Friday, January 30, 2015

Doodling Up a Garden Path

Up the garden path, R de Heer

Half the fun producing some of these sketches is, I swear, titling them. With Up the Garden Path I could mean that's what it looks like to me, or that's where I am leading you.

This was a super easy 'work' to produce. 

Start with the photo of a texture, this one is concrete. Unrelieved by cracks or weeds, but close-up. 

Finger-paint various colours onto it until it begins to suggest something to you. 

Strengthen tone here and there to accentuate the idea. 

Call it by a name, and give it its identity. Hey, presto. A garden path!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Colouring In - Selfie 1

Selfie R de Heer

Why did this turn out so good when all the other colouring-over-the-top-of-photos exercises either changed entirely, or became boggy swamps? 

Close up photo with large well defined areas easily negotiable by fingers. 

Not too many colours. 

No attempt at shading after the blue stripe along the nose.

Still Finger Painting

Table Scene
A few simple lines over a heat-challenged photo look surprisingly effective.

Doodling over the top of photos is my new discovery.

And I'm finding I love these light bright colours. Subtle just doesn't do it with finger-painting quality.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Broken Pen

The Broken Pen

A doodle. A weird hand shape. I don't yet have any wherewithal (read: software) with which I can superimpose words on art.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Learning iPad

Fright of my Life, R de Heer
Getting to grips with my not new any longer ipad is easier with something else to learn than just the slips and slides.

First I tried Valiant Hearts, a game. A historical WW1 game. I soon came to the limits of my speed and am stuck on some level that requires a couple of fell moves I no longer have in me. A question of reflexes.

Next is the sliding blocks game Shades. I'm still learning from it but not much.

Moving on.

I wanted something that would give me some useful skill, apart from being able to work the ipad.

Hit on ProCreate finally. While not free, I've already got my money's worth in meditational entertainment. It's quite calming to spend an hour 'finger-painting' (that's what I am up to) and producing imagery.

The crying sky is my limit, as you can see.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Kosi Lionhair etceteras

How easy would it be if I could use my favourite crystal wand (Thank you Mullum Music Festival Tree Fairies) and saying Abacadabra *  *  * * * have the whole of the Kosi Lionhair saga so far installed on Wattpad. 

Investigated it yesterday, though as most of you will know, I'm not one of the faeries, only a behind the scenes organiser, and so "Wattpad, here I come!" means I get there maybe next week. I will let you know. 

What I did forget to mention to Saturday Sceners and the blog's regular readers, is that I have updated the Kosi Lionhair page so that you can read up and including last fortnight's instalment, 15: The Life Lottery Intake, here. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Alchemy of Dutch and English

Wee o wee ...
Can be translated as
Dear oh dear ...
Except that 'wee' means 'woe'

In my youth, when my mother said "Wee o wee ..." to some child, it meant "Woe betide ..." We all understood that "if I find out that ..." came after it without being spoken.

As some of us became teenagers, in Australia, we'd say the Dutch words using an Australian pronunciation, as she threatened a younger miscreant.

"Way oh way ..."

Someone else would pun

"Weigh the consequences ..."

if my mother meant her words as a warning. The Dutch version would be "Wee je gebeente als je ...."

If a thing was being denied the younger child, some wise elder child would say,

"Where there is a will ...." A call to revolt, if I remember rightly.

My poor mother never could say anything to one child alone until the bulk of us had left home.


My first stop for an old word is an old dictionary. Van Goor's Engels Zakwoordenboek by F. Prick van Wely (1956)

It tells me:
Wee = Woe
Wee U! = Woe to you! (I have never hear this in speech, some kind of witch's curse?)
Wee je gebeente als ... = I'll be very unhappy if you ... (yet 'gebeente' means 'bones' which makes it sound like a medieval curse of some kind too.)
O wee! = Oh dear! (I prefer to think this would be more accurate as Woe is me!)

And there are also:
weemoed = sadness
weemoedig = melancholy
wees = orphan

The First Paragraphs, Second Draft

The Carbon-knitter, The Medic & the Dog

The first sentence intro's the POV character. The first paragraphs set the scene and tell something of the characters. And yet there is still something missing. I'm talking about the plot, of course. My usual story, I'm being caught up in narrative. 

Arbie folded her knitting into its smooth leather bag, and held the mare’s bridle to lead her into the stone gateway. Ed tied the reins to the cart’s brake and vaulted to the gravely ground. Within the gatehouse tunnel every noise was amplified it seemed to Arbie, as Ed shuffled loudly to join her for having their names recorded.

