Monday, December 27, 2010

RAMBLINGS ON WRITING


One of the first pieces of advice I got when I started to write was: 'write what you know'. So when I started to write a novel set in Wyoming - a place I'd never been - I thought I was in trouble. But my story is set in the 1880s and I'm never going to see Wyoming in that era anyway. It would be like expecting Tolkien to have visited Middle Earth before he wrote the books. (And before the advent of Peter Jackson!)

For a while it worried me that all my characters ride horses. I haven't ridden a horse since I was a kid.  But then I realised that most of the things that happen in my story are foreign to me. For example: being shot in the leg; milking a cow; riding a train over the Sierra Nevada's; smoking a cigarette; hunting game with a Henry rifle; gutting and skinning a rabbit; experiencing a blizzard. Now I am sure there are simply thousands of books where the author hasn't experienced half of what they write. And when I think of all those crime books out there, I think we should be glad crime writers don't get first hand experience!

I've read almost every book the library has on the West and guns, horses and outlaws. I've read dozens of novels set in a similar era and then of course there's the movies. And where would any writer be without the internet? There is nothing you can't read up on or watch. You-tube is helpful too. Recently I've watched a broom being made with a 19th Century broom machine, watched a Colt revolver being cleaned then loaded and witnessed elk and wolves in their natural habitats.

I've come to the conclusion that 'writing what you know' is not so much about place and setting, but about people: what makes them tick; what motivates them; how they react to each other; the full range of emotions.  Can you write a romance if you've never been in love? Can you write a thriller if you've never been scared? Could I write the story of Maddie if I hadn't had to strive for acceptance and a place in life, myself? No.

So, with confidence, I can say that I am 'writing what I know'.

Friday, December 24, 2010

CHRISTMAS NOSTALGIA AND A TURKEY NAMED AUGUSTUS!


For me, Christmas is a time of reminiscing of Christmas's Past. The history of our lives is steeped in our traditions and as I move through these days of preparation I am haunted by nostalgia at every turning point.

Getting down the crystal bowls for the salads and ambrosia this morning I remembered the way they sparkled on our Christmas table when I was a child. As I ran my finger over the cut patterns I recalled the story my Mum told me of how this particular bowl was her 21st gift from my Grandfather.

The tattered front cover of our carol music album is decorated with choir girls in 1940's perms and bright red lipstick. They remind me I always thought angels wore lipstick!

Tonight we will go to Midnight Mass, and I know the heady scent of incense will take me back to the Christmases when my children were younger and their warm heavy heads lay asleep on my shoulders and my back creaked as I stopped them from falling off the pew. I know that when Mass is almost over and the Priest puts the statue of baby Jesus in the waiting manger, that I'll shed a tear or two of thankfulness for His great gift to us.

Another memory was refreshed today as I made stuffing for the turkey. The last time I had turkey at Christmas was when I was four or five. My family were holidaying in a little place called Sutton, which is in an isolated part of Central Otago. We stayed in a little wooden house, with no electricity or plumbing. My mind boggles as I remember how Mum packed up everything we needed in the car. Plates, crockery, cooking utensils, linen, special Christmas food and presents as well. All for a family of five. Mum, you were a legend!

But the Christmas I remember the most in Sutton, was the one where Dad decided we would buy our own turkey - alive! I wrote a story about it a couple of years ago and thought I would share it with you. I hope you enjoy it.

*Nov 2012: Sorry, but I've taken down the story as I'm looking at publishing it.





Wednesday, December 22, 2010

THREE DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS

Amongst all the preparations for Christmas Day I've been visiting friends, tending the garden and in the evenings watching movies with Hubby. Writing and blogging have taken a back seat, for now.


I've thought about my characters and their stories, spent the odd moment wondering about this bit and that. I've revisited the Christmas or two that feature in my novel, checking I had all the right elements. But that's as far as I've got. Pre-Christmas organisation and just spending time with the family are filling up my days.

The sun is scorching outside - 31 degrees Celsius, which is quite hot for a Dunedin summer. For the last two days the winds have been gale force, hot and dry. My pansies have turned up their tales, and I've just come inside from picking off all the dead heads. Hopefully they'll bounce back.

I finished rereading Cross Stitch and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I'm rereading Sharon Penman's, When Christ and His Saints Slept. I first read it fifteen years ago, but as I'm going to read its two sequels next year in my Off the Shelf Challenge, I wanted to refresh my memory. I'm only a little way into it, but I'm hooked. I'll tell you more when I'm finished.

From the wonderful Stats bar on blogger, I know I have many readers from the USA and other Northern Hemisphere countries: Russia and Canada, a few from Britain and Denmark and many other far flung places. Some of you will be caught up in the heavy snowstorms in Britain and Europe, and I hope you are warm and safe and the weather doesn't disrupt your holiday plans.

A big hello to my Kiwi readers too.

To everyone who visits my blog, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. I also invite you to leave a comment, even if it's just a simple 'hello'. It would be so nice to put some names and faces to the Stats.

Thank you for dropping by.


