotto vanished completely, along with the accompanying salad. Oh -- and for dessert, I made profiteroles filled with whipped cream flavoured with a little sugar and just a little bit of orange oil, all covered with a rich chocolate ganache. Again, modesty forbids I should quote the response of the audience... but I must say that Richard's mild panic attack the next day when he thought the others were eyeing off his last profiterole (I made four each) was pretty gratifying.
Sunday: breakfast was all about the fluffy pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, at Tansy's request. (Hey. Richard got his profiteroles. Marianne got lemon tart, even if she didn't make it. So Tansy got pancakes and maple syrup.) I even ran up a pancake with apple and cinnamon for Rowena. (And may I say that I was delighted to see Rowena's appetite recover about halfway into the meeting... she arrived terribly afflicted by flu, and I was very pleased when she started getting some decent nutrition!) Lunchtime was fun. Most everyone went out to a local restaurant, and I had reports of a rather nice squid salad... at $17.00 per plate. Heh. I just had a bread roll with ham and avocado and tomato. But I figure it did 'em good to be out and about, and comparing prices and menus! Dinner was baked salmon with a coating of crunchy polenta and Morrocan seasonings, accompanied by barbecued vegetables with balsamic vinegar. I rather enjoyed watching a bunch of grown adults snarfing up their vegies like that... Oh -- and there was chocolate mousse, with a chocolate ganache shell, over a base of roughly chopped brandy-sprinkled sponge-cake (okay, lamington!) for dessert.
So. That's what you get at the ROR restaurant for roundabout $90 a head.
Sometimes, the isolated life of a writer isn't so difficult to take...
Later this year, Kate will be headed off for a wonderful week in Fiji where she will be teaching a Writing Masterclass.
When I’m teaching or talking about what a writer needs, I describe what I call ‘The Three Ts of Writing’.
The first of these is TALENT – and I believe this is something you are born with. It manifests itself in a love of books and words and language, a strong and vivid imagination, a desire to transcribe the fleeting moment.
The second is TECHNIQUE. Writing is a craft, and like sculpture or music or carpentry, it can be taught. A writer’s toolbox includes spelling, grammar, syntax, story structure, knowledge of genre, an understanding of the balance of the three narrative functions. A writer can be taught how to craft strong and supple sentences, how to build tension, and how to create characters that will never be forgotten. Lots and lots of writers have an abundance of raw talent, but unlike sculptors or musicians or carpenters, they think that’s enough. It’s not. Writers must learn their craft if they wish to stand out in a crowded and competitive market-place.
Luckily there are lots of books on writing, and lots of writing courses that can help you hone your craft. The other advantage of writing courses or workshops is that you can meet other people who share your obsession with what can be a very lonely occupation. No many people I know – apart from other writers – can have a passionate discussion about Plot Holes and how to fill them, or argue about the necessity of the Midpoint Reversal. And of course, it’s always wonderful to have somebody else look at your work with a clear and compassionate eye, and put their finger on exactly what is wrong with your manuscript when you’ve been bothered about it for months.
The third is TENACITY. It takes a certain kind of stubbornness to labour over the writing of a novel for a year, or two, or five, and send it through rejection after rejection, and never lose faith in yourself. In fact, the whole process is enough to break your heart. However, if you can just hang in there, and put the work into the novel, and hone your craft as a writer, and suffer the bitter disappointments that will inevitably come your way, I do believe you’ll get there in the end. A surprisingly number of writers get by with only a small amount of TALENT, an average level of TECHNIQUE, and lots of TENACITY. If you have all three, you’ll be unstoppable!
Tips for Improving Your Writing Technique • read as much and as widely as you can. The more you read, the more finely you will hone your instinctive understanding of what works and what doesn’t and why. You will also be feeding your mind! • write every day if you can (it is like a pianist playing scales - the more you write, the more fluidly you write and the easier it seems). Also, writing begets writing. The more you write, the more you want to write – ideas will start coming all the time and inspiration will spark. • read books about the craft of writing. Some suggestions: Steering the Craft, Ursula le Guin On Writing, Stephen King Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft, Jane Yolen Making Stories, Sue Woolfe and Kate Grenville Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster Writing Tools – 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark
• Join or form a writing group. They can be great motivators, because you need to prepare something for presentation every week. They also brings you in contact with other people who can support you and critique your work. • Subscribe to writing magazines and literary journals, especially in your main area of interest (i.e. if wanting to write fantasy, subscribe to fantasy magazines such as Aurealis) These magazines accept unsolicited stories for publication so once you have an idea of what style and structure they are looking for (i.e. length of story), then submit some of your stories for possible publication. This will give you a chance to practice your tenacity! • Enrol in a writing course or writers retreat – I am running one on Fantasy Writing in Fiji in July this year. For a tax deductible $2,380 you get daily morning workshops, afternoons free to write and dream and chat with other participants, plus all accommodation, domestic flights, and meals.
I'm definitely swept up in reading manuscripts for ROR, having left it ridiculously late. Also it's a nice distraction from the painful slowness of Book 2, which stands as of yesterday at 5,000 words.
My original plan was to spend the first 3 months of this year, when I had so many other commitments, keeping this book 2 ticking along with 500 words a day. I can write 500 words a day without thinking (too much). It's a third of what I did daily during Nanowrimo. I could totally do that while editing French Vanilla, reading RoR manuscripts, preparing my daughter for her first year of school, getting my driving license, and gestating a baby. Totally.
Well, um yes. Except I didn't start any of this year's projects until halfway through January, and it turned out Little Kick demanded three hour naps a day until the iron tablets kicked in, and it's actually kind of HARD to write 500 words a day on a book that doesn't have any momentum yet. Yes, even pro writers have to relearn their limitations with every single book...
So I didn't manage it for January or February, but March is a new month. And really ALL I have to do this month is prepare for ROR, write some reviews, (do the mum thing, gestate the baby) and get a good chunk of this book written. As of April I'm really going to have to kick into gear, upping my monthly wordcount to at least 20,000 words if not more.
I can totally take 15K.
So my plan is to write 500 words a day in March. Rain or shine. Like a mini Nanowrimo. I need to get this sucker momented. [Yes, momented is a word.] Now.
The ROR group was started in 2001 by Marianne and Rowena.
We meet every year or so to critique our manuscripts. We are united by a passion for the speculative fiction genre and the craft of writing. (And sharing good food and wine doesn't go amiss, either). www.ripping-ozzie-reads.com