“Arbie Carbon-knitter.”

“Edward Medic.”

After some discussion along the road earlier, they’d decided to name themselves after their work. “It will help get us accepted without the usual suspicions,” Ed had said. Suspicions meant the contents of the cart having to be checked, and the sterilised medic’s supplies being pawed over.

One of the guards flanking the clerk nodded them through. “Can always use another medic and knitter.”

“Make for the forest off to the left,” said the other guard. “Bit of feed for your horse.”

Inside these, the earthen walls, lay the castle’s supply and trades village, a number of farms, several wells and a firewood plantation.

“In through here is good,” Ed said, standing up in the cart to overlook the sapling forest. He breathed deep smelling it. "I'm going to love burning that pine duff."

The horse needed Arbie’s encouragement to shoulder through the close growth beside the track.

“Whoa,” Ed said, hauling on the reins with unnecessary force. He was by far a better medic than horse master. In fact it was Arbie whom the horse looked to for its needs. It harrumphed, telling her Get me out of these traces already.

She laughed. “Got the stabilisers set down?” She and Ed had only lately come to horse-and-cart ownership, they used words sometimes that Arbie knew couldn’t be the traditional terminology. She meant the swing-back legs that stopped the cart slanting back or forward when the horse was freed.

She walked the mare from between the poles and briskly rubbed down her glossy brown coat. “You’re too good for a cart horse, you hear?”

“I am always afraid of that,” Ed said. “That someone else will think her too good for a medic’s cart.” He cleared leaves and twigs from a circle of grass. Quartered and cut out the turves. Built a little pyramid with the flammables he’s taken out. “You should be doing this. Practice. At least strike the spark. I won’t look and make you nervous.” He left the steel and flint for her and went to gather dead wood.

Arbie knelt at the fireplace. Today she would get the fire going in fewer than eight strikes. Strike one. Nothing. She reminisced. The day they met it was raining. They were both on the road between battles. Both deciding to camp in that little bit of a forest. Perhaps they both imagined they’d string up a shelter? She laughed to herself. Strike two. Was that a spark?

She’d been sitting in a fire circle as wet as something a hound dragged in. Strike three. No spark. Ed’s horse refused to stop for him when he told it in his cracked tenor voice, and walked on until it stood over Arbie in her wet fire-circle. Strike four.

A blue spark jumped from the steel. She didn’t see where it went. She’d put her knuckles under the horse’s chin and threaded her fist between chin and chin-strap. The horse stopped.

Ed slid down and came round to his horse’s head to find out why, the wet dark stopped him from seeing. Five! Yes. A spark went into the dried moss. Would it take?

She got down low and blew very gently. A curl of smoke spiraled up. That night he kneeled by her, taking in with a glance the black wet coals in the sheep’s bone she carried for embers. He said in a rush, “I’ll teach you how to start a fire if you teach me how to rule my horse?” They’d sat over the three-stick fire he’d lit despite the rain, keeping it from being rained on. Toasting themselves. Steaming. Drying. Talking. Their whole histories. 

All her gauzes were ruined. The next day, sunny, she frogged, pulled undone every bandage and wrap and gauze she’d made, and dried the swags and skeins of spider-silken yarn on nearby bushes. He dried her bags and polished them. Dried his own supplies.

He sat down beside her. “You did it! Lucky I’m quite a bad student where that horse is concerned.”

She laughed. “Such a joker you are. I was remembering the night we met. How we sat up all night over that little apple-scented fire.”

“The next day was good too. And the next night.”

“Have you heard when the fighting is due to start?” Arbie said. “I was thinking we could go into the village tomorrow. See if anyone has a sunkelamper for sale?”

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Metaphors for Living

Some of the Roads that My Inner Shaman Travels
Kali, Christ, the Goddess of All, God, the Holy Trinity, Maja, Shiva, and all the others are metaphors for proscribing how to live a moral life.

Metaphors for living are all the ways in which we get in touch with our own minds; and more, according to Jungian psychology, the way in which we get in touch with the Collective Unconscious.

To me the Collective Unconsciousness refers to the archetypes we all have imprinted in our DNA. These archetypes influence everything we do, everything we think consciously and unconsciously.

To me the Collective Unconsciousness is NOT the magical space beloved of New Agers that connects us to everything, all and the universe; and is imagined to be an amorphous all-containing cloud-like entity.

My archetypal inner shaman told me this morning to get my house in order. She is not going to give me any more solutions to story-problems until I have fixed up the big important thing that has fallen from my radar.