 

Monday, December 13, 2010

CHRISTMAS IS COMING


Here in New Zealand, Christmas coincides with the summer holidays. So apart from all the Christmas rush of activities, we have end of year break ups and the beginning of a 6-7 week school holiday. Today is the first week of holidays for secondary students, so all my children are home. Yay! Poor hubby, who teaches primary school, doesn't finish until Friday!

I'm very aware I haven't written anything since I finished NaNoWriMo two weeks ago and I haven't blogged much either. I've been attending prize givings, watching end of year plays, Christmas shopping, and I've been creative in other ways. My daughter and I have been making cards and gifts and I've sewn a Christmas wall hanging resplendent with Mediaeval angels.

Later in the week we'll be decorating the house, putting up the Christmas Tree and baking special treats. A family trip to the movies to see the latest Harry Potter is on the agenda too. But today I'm taking a leisurely re-read of a well loved book - Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon. It's a scorcher of a day, but overcast, with thunder pending. My favourite kind of weather. In the next room my daughter and son are watching Barbie's Sawn Lake and Tchaikovsky's wonderful music is floating in. Of course it's for the sake of the music that my son is in there!

So I'm feeling mellow and laid back, and I'm thinking in Scottish brogue - thank you Diana Gabaldon. And drifting off on a tangent, I recall that Sara Donati's Wilderness Series was peppered with Scottish brogue too.  I find it an interesting dialect to write and in my WIP I have one or two characters of Scottish persuasion. These Scots just pop up everywhere. There's just something about a red haired man speaking broad Scots, isn't there?

What I really need is to read a book with a character talking with an Irish accent. I can hear it, if I squeeze my eyes really tight. I can even hear the difference between a Belfast accent and one from Eire, but I wouldn't know where to begin in putting those inflections into writing. Anybody out there know a good book with an Irish accent or two? I'd love to hear from you.

The thunder has just made an appearance. It's rumbling up from the south. I'm going to go and hang out of the window now and watch the excitement. Oh I should mention, for the benefit of those in other countries, our storms are rather lame and we usually only have sheet lightning. So please don't think I'm being brave or adventurous, or even foolish!


 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

THE LEGEND OF COLTON H. BRYANT BY ALEXANDRA FULLER



I picked up this book a while ago from a sales table at a local bookshop. The cowboy on the front drew me in and when I read that it was set in Wyoming I nabbed it. It's the best couple of dollars I've spent in a long while.

It's a true story of a Wyoming boy who grows up loving horses, hunting, pick-up trucks and camping out. A boy who lives life fast and doesn't have a gear between fast and stop. Here's a quote from the second chapter:

Colton puts his hand up in class one day.
"Yes, Colton?" says his teacher. "You have a question?"
"No ma'am," says Colton."It's more of a suggestion."
"Yes?"
"Well, ma'am, I was just wondering if you could talk twice as fast and then we'll get 'er done twice as quick and then we can get out of here in half the time."


An optimist with a forgiving nature, his mantra is: "Mind over matter. I don't mind, so it don't matter." And that sees him through his teens and into his twenties. By the time he is 25 he has a wife and two sons and is working long shifts at an oil rig in Upper Green River Valley. But tragedy is just around the corner.

In a story that evokes both laughter and tears, Alexandra Fuller's powerful prose delivers the heart and soul of Colton H Bryant. And as you turn the last page you know that he is indeed a legend.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

NEW YEAR CHALLENGES

It's almost a week since I finished NaNo and I have to confess that I haven't done a word of writing since. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. I guess I just need a rest ofter the marathon event. If I haven't penned a few paragraphs - or more - by the end of this week, I might start to get worried!

At A Certain Book's latest blog I learnt that she has committed to a Reading Challenge for 2011. Good luck Joanne. I linked through from there to a whole list of challenges and have committed to doing the Off The Shelf challenge.

You can read about it here on the Bookish Ardour blog. There is a special button that I should have included in this post, but my computer illiterate brain can't fathom it. It might turn up soon, after help from my eldest.   (And there it is on the left. Thank you Josiah.)

The challenge involves reading books from your TBR shelf. I've set myself the goal of TRYING: which is a minimum of fifteen books. So I've trawled through my shelves and found fifteen titles that I have been meaning to read and just never got around to.
Here's my list:

1 - The Pyjama Girls of Lambert Square     Sara Donati
2 - A Profound Secret                                  Josceline Dimbleby
3 - King Solomon's Mine                             H. Rider Haggard
4 - Little Women                                          Louisa M. Alcott
5 - I, Coriander                                             Sally Gardner
6 - Time and Chance                                    Sharon Penman
7 - Devil's Brood                                          Sharon Penman
8 - The Captive Queen                                 Alison Weir
9 - Pillars of the Earth                                   Ken Follett
10 - World Without End                               Ken Follett
11 - Inkheart                                                 Cornelia Funke
12 - Lord of the Rings:
          The Fellowship of the Ring                J.R.R.Tolkien
13 - The Neverending Story                         Michael Ende
14 - Huckleberry Finn                                  Mark Twain
15 - Ivanhoe                                                  Sir Walter Scott

There you have it. A good mixture of historical, fantasy and classics. In between reading these I hope to cross off a good number of the titles in my TBR notebook. Most of which are recent releases. So my 2011 reading is sorted. I'll keep you posted with my progress.
                                           

Monday, November 29, 2010

I'M FINISHED!


