December 11, 2009

Second drafting

Less than two weeks after finishing the first draft of a possible novel during Nanowrimo ( I am wanting to start editing and researching it into a second draft.

There are some plot details to sort out, such as does my protagonist, Ann, have the right job at the beginning of the story? Having decided not, I have re-decided she does, as a lecturer in Romantic Literature. That gives some background for things that happen later in the story.

There is some research to do, in all those places where I wrote [CHECK] as I ploughed on, one word after another (which is what writing is!) chasing the 50,000 word count. I made it a couple of days early, with 50064 words. For some people, being unable to work right up to a deadline is a character flaw, for me it is the way I am and I live with it.

Then there is some awful writing, from those times when I was squeezing out words, even when I couldn’t think of anything to say. Not to mention changing my mind a couple of times about the time the story takes place. It started off having a beginning in mid 2009, then I pushed that back a year because the story was getting ahead of the real time I was writing in, now I have put it back to 2009, because by the time the story finishes, about the end of Jan 2010, that will be the actual time I am writing revisions in. As Ann spends Dec 2009 in London, I am drawing on friends who live there and buying the Guardian Weekly. There are a couple of useful weather websites, too.

On the reading front i am well into Orhan Pamuk’s latest, The Museum of Innocence, which was not liked by the reviewer on National Radio (NZ) whose name I forget. I think the reviewer missed the point of the book, which is an extended metaphor about Turkey trying to be both modern and traditional, which is what most of Pamuk’s books are about, one way or another. I love his books, but I think they may not be to everyone’s taste. His protagonists tend to be self-referential, somewhat neurotic, middle class, well-off men.

November 28, 2009

Nobel Prize for Literature

Because she won the Nobel Prize for literature I got a book by Merta Muller from the excellent Wellington Public Library called The Appointment. I didn’t enjoy reading it on the whole, but once I had finished I started appreciating it.

First of all I kept thinking of Kafka’s The Trial, though the woman in The Appointment did at least know why she was being interrogated, just not what was being gained by her being interrogated in the way she was. Romania under Ceausescu was clearly grim and bleak, the picture is one of stagnation. The protagonist looks out for chances of happiness. She is being interrogated, on random days, because she put a message saying 'marry me' in pockets of men's shirts going from the factory where she works to Italy.

It was shocking, in the context of New Zealand mores, that she found the fact of her and her friend Lilli having sex with father or step-father to be nothing much. Lilli said, “He never became repulsive to me … but in time he did come to seem ordinary. The fact that we’d be at it as soon as my mother left the house became more of a habit than using the door handle.” I found that shocking.

There is some lovely prose. “When I stepped outside everything was preparing for the night, the sun had already spread itself red across the sky, every shadow in town had lain down.” It’s a translation from the German, so there’s no way for me to know how well it conveys the original.

A friend who has lived in Germany for a long time admires Muller and the way she speaks out since she emigrated from Romania, which she had to do when she refused to spy on her fellow-workers.

November 25, 2009

Write, write, I say

My excuse for not doing a weekly entry is the 'write a novel in a month' thing at I just had 50064 words validated on the website. Now I can do something else, like update this blog.

Going to Melbourne slowed me at the beginning, but catching up wasn't so bad. Yesterday and today I was really fed up and wanted to get finished. I felt as though I had run out of plot again - this happened in the middle, too. The trick that worked for me was to make myself keep writing the most banal detail and drivel until some plot happened. Not quite as bad as, 'She got out of bed and put on her slippers, then washed her face and cleaned her teeth. The bed was soon made, the tidy way that she liked it and she went out into the cold morning to get the paper.' Not quite that bad, but nearly.

Now it's time for the big edit, which will involve some research. I'll wait a while before I start that, take a break from this thing that has gripped me by the throat.

What I found interesting about the process is that I was forced into whatever plot I could find in a corner of my brain and sometimes that worked well in terms of my overall themes for the story. I even ended up with a whole new character that I got to really like writing about.

I'm not sure I'll do it again, this is an annual event. The only way to write is to write, after all, and I can probably do that without a competition. Nonetheless, I was frustrated that I was not writing more and this certainly overcame that.

November 9, 2009

How the words count

I'm in Melbourne,so the writing has been s l o w. Only a thousand or so words since I left home. Total about 8000. Should be 15000 at this stage in the month. When I get home (tomorrow) I'd better get my writing shoes on and get going.

It is so hot here I can't believe it isn't January. 35+ degrees today, and a breeze that is hot, too, so gives no relief. I can feel the moisture being sucked out of me. Beautifully cool in the Victoria State Library, and free internet access for 15 not-well-monitored minutes at a time. A queue forms.

I'm taking notes for my novel in odd moments. Need a completely new subplot and haven't found it yet. Have something that might turn into one. It's a whole new thing for me writing to get the word count up, without editing as I go. I have to put notes to myself in caps to check things (like how long does a fast train take from new york to washington DC)which is not what I usually do).