It's a bit like fortune telling, guessing what my unconscious mind thinks I should be doing.
Contacting the dentist about that split cap?
Ordering the owl prints from Spots to
Scanning the receipts for the Brunswick Valley Landcare Treasurer?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Constructing a Story, Stage 2

I can only tell you about writing by telling you how it is for me and encourage you to think about yours. 

Construction Site
The full title, in fact, is: Constructing a Story, Stage 2: combining the elements. As I am a seat-of-the-pants plotter, stage 1 is always with me. Elements, bits, pieces and little jewels rise to surface of my mind and are stitched into the work as I think of them.

After some thought, I discovered that I often get newsflash-sized ideas for a story in the shape of bits of dialogue. I write them down, or note them into my iphone, or on old envelopes. These give me the characters and the narratives they inhabit and are the very first elements I have to work with.

Yesterday, obviously as a result of the inspirational decision to use the carbon-knitter as a character for my sortie into Verb-land, I started getting ideas for a story using her. She is a character I had previously got to know for an anthology I submitted to, and gained a place in. (see Canterbury 2100)

Some of the ideas cobbled together made an Act 1-ish screed I posted on G+. <The Carbon-knitter, The Medic and the Dog.> This is the first time ever that I posted first draft material. Didn't feel right. There was stuff to change in every line. Every sentence.

Words are missing, misspelled, missed. But ... it was an exercise. And I discovered/became aware of the dialogue thing. Always useful, becoming aware of how one does things.

The first few ideas typed out in dialogue form. It hangs together in story form quite well.

“How long has that dog been there?” Ed said. 

Arbie laughed. “He looks hungry, and ready for his dinner with a bib tied on already?”

Ed fed the fire from the small store of sticks they’d managed to gather. The army had camped in the surrounds for a week already. 

Arbie clicked her tongue, inviting the stray to approach. “Maybe not a stray,” she said. “That bib is a bandanna, moderately clean.” She meant the colour, red, not be-grimed so much that it couldn’t be seen.

“A healthy animal,” Ed said. “I’ve seen soldiers skinnier than him. like about ninety percent.” 

“An officer’s dog, then.” Hope flared in her breast. 

“Or a troop mascot. I know what you’re thinking.” He slid he second plate out of the camp-kit. Tore the half-loaf into three and covered two hunks on two plates with stew. Dropped the third bit of bread in the pot, for himself. Hesitated.

“A dog gets fed last in a well-run household,” Arbie said. 

So well in fact that I thought I'd cobble together a few paragraphs to set up a story premise, which I decided would be (a) the arrival of the dog at the camp-site, the couple dealing with it, (b) the next day searching for the owner and (c) finding owner, getting reward and purchasing the sunkelamp. Regular three act structure.

Arbie and Ed cooked their meal over the usual three-stick fire. They laughed at each other stories of the day, spiced up specially for this, their evening rest. 

Ed’s patients slept, and were cared for by their own. In the evenings, Arbie lay her knitting aside. Her yarns were spider-silken and the product gauzy and prone to damage. Ed was the battlefield medic and Arbie his carbon-knitter. They’d hurried their journey to sign up before the fighting began. 

They’d met a drunken sunkelamper and convinced her to join them, but that woman had soon found more comfortable lodgings. “You’ll find her in the baggage train,” Ed said. “Shiving and conniving. Never at your side when you want her.” 

Not much of a set-up, you'll agree. It needs setting. Sensory detail. A better first sentence. Characterisation. Plot needs to start right there in the first 100 words, and as it is to be a short story, the crisis and denouement signaled. I imagine there'll be about 5000+/- words in it. We'll see.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Three Short Journeys into Verb-land

When Verbs Thickets are Impenetrable

When reading #SaturdayScenes, I’ve been noticing more and more viewpoint characters being put through their paces in a passive way. So it began to seem as if more people than just me sometimes are confused about achieving and maintaining an active voice for their main character.

The agent provocateur, as I sometimes think of my main character. Someone like the carbon-knitter.

A sentence of the subject-verb variety. Active voice, simple verb, simple past tense. The subject is the carbon-knitter … the carbon-knitter is the agent/the actor. 

Half my battle is going to be all the different words describing the behind-the-scenes concepts. Even when the carbon-knitter, while still knitting, is embedded in a more complex sentence, she remains the primary agent.

The main actor is still the POV character performing a series of actions. Knitting, riding, walking. I read somewhere that this kind of sentence is normally used for exposition or narrative, because it seems to open a distance between the narrator and the character. Not sure yet I agree with the distancing thing. 