Earlier this afternoon I pushed my word count to 50,211 words. So with a days grace I have completed the NaNoWriMo challenge.

My desk were it all happened.
What a month it has been. There were days when I thought I'd never make it and days where I soared through it. But in the end I made it.

I still have about three chapters to write for the story to be complete. I'll finish that tomorrow. Then I'm really looking forward to reading it. I knew if I glanced at it earlier my internal editor would get all excited and they'd be no hope of finishing the words.

So, book three of my trilogy is almost done and awaiting editing, along with book two. Still a lot of hard work ahead of me, but I'm dying to get stuck in.

On the home front, my daughter returned from Auckland with a whole pile of fabric scraps from her dressmaking Grandma. I envisage a good deal of sewing in the next week or so. And of course Christmas is almost upon us. So there's gifts to make and buy, cards to write and a house to decorate - although it needs a good clean first!

And somewhere amongst all that, I have promised myself to have the first draft of my first book printed  before Christmas. But right now I feel like I can achieve anything. After all I wrote 50000 words in a month!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

DAY 24 OF NA NO WRI MO

The 24th day of Na No and it's hot and sunny in Dunedin.

Today I decided to get all domestic and wash the cushion covers on my two settees. While they were blowing in the breeze I vacuumed down around the edges of the settees. I hoped for money or forgotten possessions, but all I unearthed were paper clips, hair ties, bandaids and a boat load of dust.
At least I didn't have to use these to wash with. 

My daughter, who I home school, is spending a few days with her Grandma in Auckland, so I made the most of the freedom and spent the morning with a writing buddy. Then when I got home I attached myself to my seat and wrote 3000 words, which brings me back up to where I should be. I've had a hard few days, where the words just wouldn't come, but I'm back on track.

My story board that was covered with little yellow post-its is almost empty. I've covered two years and 21 post-its. There are nine left. The most exciting ones, containing the big climactic end.

In the last few days we've had: unusual weddings, strange goings on at the ranch, a meeting in a lawyers office and a quiet interlude between two lovers on the banks of Hell's Creek. The calm before the storm - maybe?

With only 9995 words to go before I hit the golden 50000, I'm feeling great.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

DAY 20 NA NO WRI MO

This morning I got up knowing that there was a whole day of various activities that the family were involved in. I also had yesterday's and today's words to write. (Yesterday being one of those days where nothing goes to plan.) So when I pulled back the curtains to a misty, rainy day, my heart soared.

All but one activity was cancelled due to the weather, so I spent most of it writing. I've almost caught up on my words with: surprise visits home at the ranch, a lover's spat, a marriage proposal and the beginning of a very important dialogue between two characters. Things are about to get very dramatic.

I have surprised myself at how much I can get written with NaNo, but the other surprise is that somehow I'm reading more too. As you will notice from the side bar I have just finished my sixth book for the month: THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES by Sue Monk Kidd, which was a very good read. I watched the movie a year ago and enjoyed it immensely, but the book is even better.

Set in the 1960's in South Carolina, against a back drop of Black Civil Rights, the book tells the story of Lily. Her mother was shot accidentally when she was four and her father is a cruel, unloving man. All she has of her mother is a picture of a black Mary. A series of events leads her to run away and she finds  herself living in a flamingo pink house with black sisters May, June and August, and a statue of a black Mary.

What follows is a poignant story of love and forgiveness, sprinkled with humour. I've put the book back on my shelf knowing that I will return to it again and again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NA NO WRI MO UPDATE

In lots of places I had read that week two of NaNo was the hardest. Yep. I'd have to agree with that. Getting the minimum words out was like pulling the proverbial hen's teeth.

I went in to week three, a few hundred words behind and with bleak thoughts of tossing the whole thing in. Then came week three. I started with a whopping 3970 words on the first day and it's been plain sailing since.

I think the hardest thing is to put the internal editor away. I have to really push myself not to go back and fix that awkward sentence or check my notes for correct details etc. All that can wait until after I get these words down.There is a certain freedom in that kind of writing and when you get in the zone the words just pour out onto the page.

I'm enjoying meeting new characters and seeing the changes in old ones. Two characters are now married and happy, which made writing about them quite difficult, until I threw in a whole lot of conflict. (Rubs hands together in glee.)

Robert Leroy Parker aka Butch Cassidy
A new setting I'm using for this third book is the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Laramie. I've been doing some research on the prison and also found an excellent book that devotes a whole chapter to it. All helpful stuff. I've discovered that Butch Cassidy himself was a guest, not long after my character leaves.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a baby is about to make an appearance and just who is that man riding on in?

Wyoming State Penitentiary in Laramie

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD BY HARPER LEE

This is a book, where I knew the title and had a smattering of an idea of what it was about. I'd heard of the movie, but wasn't sure if I'd ever seen it. I just knew that it stared Gregory Peck wearing glasses. Oh, and it was a classic that my son had loathed reading for English.

So I wasn't really expecting much. In fact I thought it might get returned to the library before I'd waded through it. Well, for all of you who have never read it, go out and get yourself a copy.

This is a superbly written gem of a story, about a girl in Alabama in the 1930s. Her name is Jean Louise Finch - Scout for short.

The book begins when Scout is six and finishes when she's eight. Scout, her older brother Jem and their friend Dill get up to all the usual childhood high jinks.

Boo Radley lives down the road, but no one has ever seen him. Scout wants to - just once, and the three friends come up with lots of daring adventures to bring him out of his house.

Atticus Finch, Scout's father, is a lawyer and he's called upon to defend Tom Robinson -  a black man. Atticus is a loving, wise and upright father and citizen, but he come's against the prejudice of the town when he stands up in court for Tom.

One could argue it's an age old story about prejudice, but there is a freshness to it, that held me spell bound. And Scout is a delightful character to read.

Two reviews on the back cover describe the story perfectly:

"A first novel of such rare excellence that it will no doubt make a great many readers slow down to relish more fully its simple distinction ... A novel of strong contemporary significance."  Chicago Tribune.

"Novelist Lee's prose has an edge that cuts through cant, and teaches the reader an astonishing number of useful truths about little girls and about Southern life." Time.

 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

THE PEACHGROWER'S ALMANAC by Elaine di Rollo

I found this book quite but chance at the library. The title and cover intrigued me, so I gave it a go.

The two main character's are sister's, Alice and Lillian. The story opens with Lillian married to a missionary and sent off to India after a scandalous event. Alice remains at home with her father and numerous widow Aunts. To be honest I still haven't figured out how many there were.

The year is 1851 and in Victorian England, experiments, photography and the Empire are what concern most men, and Alice and Lillian's father is no different. He has amassed a huge collection of artifacts, both artistic and scientific from every nation and every era in history. There are twelve grandfather clocks at the bottom of the stairs and of course they chime in perfect unison. The conservatory is overgrown with every plant imaginable and it is quite normal to share a room with a nine foot stuffed grizzly, an electroplated statue of venus and a machine for peeling sixty apples simultaneously.

Both amusing and horrifying, the story moves between Victorian hypocrisy in England and the exotic yet brutal life in India. From the artificial limb that fires a pistol, to the flying machine catapulted from a huge rubber band, and from the Society for the Propagation of Useful and Interesting Knowledge to the vegetable growing Maharajah of Bhandarapur, this story pulls you along at a dizzying pace until the final climactic end.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

SUCCESS WITH A COMPETITION


About a month ago I blogged about the writing of a short story for a competition with the Dunedin Writer's Workshop. You can read about it here.

Last night at our final meeting for the year I was awarded Second Place. Yay!


Chris regained the trophy for First Place. (I'd been keeping it warm for him for the past year.) And Pen from over at The Dragon's Pen gained Third Place.


Here's my story:


SOME BODY





Cold water dragged at my legs and pulled me down into the depths of the raging river. I grasped the bank.  Mud and pebbles slipped through my fingers. Water swallowed me and tore me away from the edge.  I kicked with my legs and surged up through the surface and gasped for air.
 The current grabbed me and flung me deeper. I thrashed out, desperate for air. The river held me in its icy grip. It took me deeper and smashed my legs against the rocky bed. Bubbles of air burst from between my lips. Terror ripped through me.   
A breath of water burnt my throat. I jerked towards the surface ...
*
 “Darling, please don’t go.” Jenny caught her lip between her teeth and a drop of moisture slipped from under her lashes. 
I took her chin in my fingers. “Nothing is going to happen to me. I’ll be back tomorrow with all our problems solved. I promise.” I kissed the tears from her cheek, knowing that when I returned I would taste her tears of thankfulness.
“Please.” She wrenched herself from my grasp and turned to our dresser. The top drawer screeched as she tugged it open and plucked out a velvet bag. “Take this.” The bag fitted into the palm of my hand. “And this.”  She yanked at the gold band on her finger. 
Her slender fingers wrapped around mine, her precious possessions enclosed in my fist. I would never sell her wedding ring, nor her mother’s jewellery. 
“It’ll give us enough to get by.” Her fingers trembled over mine.
I’d had enough of arguing. I was the one who had gotten us into this mess. I would be the one to save us.
I slipped her ring into the velvet bag and drew it closed, then tucked it into my waistcoat pocket. Tomorrow I would return them to her. “Its time I left.” I scooped her up into my arms, her slender bones fitting snugly against mine. I closed my eyes and pictured her on that very first day, so many miles and so many days from here. 
I left her at the door to our little shack and scrambled down hill, weaving between the outcrops of schist.  My breath turned to mist as I approached the churning Molyneux river and I shoved my hands deep into my pockets. Soon the sun would warm the land but for now it was held in the grip of a frost.
From the river’s edge, I looked back at Jenny. She forced a bright smile, but I could see the white handkerchief in her fist. I let out a deep sigh and wished there was a better way.
“I love you, darling,” she called as she stretched her arm above her head and the scrap of white cloth fluttered a farewell.
The track turned away from the river and wound its way through abandoned claims.  It dropped down into a shallow gully, littered with piles of dirt and rotten sluices, before it meandered up the side of a steep hill. 
I reached the summit and the sprawling tent town came into view. Smoke rose from the chimneys of the three stone buildings, while black smoke belched from smouldering camp fires. There were at least ten tents missing since my last visit and I wondered how long it would take for the town to disappear.
A gecko slithered over my boot and I watched it dart into the tussock.  I lifted my cap and dragged a hand through my hair. There was a job to do. With my cap back on my head, I set off down the hill. 
*
Outside Jonty’s store sat several miners, puffing on pipes or self made cigarettes. The clink of a whiskey bottle drew my eye to the man sitting on the end of the long bench. 
“Mac.” I stood beside him, staring out over the rutted street. “Joe about?”
He made a great show of clearing his throat, spat a wad of phlegm onto the mud at his feet then tapped his bottle against the knife strapped to his thigh. “Maybe.”
I fingered the coin in my pocket, I had better uses for it. It saw the light of day for a moment then disappeared into Mac’s shapeless coat.
“Ruby’ll tell ya.” He pointed with his chin to a row of tents.
The mud was thick and well trodden about her tent.  The hand painted sign nailed to her tent post swayed in the breeze. I stood for a moment at the entrance. It had been a long time since I’d frequented a dwelling of this nature. 
There were no sounds from inside and no place to knock. “Ruby?” I called while I worried the cap in my hands.
There was a groan and a shuffle and the flap was thrown back, exposing Ruby to day light. Striped stockings poked out below pantaloons that had once been white. A red corset kept the rest of her in check.
“What’d’ya want?” she scratched at her matted hair.
I cleared my throat. “Mac said you knew where to find Joe.” 
“Joe!” She ducked back inside the tent. “Somebody to see ya.”
A loud groan and some colourful cursing came from deep inside the dwelling.  Ruby shrieked then issued a long cackle. Joe’s head appeared, the canvas gripped tightly under his chin. He squinted at me with bleary eyes. 
My gut clenched at the sight of him and my fingers sought the shape of the knife hidden under my shirt.
“In the hotel. I’ll be there in a minute.” He disappeared behind the canvas and I let out a breath.
*
The bar consisted of planks of wood perched on top of barrels. There was no piano, no pictures and very few chairs. There was however an abundance of beer and whisky. I bought a beer which left a solitary penny to my name. Tomorrow, I’d be flush enough to drink whisky. 
I sat opposite the bar with my back to the wall. Even at this early hour there were six or seven men cradling bottles or glasses. The brown bottle felt warm and smooth. I crinkled the label under my thumb as I ran the plan through my head. It had to work. It was my last hope.
Next to my ribs I could feel the velvet pouch. Their sale wouldn’t bring as much as my plan. Any relief they bought, would be fleeting. I swallowed a gulp of beer. It hit my belly and rolled and I allowed myself to ask, what if? 
Jenny was waiting at home for a miracle. Last night’s memories came to me, bitter sweet. Stirring up desire, yet hammering home the need for action. 
The door swung open and Joe stepped in. His eyes scanned the room before he sidled over to my table. 
He leaned towards me as he sat on the only available chair. “You in then?”
Close up he smelt as ugly as he looked. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the scar that ran along his jaw. Here was a rogue of the highest order. I thought of Jenny and a jolt shook me. What was I doing in this man’s company?