Again, she is assigned the active voice. She walked in the simple past tense.

But then comes This construction describes the situation as it is – POV and active voice included – and suggests something is about to happen.

All by turning into


The passive voice (I quote from is used (1) when the action is more important than actor. Or (2) when the actor is not known.


Also, for this story, the carbon-knitter manifests as a 3rd person character. So many novels have been written mixing these three elements (active voice, simple past tense and 3rd person pov) that simple past tense is now accepted as representing present-time action in the fictional universe of the story.

That’s right, we translate simple past tense into present time action and we don’t even know we’re doing it. It’s a cultural mind-set and that may be why some of us have trouble reading novels written in the present tense. I don’t think I’m alone that when I am trying to read a present tense genre novel, I have to try hard to not notice the tense.

So I could say, if you want to learn how to write in the present tense, read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (2010). It was the first novel I read that was written entirely in simple present tense. Followed closely by Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2010). Both of them are literature, though that doesn’t stop a keen reader, does it? Both these books are also excellent reads with a wonderful cornucopia of skills that may be studied by a learner writer.

The trouble I have with ‘cover-to-cover’ present tense in a genre novel is that I expect to be able to read the story without having to be conscious of the way it is written, the way I am when I read a literary novel.

An online discussion I got involved in recently claimed that young readers are encouraging writers to persist with the present tense, that this is a generation-gap thing and that more and more books will be written in the present tense.

That may well be so, I am inclined to say, but there is already a vast difference between a novel written by an artisan (read: professional novelist 20-30 years writing experience) and a learner writer. More so when the learner has only a tenuous grasp of tense forms.  

Friday, January 16, 2015

Structuring A World

I'm having a problem. It's the same one for most of my stories in that they are mostly set in the same universe and it's this universe that's in disarray. There are stories teetering on holes. Falling through gaps never to be seen again. Sliding through rents where they are not meant to go. Why? Why? Why?

OK, people say, that's worldbuilding. 

Worldbuilding is great. I love it. is the site where I sometimes go to be remininded by way of a check-list if I have covered everything. EG of the first check list :
But it's not my problem, I know how to do the geography, politics, money, language, dress, stage craft of worldbuilding. All my stories own a subset of that world. There's parts that are ongoing, parts that are new. 

There are dozens maybe hundreds of backstory generators online. Big Huge Thesaurus: Story gave me half a dozen backstories, two examples as follows:

  • A sniper having flashbacks has 24 hours to save his family from kidnappers.
  • The principal of a school fights for his life in a burning building.
Actually they generate story ideas, give a scenario, a story starter, if you like. I've never had any problems making up a scenario. Not my problem. Not the problem. 

I think the term 'backstory' has lost its meaning. Overuse, probably, for too many different, if related, concepts. 

Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. It's kept me going all week, this problem. My new understanding is that this universe, that all these disparate stories take place in, is itself a story, and so must be structured like any slip of a tale. 

To learn, and re-learn, about structure, I turn to Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. His MICE quotient. I'm using the original text. Googling it, I got 152 000 references. I don't have time to find the best one for you. Every learner is different. 

M = Millieu; I = Idea; C = Character: E = Event. 

OS Card posits that 'all stories contain all four elements but that the one that the author cares about most, dominates. Discovering the structure of a story is a process of self-discovery. 

I laugh, reading that. What I was obviously doing all week.  

The Milieu is the world. Not the problem. Idea stories are about finding out information that will solve a question posed at the beginning. Not that. Characters rule in character stories. Their stories are about the transformation in themselves with which they bring change to their communities. Your typical Vogel character arc. Not character. 

'In an Event Story, something is wrong in the fabric of the universe; the world is out of order.'

In the universe in question, an AI ship carrying a precious cargo, enters a star system and begins to cause disruption on a particular planet. Individual stories describe one or the other's tactics and strategies as played out through the lives of the people (human and other) ruled by the ship and the planet. 

So, it's an event story. Summarised nicely above, I'm now writing it out in detail. (Thank you for your patience during my thinking-aloud process.) That's what is keeping me from posting on #Saturdayscenes this week.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Point of Disbelief

Monstrous ... Rotting Stick
Everyone is keen to talk about the need of consumers of fiction to be able to suspend their belief in reality for the duration of the fictional feast. And this is achieved by good writing, good research of world-building detail and back story, and even good grammar, punctuation and spelling on the part of the fantastical world's creators.

Nobody ever wants to talk about that moment in a story when a character and or reader comes upon their point of disbelief and has got to be written through it. 