“I said, are you in?” He ran his fingers through his thinning hair.
With my hand curled around my knife I nodded. Joe grunted then lumbered over to the bar. Hunched over the bar, he downed his first glass. He spoke a few words with the barman then ambled back to our table, a bottle and glass in his fist.
He poured a drink, then searched the room before he spoke. “The money’s arriving in Dunstan, around four this afternoon. We’ll take them up by the saddle just north of here. Know the place?”
“Yeah.” I swallowed. 
The whisky disappeared in two long gulps. He gasped, satisfied. “Be at Tom’s place by three.” He hauled his coat around his sparse body, ran his eyes over me and left.
I studied the door long after he had pushed through it. One job, that’s all. One job that would give us a stake to start over. Put food in our bellies, clothes on our backs and a fare to get us away from this God forsaken place. 
The promise of gold had been real. There for the picking, they’d said. And it had been for many, for those who were here in the beginning. My claim had produced no more than a few ounces of dust. Enough to live on, for a time. Now with winter approaching and a baby on the way, we needed out. 
The dregs of the beer slid down my throat. The clock on the wall showed a quarter to twelve. I left my empty bottle on the table and wandered outside.  
A wagon rumbled past, filled with household belongings. Three children straggled behind it. On the buckboard sat their parents. I watched as they drove away, and I knew I was not alone in my failure. 
The store beckoned and I debated spending my last penny on a rock cake. My stomach growled as I pulled open the door. Mr Jonty nodded a greeting before laying a bolt of fabric on the counter. 
I looked about for a familiar face, but the store was almost empty. I walked passed the  post office counter and studied the scraps of paper pinned to the notice board. Some were tattered and yellowed around the edges, some were so fresh I could almost smell the ink. 
I browsed through notices for missing stock and people, then scanned over the items for sale. There was mining gear, a butter churn, a Shacklock stove and a wagon.  And in the centre, an advertisement for workers. 
“We’re heading up there tomorrow,” came a voice from behind me. I turned to find my old mate James. “There’s room in the wagon for you and Jenny.”
I stared at him unbelieving, then read the notice again. A large station up in the Maniototo had been spilt up and sold. There was plenty of work for shepherds and general hands and positions for married men as well.
“You keen?” James stood patiently as my mind ran in circles.
 I felt my mouth spread in a grin. “Too right I am.” 
“Come on, then.” He led the way to the door. “Let’s settle it with a drink. My shout.” He clapped me on the back. I swallowed my pride as I followed him back to the bar. I’d shout for him with my first pay packet.
I found myself at the same table where I’d schemed with Joe. A shiver ran down my spine, followed by a surge of relief. I patted the velvet pouch tucked close to my chest. Jenny would keep her jewels. She would keep an honest husband too.
“How’s Jenny?” James dropped into the seat opposite and pushed up his sleeves and I recalled how serious he was about drink. I wrapped my fingers around a beer bottle and leaned back in the chair. Life felt good at that moment, blessedly good.
*
The sun was sliding behind the horizon as James and I parted outside the hotel. My eyes strayed to Ruby’s tent. Joe and his friends would be rich by now, or they could be on their way to gaol. I shuddered at the thought. 
I turned my back on the dwindling town and slapped on my cap. I whistled as I walked along the muddy track. I had a belly full of beer and prospects of a job. I quickened my pace, eager to deliver the good news to Jenny.
Twilight deepened and midges swarmed to my skin. The silent river heaved beside me, a mass of whirlpools and undercurrents. Light spilled from our shack’s window on the hill above me. My beautiful girl, Jenny, was waiting. 
Water gurgled at the river’s edge and I stooped to cup some into my hand. I rinsed the taste of beer from my mouth then leaned forward for more. The earth beneath my feet crumbled. I tipped forward and plunged into the river.
*
… The black river held me. I thrust up, desperate for air. My legs and arms were weighed down with clothing. I wrenched the jacket over my shoulders. The river tore it from my hands. I kicked furiously and broke through the surface. Cold air rushed over my face and I gulped at it. “Jenny!” I shrieked, but her name was lost in a mouthful of water.
Something caught my ankle and tugged. Water rushed over my head. My lungs burned. Rocks smashed into my elbow and bruised my ribs. I groaned with pain and water filled my lungs. I kicked the river bottom and I surged up, then the current rolled me back. The second breath of water came easy. My eyes opened to the black river, holding me, cradling me. The battle for air was over. 
My body rolled along the bottom of the river as I skimmed its surface. All through the night I followed it. We left the brown tussock of Dunstan and came to a place where the banks were lined with willows.  
Clothing was ripped from my corpse. A sleeve, a ragged trouser leg, the waistcoat with Jenny’s precious jewels. Tears poured from my eyes, but when I wiped them, invisible hands touched an invisible face.
Time passed. I tried to get to Jenny, but I was bound to the body at the bottom of the river. I watched as eels and fish sniffed and nibbled my bloated flesh. On the third day my corpse was washed up onto a bank, where we lay in the sun, lost and alone.
A man found my discarded flesh and dragged it to safer ground. I watched as he dug through the stony soil while I wished I could fly home to Jenny. I needed to tell her I didn’t go with Joe. 
I sat on the mound as my body rotted below me. Hours ran into days and then the man came back with a plank of wood. He pushed it into the earth at the head of my grave then stood back and admired it. His hat came off as he cleared his throat and I knew he was praying for me and mine.
The invisible threads that bound me, fell away. I was free. But before I fled, I stood at the foot of my grave and read the inscription …
Somebody’s Darling 
Lies Buried Here. 
1865