Is that even necessary, I hear you say. Most stories are closed systems of belief after all, and it is the writer's responsibility to make sure story-logic hangs together from the get-go. No character, in for example, The Lord of the Ring needs ever to doubt the world he is in. 

Even such a modern day story as The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Stephen Sherril (2002) and reviewed here, is a closed system of belief. Every other character accepts the minotaur as one of them, if a different sort of person. 

Open systems of belief are a little less rare than hen's teeth. 

Meaning, there are a couple that I have come across. (Other than the ones I'm writing.) The Power of the Rellard by Carolyn F Logan (1986) is a children's book I have great affection for in that it first showed me this magnificent possibility.  

In this ordinary-world story, we (readers and characters) are led slowly and inexorably by the main character's own staunch belief to a point very near the end, where we must either believe or disbelieve the premise. 

To disbelieve will, of course, kill our enjoyment of the carefully built up crisis and its denouement. Nor can the rest of the characters disbelieve and bring ruin upon their town. A brilliant ploy!

Monday, January 12, 2015

What's in a Name?

Book Cover by Ethan Patrick Harris
As I begin to spruik my novel Monster-Moored, people are starting to ask me ... Why Tardi Mack?

What kind of name is that for a hero?

I live in a Rainbow Region, where hippies settled after a Woodstock-like event.

Since the Nimbin Festival people have made up new and meaningful names for their new babies, a custom that will continues into the area's future.

Tardi's mother, a Stormy-daughter, wanted her baby to be called Trader. Stormies respect traders.

Tardi's father, Herm, couldn't spell in his excitement, and mangled the name on the birth announcement form.

Tardi himself changed it to something manageable as soon as he could read and write it.

Herm used the brand of his first truck as his surname. At first to distinguish himself from all the other Herm's in his family, then from pride in his business, TLF&EC The Local Freight & Eventing Company. Eventually everyone forgot he had a 17-letter Greek family name.

Tardi never knew it.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Writing Who You Know

Am I suggesting what you suspect? Writing your father brothers sisters mother aunties and uncles? Friends? Am I saying you serve up your nearest and dearest, slightly disguised, on a plate? 

You know them better than you know yourself? (Time to post. Blogger is beginning to cramp up. I was going to add in an image. There's refusal somehow.)

I was a young woman once. I remember what it was like. In my younger days I often cast myself as a devil's advocate to someone's angelic exhortations. Yes, I am a bitch at times. All giving me plenty of material to write young women like Rowan, an antagonist causing much grief among my beta-readers.

How would I write a man? Nalbo is a few years older than I am. The way I sometimes feel, I might as well be old. He's human. I'm human. I've given him some of my stubbornness to contrast him with Cele, his wife best friend and partner in their project. She is also me, though she's better looking. She's young at heart most of the time and she has my impulsivity.

"Your middle name should be Rue," Nalbo said once. "Because I suspect you are going to regret this mightily."

Like me sometimes, he's a bit of a stick in the mud.

But Cele never needed to take Rue as her middle name, because she doesn't do regret. She knows she is impulsive even when the result can not be undone. Sometimes that is the very reason she is impulsive, to have to start.

So how did I come to write a young man like Tardi Mack, the protagonist of Monster-Moored?

He's human. I'm human.

He's young. I remember how it was being young.

He's male, I'm female. Incontrovertible fact.

This is where I get help from my some of my nearests and dearests. I ask them, what would you do in this/that situation? How would you do this or that? I don't ask things that'll scare them off. I'll extrapolate. (Love that word)

I write it all down and invest the action with those of my feelings that fit the scene.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Found Objects: Feathers

Everywhere I walk, I pick stuff up.

Every little thing represents an idea.

Even the red prince. 

Red Prince in the Tree
Though I put him up in a tree to fade away ...

These found objects displayed in a bespoke feather shelf
made by R Hartlieb
All the feathers I'm finding these days will belong to a character I'm filling out with detail. He started as a skinny Second Husband but is being groomed to fill a much larger role. As a Second Husband he was able to be a Scholar. He picked linguistics for his studies so he could still be of use and his people set him and his scribe onto detecting? 

Because things are getting away from them. Toh are being murdered. So what, say the police. You want to know how many murders every year? But the Toh know there's more to it than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The different pieces of evidence left at one of the scenes point to a frightening scenario they would prefer to sweep under a carpet. They send the linguist to find the truth. 

From there, back to the feathers. As I picked up maybe the fifth, the idea for the Second Husband sprang fully-fledged into my mind. If you'll open your mind to possibility, and train yourself out of the instant-commentary habit, you'll set yourself up to be assailed by ideas wherever you go. As I do. You'll have so many ideas in fact, you'll need to pick and choose. 