Some of you will be unaware that this grave is in fact real. It is located close to Miller's Flat in Central Otago, New Zealand. The river Molyneaux mentioned in the story is now called the Clutha.
Another headstone stand's beside Somebody's Darling. The inscription on it reads:
Here leith the body of William Rigney,
The man who buried Somebody's Darling.

 the original wooden headboard inset into the marble


The wooden headboard for Somebody's Darling was replaced with a marble headstone some thirty years after he was buried. William Rigney was buried beside him in 1912.


     

                                            

Monday, November 8, 2010

DAY EIGHT

Day eight of NaNo and my word count is 15,315.

I got to my desk later than I intended today. My daughter had a physio appointment this morning. That's three of us in regular attendance now. One shoulder, one achilles and now one ankle!

Then there was the supermarket and homeschooling. Also I needed to hose the new strawberry plants, the sweet peas that are still hiding somewhere under the soil, and my annuals.

Then, when I finally got to my computer, my mind went blank. I had to translate my notes of: Clara arrives, Maddie and Clara clash, and Maddie and Clara make tentative truce, into several scenes covering a week or two.

Somehow I got there and even managed to exceed my word count for the day.

Two young woman, one wearing cowboy boots the other in a pair of elegant ankle boots, traipse over an icy path cut through three foot of snow. Their goal: to collect eggs from the hen house.

Somewhere between discovering that hens can be victims of coyotes or raccoons and that fresh eggs are often covered in 'unmentionable' dirt, the young women realise that they may just have something in common after all.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

DAY SIX OF NA NO WRI MO

Almost the first week has passed and I'm pleasantly surprised at how well it has gone. I haven't done my writing yet today, but last night I finished at 9,203 words. So I'm about 850 words ahead of myself.

I've found the process of writing in chronological order quite good. There have been the odd moments when I wanted to skip ahead, but I persevered. I've found that at least once a day I've paused from writing to check my progress, only to groan at the sheer impossibleness of reaching my goal. Then I would get back into the story and before I knew it, I'd exceeded the word count.

So far, so good.

I'm about to write some really exciting scenes, which should keep me motivated for the next few days.
A very pregnant and incredibly dainty, city lady is going to arrive at the ranch. A blizzard is brewing and nobody is particularly pleased to see her. In fact her presence makes Maddie downright proddy!

I can't wait to get back to it. I just need to make lunch, finish the washing, mark some homeshool work and .....

Here's a picture of a couple of men who could have walked straight off the ranch and a picture of two ladies in the latest city fashions.

                                     

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

THE ENDLESS FOREST by Sara Donati

Having reached the NaNo word count for today, I sat on our swing seat under a giant macracarpa tree and devoured the rest of this book. The sixth in the series, it is also the last and I have to confess to shedding a tear or two as I read the final pages. Not only was it farewell to a gripping, heart warming series, it was a farewell to some of the best characters I've ever read.

The opening prologue caught my heart strings. Curiosity, freed slave and great friend of the family central to the story, calls the reader to sit with her awhile on her porch. She fills in a few events from the last 10 years, then gently prods us to read on and find out more. This was beautifully written and very moving.

At first I struggled a little with all the 'little people' who had sprung up, but before long I'd fallen for them, slotted them into the correct families and the story took off.  Daniel Bonner, son of Elizabeth and Nathaniel, still struggles with a shoulder injury from the 1812 war. Then Martha, Nathaniel's ward and daughter to Jemima, returns to Paradise and puts a smile back on his face.

Jemima, bane to everyone for years, creates mayhem at every turn. She returns one last time, determined to create more havoc, but this is the last book and finally she gets her just reward.

Sara Donati wrapped the series up very cleverly with extracts from the village newspaper, highlighting both the tragic and exciting events of the Bonner family from 1828 to 1844. The final exert being the announcement of Elizabeth's death. For me it posed as many questions as it answered. Yet that is the nature of a family saga. The main characters have children, then grand-children and on it goes. Each generation have their own stories.

With a sense of loss, I return this book to nestle alongside its companion volumes. I wonder how long it will be before I pick up the first volume and begin the journey again.  

Monday, November 1, 2010

THE FIRST DAY OF NA NO: WRITING 'LOGAN'S LEGACY'

When I sat at my desk at 1pm, I was excited and a little nervous. What if I couldn't get started? What if my mind went blank? I had visions of not being able to get to the recommended word count.

I stuck the bright yellow post-it, with the outline of the first chapter, in front of me and began to type. The first paragraphs were slow. I'm never good at beginnings. Whether it's books, chapters or scenes, I struggle with those opening words. Often when I get going I need to go back and remove those first sentences. But with Na No there's no going back.

Twenty minutes in and despite the noise of the road being dug up outside, despite the bright sun beckoning, I was away flying. By 3.30pm I had a total of 2,478 words. More than the 1,667 I needed.

And the story itself? It took less than the first chapter for Logan to decide that this was his story and thank you very much, but he was going to do things his way. Ya gotta love the boy!

I'm looking forward to what tomorrow will bring.
The wide open spaces of Wyoming.

Friday, October 29, 2010

NA NO WRI MO


I avoided it for weeks, thought of a million reasons why it wasn't for me, then BAM! I was caught. NaNoWriMo  (National Novel Writing Month) for those who have somehow avoided knowledge of this event, starts on Monday November 1st.

Pen, over at The Dragon's Pen, is also joining the challenge with a cool steam punk YA novel. And fellow Mad Scribbler (that's our critique group) Chris is taking part as well.

So what is it I'm writing and where am I with Blackbird?

If you've been regularly reading this blog then you will know that for the past months I have been scratching together the final chapters of my first novel. And to be honest I feel like I have been going around in circles. I have made lots of progress, but the end has always been just out of grasp. To remedy this dilly dallying I decided to put the book aside until the end of November.

Isn't it amazing what a bit of space can do? Not two days after making this decision, a huge hurdle dissolved in front of me. I realised several chapters at the end of Blackbird had to go. They were first written when Blackbird and the next book were being written as one, but they don't fit what is now the end of the book. Removing them makes the ending much stronger. Huge sighs of relief!!! The mountain of work before me has shrunk to a mole hill.