I ignored the red prince and his idea. Though I wedged him in the tree to be more noticeable. Some other writer will come along. We're pretty thick on the ground in these parts. The feathers I keep. Abe will need all the feathers I can find. He uses them the way you or I might use our clothes to sign-post our moods. Only his scribe is as yet an adept on his master's moods. 

I give you a taste of Abe the Linguist. 

Abe let himself into the bloody apartment. His eyes teared up from the stink, from controlling his gag reflex. The stink, indescribable. Even by a linguist. Spilled blood and lots of it. Fear-loosened bowels in this corner. Post mortem evacuation over there. Shit and shit.

No police presence was a happy mystery, despite a national police information gathering facility on the first ten floors of the building.
Knowing the misery of the task, he’d worn his eagle feather. When his attention wandered to pleasanter activities, dallying yesterday with the runaway bride for instance, he tended to lift his gaze to his imaginary elysian fields. The shaft of the feather stuck through the first crossover of his braid would prong him in his neck and remind him of the work at hand.
Why have a linguist at all, he thought again, if all you give him is police work? He answered his weakling self with pedantry. The former keeps you sane. It’s a hobby. So why did Toh admin give him a scribe? He presumed the youth following him into the kill zone, a scribe by the damned stylus he held poised over a damned tablet. Electronic. What a world. 

As you can see, there's a lot of work to do before he can be outed as a viable character. 

But all that from picking up a feather? 

Ideas are everywhere. Really.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

My Walk ... To Palm Park

It's been a day to regret not being outside every minute with the sun shining clear and bright, yet not too warm.

Part of my town walk goes through Palm Park. When I step out I turn right and enjoy the avenue effect of my neighbours' kerb plantings.

River Terrace can just be seen through the hole in the vegetation.
The little bridge at the left is over the mostly overgrown stormwater drain.

I cross the road, which is on a low levee. This road dog-legs around the busy Post Office and takes 13 school buses to the stop behind the Post Office and everyone else driving straight into the back roads going west, hence it's busy about twice a day. 

River Terrace, not busy today. It is the summer holidays in these climes.
Along the left is the famous creeping bamboo site my Landcare Group is engaged in clearing

We've turned left and are walking along the footpath beside the end of Burringbar Street which, two blocks back is the main shopping area. However, we're walking west, towards the junction of the two main streams of the Brunswick River. 

Palm Park in Mullumbimby, NSW
Most palms in the Northern Rivers region were planted in the 1970s to 1980s when people went crazy about palms. Palm Park originates from then too. Several species of the mainly introduced palms, eg Cocos Palm, became popular with our wildlife and so spread into the bush. They've become classified weeds. 

The Park is still being cared for, I see a bit of new concrete
path and wood-chips in the main palm bed.
I don't see any fungi today. Wood-chips are too new and all the old dead wood has been tidied away. 
So as usual, I step off the path before I get there and check out the wild bits. 

Mullumbimby Creek at low tide. Vegetation on show here is mainly native
to the region. Trees are comfortable with the brackish water,
none are turning their toes up against it. 
Different to the camphor laurel in the next shot. Camphors are native to China, a beautiful street tree in colder climates such as Sydney and more southerly regions, it has become our main woody weed. 

Camphor laurel roots bend away from the water.
They cause serious undercutting and creek erosion. 
Which is why we (Brunswick Valley Landcare) have a long-term project to replace them with native trees. We drill holes in the bole of the tree and inject poisons. When the tree eventually dies, we'll have replaced it with any number of creek-side trees.

Camphor laurel tree being poisoned. See the native seedlings already
beginning to come up? It's called natural regeneration. Our ideal. 

Bungwall Fern
These ferns are the reason we're interested in this bit of riverbank and anxious to return it to a more natural state. These ferns are at present 1.5 metres tall (4-5 ft) and live on swampy brackish river banks. They are of an endangered species. 

We get our feet out of the mud and continue over a close stand of bangalow palms, also a native, growing in a storm water drain, by way of this little footbridge. Beyond is the sun and my opportunity for some fast walking.

Footbridge over Bangalow Palm Drain

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I Sit on my Back Deck

I sit on my back deck
Clouds lour and glower gray and grey
the soft air is still
Its touch reminds me of the flavour of boiled water

A breath of coolth
My head hair lies unmoved, so sheer an air lifts
the fine furze along my arms. 
An airy freshness remains

The bare earth in the bush house smells
of fungi furiously drinking
molecules of moisture that hardly reach that far. 
An earthy mouldy fungal frenzy
Should I mist them?

I stay...

The breeze returns strong enough that mid-height
leaves and branches move.
A coolness spreads through the yard.
Twenty thirty feet up, palm fronds frill and fritter. Eucalyptus branches sweep and surge.

The stillness again …

I forget to breathe …

The moment passes as someone at the tyre shop
two yards over, beats on a recalcitrant tyre, and my neighbour on the left shouts for his dogs to get from under his feet.
A car passes out front.

Then ...
a rain drop on my face ...

Then two, five, a splatter 
all over the page. 


We all have these moments when we sit around, waiting for the washing machine to be ready, for instance, when we can go into observation mode.
Record whatever presents itself.
Sometimes it turns into poetry, sometimes it’ll stay prose.

Always useful. One day.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Paper-based Reading versus the Other Process.

I forgive you if you're thinking what an old has-been topic this is. For you, maybe it is. Some of my readers continue to live in a present where Kindles are little used because paperbacks are readily available, for 50 cents, at every yard, garage and op shop sale.

A 50 cent paperback, one of my very
small collection of novels (5) using the actions of
fungi as their premise.

I've read half a dozen novels on online/offline on computer screens, but finished my first Kindle-formatted novel last night. Or maybe it was formatted idiosyncratically. Probably I shouldn't judge Kindle by this one representative.

Though I will trick Monster-Moored out with page numbers when I am that far.

The Kindle experience gave me no page numbers. Instead the Kindle-program (on my iPad) recorded my reading progress with percentages, and estimates as to how long it would take me to finish. For example about 80% through, it gave me 1 hour 33 minutes.

Of course I started wondering how many algorithms the software had beavering away just under surface of words and sentences. What multiples of readers did the mythic makers base the hourly rate on? How many words per minute did the readers average out on? Did the program adjust itself to my reading speed? Were the two formula related? Well, they had to be, probably. If it was that smart, why didn't it just read the book for me?

In other words, I went into story-making land. Ideas are everywhere.

Yes, I was totally out of the story. Not a gripping read was a large part of the problem but that is the topic for another post.

Part of me not being able to get involved was the problem of not knowing the length of the story. If the read is 40k, I'll organise a bit of time and read it in one sitting. If the book is 100k it's obviously necessary to read it over a number of sessions.

Monday, January 5, 2015

About the Organisation of this Blog

In the same way that early morning mist is an element of the weather, sentences
are an element of stories. I chose this image to illustrate that metaphor. 

This blog post is purely me thinking through the blog re-jigging process and the results. 

While re-organising the 'labels' section, I lost some of the specificity possible with an anything-goes system of up to a hundred labels but the long tail of one-time posts on the many topics wasn't helpful to anybody, least of all myself.

Specificity in this case is out-weighed by easier usage, I'm hoping. I've ended up with about 43 labels in three loose groups.

First level elements are the ones we start with. Ideas, which are headed as "Ideas: where from". Bricks such as words, sentences, punctuation are listed as-is ... For example "words", "world-building".

There is of course a fair bit of overlap. "Worldbuilding" can thought of as an element as well as a process. "Writing" can be an activity, a craft, or the putting-together-of-all-the-other elements.

Second level elements about the processes involved in writing a fiction work, and getting it to market are prefaced with "about". For example "about book covers".

Ancillary elements and processes are denoted by descriptive phrases such as "story of my life" and "fiction to learn from".

Revisiting an Old Blog Posting: Characterisation

While I'm going through my old posts and labelling them again using the new scheme, I'm finding posts that I don't mind being reminded about, such as this post (October 2010) on the characterisation of Tardi Mack, hero of the Monster-Moored Series.


I was again trying to pin down my ideas for the Monster-Moored series, “once and for all”. How often have I already thought those words? I re-realised, once again, that my stories always start with a character. Tardi Mack, in this case.

And so, to be able to hang a plot onto his life, I need a character arc for the whole 500 years. That number is merely a reminder from me to myself that to fit in all the territory I want to cover, the saga needs to be longer than just a couple of generations. That’s the plan, as Summer says to Mal at the end of Serenity. Though I’m still learning the trick of spinning a long life thread.

For the Tardi/alien mental relationship in Part I (Monster-Moored) I went back to William Sargant’s little book Battle for the Mind.