Now to NaNoWriMo. I'm going to write the third book in my trilogy - Logan's Legacy. The year is 1892, seven months after the close of book two (still untitled) and about 3 years after the close of Blackbird. It continues the saga of Logan, Maddie and Ethan and is set against a backdrop of horse ranching in the Wyoming mountains, outlawing in Montana and the city life of San Francisco. Each of them struggle with loss and betrayal in their own way, but when love and forgiveness are finally in their grasp, the terrifying acts of two men threaten to tear their world apart.

This week I have been working on the structure and layout. The characters and setting are of course well known to me. What I am looking forward to is writing it chronologically. Blackbird was written in no order at all and I had no firm idea of the plot. I just had these people and this place I had to write about. Now, with three years experience under my belt, I have story arcs, a storyboard covered in little yellow post-its, and a very definite idea of where it's going and where it will end.

Quite by chance there are 29 post-its, each with an event, which means I can attack one for each day in November and have one whole day up my sleeve.  That's the plan anyway. Although it's a sequel, I'm looking forward to the freshness of a new story and a new way of approaching it. I'll keep you updated with my progress.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

LABOUR WEEKEND IN NEW ZEALAND

This weekend is labour weekend, which means Monday is a holiday. It's the weekend for putting in vegetable gardens. Peas planted now will be ready to eat for Christmas Dinner. It is also the weekend my Mum used to bake the Christmas cake, before wrapping it up in newspaper and giving it a weekly dose of sherry.

There is another tradition for this weekend in Dunedin. It rains. Cold, blustery and wet. It's a dead certainty. We make plans and they are always dashed with rain.

But not this weekend. Dunedin has turned on blistering hot weather. The sun has been shining and the temperature is rising. And we've been busy.

We've moved the strawberry plants, planted the sweet peas and turned the soil for the potatoes. I've selected two new highly scented lavenders for the deck and for my garden under the kitchen window I've bought a huge tray of blue pansy seedlings, one of white lobelia and a mixed tray of angel's wings.  I've also got my eye on a tray of yellow pansy seedlings, which I'll buy next week.

We've also got the duvets out for a good airing, spruced up the deck and organised shelves in our glassed in porch where I plan to grow perpetual lettuces and herbs. I want to grow basil as I've recently learned how to make pesto.

If you're wondering whether I had time to bake the Christmas cake, I stopped making it several years ago. I never could get it 'just like Mum's'. On the Christmas theme, I was in the supermarket today and stock for the festive season has arrived. Only 61 days to go!

There is still one day of the weekend left and I'm wondering if I'll squeeze in some writing, but I guess I just have.

Happy holiday!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

WILDLIFE

In a recent post I talked about the similarities between New Zealand and Wyoming in the late 1800's. Today I'm going to explore one of the differences: wildlife.

New Zealand is a country of birds. The Kiwi of course being one of the most well known. (Not to be confused with the green fruit). The Kiwi, along with many other of our native birds is flightless. The reason being we have no native mammals. Once the white settlers arrived they brought stoats, weasels, rats, cats, rabbits, deer etc, which is why many of our birds are endangered.

So back in the 1800's or even today, we can go out into the countryside in New Zealand with no fear of wildlife. We may get stung by a bee or a wasp, or on a rare occasion a grumpy seal might give chase across a beach.

Things are rather different in Wyoming. I make no claim to be an expert on their wildlife and I've never  been there, but the following is a list of animals that I know are in the vicinity of the setting of my novel and that I have mentioned in my writing.

Bears - very large and very dangerous.
Mountain Lions - also called cougars, pumas, panthers,
  catamounts or painters.
Wolves
Coyotes
Big Horn Sheep
Pronghorn deer
Elk
Deer
Skunks - sometimes called polecats. (Black and white
  stink bombs.)
Beaver - although they were almost trapped to
  extinction by the mid 19th century.
Prairie chickens
Jack rabbits
Rattle snakes
Eagles
Meadowlarks
Blue jays, and of course the Red-winged Blackbird. (Blackbird being the title of my novel.)

One of the things I have really enjoyed while researching my story has been finding out about these creatures. Their habitats, habits, life cycles and how they affected the people they lived beside. Many of them provided food and clothing, others were a colourful or entertaining distraction, but some of them were dangerous, to the point of death.

THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS by John Boyne

Yesterday I found this book stuck beneath a much bigger volume in a dusty corner of my shelves. Glad to have found it, I sat down straight away and read it.

I knew a little of the story and had heard about the movie too. I was expecting a powerful and moving read and that is exactly what I got.

Here's a quote from the back cover by Ireland on Sunday: "Simply written and highly memorable. There are no monstrosities on the page but the true horror is all the more potent for being implicit."

I've read several other books set during the Holocaust, but this was such a different perspective.

Nine year old Bruno, the son of a Commandant, doesn't know why there are so many people behind the fence in Out-With. He's angry with the Fury for sending his family to this place where he has no friends and he just want's to go home to Berlin and his five story house with a bannister to slide down. And then he meets one of the boys from across the fence and a friendship develops.

For those of you that have read this story, you know the ending and it will have touched you deeply. If you've not read it, I urge you to. It is one of those stories that will stay with you for a very long time.