Though first published back in 1957, and one would therefore suspect its conclusions completely out of date, I like it for its comprehensive description of Pavlov’s experiments with dogs and Sargant’s own extrapolations of the physiological results in humans. Sargant was a neurophysiologist during WWII, working in England with returned POWs and traumatized soldiers. So, for the damage to Tardi as he attempts to keep his sanity against the alien encroachment on Tardi’s mind, I’m extrapolating from Sargant.

Having got Tardi to his knees at the beginning of Part II (Monster and Mongrel), I needed him healed to be able to overcome his adversary. The Power of the Mind to Heal, published in 1994, is another one of my Opportunity Shop finds.

I learned about the workings of a rite-of-passage from The Power of the Mind. The first stage is the separation from one’s state of being; followed by the luminal period during which one dwells between two worlds. Final is the re incorporation into a new role. A perfect description of the process Tardi needs to go through in order to become the person able to liaise with the alien’s support system, also called “the huddle”, an all female group of life forms the alien has picked up around the galaxy.

Then there’s Chapter 13 in The Power of the Mind, Letting Go of Fear, which will help me begin to think through Part III (Mongrel and Medic) when Tardi has to learn, if not to love the alien, to at least appreciate its works. On page 112, Sogyal Rinpoche, Tibetan monk, says, “Meditation is being spacious.” A spacious mind is definitely what Tardi will need to accommodate the alien and its support system if he is to accept that the alien cannot be cleaned up.

The final part of the series (IV) is the meld of Tardi with the alien and the huddle, (Monster-Melded). It’s huge, and I haven’t found the appropriate reading matter yet to start me off thinking about psychological implications for Tardi. There’s a rite-of-passage to be sure, but such a one-off, that I’m searching for something special to jolt me into it. Suggestions are welcome.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Atul Gawande Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance 2008 Profile Books London.

This is a repost from a few years ago, but there aren't many weeks that I don't try to be a 'Positive Deviant' .... see below.

The sorting trolley at the local library can be the source of good reads without having to go to the shelves. When I’m in a hurry, must not tarry and cannot not allow myself to get sidetracked, I stick with the sorting trolley.
There will be the usual squad of noirish detective fiction. The odd sf and fantasy. Literature. And a  few non fictionals. Like this one. Better: a surgeon’s notes on performance.

I opened it a quarter of the way through, my usual check, and began to read. Page 65, the chapter heading was Casualties of War. Why soldiers refused to wear their goggles and that the reason for the increasing eye injuries. I glanced back at page 64, where a section conclusion said, Ask a typical American hospital what its death and complication rates for surgery were during the last six months and it cannot tell you.

About ten pages later I realised I was hooked. I checked the book out and took it home. I began from the beginning. The introduction is not a chapter that can be skipped as it states the premise of the investigation by way of a telling example from Gawande’s own, at the time of his residency, practice. 
“What does it take to be good at something in which failure is so easy, so effortless?” Gawande asks on page 3. This is when I really settled into this book for this is a resonating question in that it can be applied to almost any difficult endeavour.  Convincing the naysayers of the importance of preserving biodiversity at any cost?  Just one of the questions I regularly ask myself.

Though it is the examples for each of the three main topics that make the riveting reading, what area of human work wouldn’t be better with diligence, doing right and ingenuity? In relation to diligence, for example, there’s an essay on washing hands. In doing right, what doctors owe to society is investigated. Ingenuity is explored through the Bell Curve.

Yet it is the Afterword, with its Suggestions for Becoming a Positive Deviant that I want to remember. These are a set of suggestions for personal improvement that are plain and do-able, though they are aimed at doctors and surgeons at the forefront of doctoring.

1.     Ask an unscripted question. Make a human connection and life immediately becomes less of a machine.

2.     Don’t complain. Or in other words, don’t make yourself and other people feel bad by taking a negative view. Don’t necessarily see life through rose-coloured lenses but observe something and get a conversation going (my paraphrase, this sentence).

3.     Count something. Be a scientist in your world. The only requirement is that you should count something you’re interested in. Learning something interesting that you can then talk about, giving it to your community. 

4.     Write something. Add a small observation about your world. Don’t underestimate its effect on your world. Everything we know, all knowledge is observations made by interested people communicating for the benefit of us all. The published word (be it book or blog) is a declaration of membership and also a willingness to contribute something meaningful. Don’t underestimate the power of the act. Writing lets you step back and think through a problem.

5.     Change. Be an early adapter. (Not a late adapter, not a skeptic.) Find something new to try, something to change. Count how often you succeed and how often you fail. Write about it. Ask people what they think. See if you can keep the conversation going.

Don’t you agree that these suggestions are ways that anybody can take up and make habitual without too much pain?