Am reading a book by Brazilian Clarice Lispector, because a friend said CL was her favourite writer. It is seriously weird and compelling. From p12, "Happiness? I have never come across a more foolish word." Think about that for a moment. I think the idea of happiness, what it is, if anything, what it does to or for us etc etc might be making its way into my novel. Maybe. She takes on the persona of a male writer in the novel, and talks about words, and how the story she/he is/is not writing is all words. A different notion from my current preoccupation with numbers of words - word-counting in a adifferent kind of way. I saw an ad for a biography of Lispector in lrb, might have to follow that up.

Have to go from this computer. Odd, when one is used to being in control of the period of time. More soon.

October 31, 2009

The Big Write

Tomorrow the Big Write starts. 50,000 words in 30 days. See I have a kind of title and a main plot idea. Here's a very short synopsis:

Ann's partner walks out and her job disappears in yet another government restructuring. So she leaves New Zealand for a tour of relatives and art galleries in Europe and the United States, thanks to a legacy from a childless uncle. To say that travel broadens the mind falls a long way short of describing her experiences.

I've used this idea in a short story that has been read only by my partner and my writing group.

I'll hardly have got going when I'm off to Melbourne for six days to see a friend and my son, without a laptop. (I don't have one.) Might do some plot planning. Or write by hand in my journal. Might get some additional inspiration, you never know.

I finished Wolf Hall. It's well worth the effort — it's a brick of a book, with over 500 pages. The way Hilary Mantel wrote it continued to fascinate me and the story got even better. By inventing (I assume) some minor characters, she makes the story really come alive. It's a more nuanced and more sympathetic portrayal of Cromwell than the one in the television show The Tudors. Henry's bad leg, that was in one episode I saw, features in the later part of the book.

October 27, 2009

How long is long enough?

Today I signed up at for the write-a-book -in-a-month event. Starting on 1 November the aim is a 50,000 word novel by midnight on 30 Nov. That's 1600+ words a day for the consistent. Don't edit, is the advice, this is a first draft, edit later. That's new for me.

Everyone who achieves the word count in the time set wins. No fee, but a donation requested if you make anything as a result of doing it. No prizes. Last year over two hundred thousand people worldwide started and sixty thousand plus finished. Crazy, why would anyone do this? I don't know about anyone else, but my reasons are to do with just making me write and keep going. I have an idea, arising from a short story. I plan to ignore the short story and just use the idea, though a few bits might end up similar.

I'm away in Melbourne for six of the thirty days of November, so that could be a challenge.

Change of topic — I'm half way through Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, the book that has recently been announced as the winner of this year's Man Booker Prize. It's excellent. Even though I kind of know the plot — Henry VIII and all that, focussed around Thomas Cromwell — it's rivetting. From a writer's point of view it is very interesting, not to mention clever, the way she writes in the third person almost entirely from Thomas Cromwell's point of view. 'He' most often refers to Thomas, including his thoughts, but it's not the usual kind of 'voice of god' writing. I am fascinated by how she does this.

October 17, 2009


The four most recent books I have read:
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
The Anthropologist, Nicholson Baker
Falling For Science, Bernard Beckett
Street With No Name, Kapka Kassabova

A classic, a contemporary novel about poetry, popular science, a memoir/travel story (kind of). I am pleased to have read them all, one way and another.

Then there are the new yorker and the london review of books, both of which I get via my letterbox and both of which I read cover to cover. I'm not sure why I so like both of these. The very good writing will have something to do with it. They are both kind of liberal in their own way. Their writers are thinkers. Maybe I'm just a magazine snob.

I also read the internet rather a lot: web sites; help sites for various other sites I am learning to use, like mobileread; other peoples' blogs and so on and on. Learning to use the internet can take up hours in a day. I can kid myself that I'm seeing it as a potential marketing tool for my writing, but really, it's just so damned interesting.

October 10, 2009

More marketing

Write a press release, is the advice - I'm reading the Smashwords Marketing Guide, which is free from their site. I would if I could think of something to write it about, given that Take It Easy first came out last year. Publishing as an ebook, hardly seems enough. So, pass on that one for now.

Encourage your fans to write online reviews. This is the stuff that makes me cringe, so I probably won't do it. First cringe point - I don't want 'fans,' I want friends and readers.

Participate in online forums. This is the one I am working on. (Will continue to buy my paper books from Unity Books in Wellington, a great independent bookstore. ) might even open an Amazon account, as suggested, so I can post about my book there. (Did you know that it's complicated and expensive for a self-publisher to get on Amazon?) Smashwords, however, does publish its eversion of my book in the format for Kindle, so who knows if that will be a way in to that market. I have joined but am yet to figure out how to take an active part in it. Am I particularly obtuse about learning to use these websites? I do wonder, even though I manage computer and internet use competently enough in general facebook often defeats me and these participation websites tend to get me in a muddle with them.

Coupons is another technique that is encouraged (buy one, get your second one for half price, 20% off until the end of the month, etc). I'll leave that for now.

Write a blog. Ah! Got that!

October 4, 2009

How Fiction Works

This is the title of a book By James Wood, critic, academic, writer for The New Yorker etc etc. It’s the best book about reading and writing I’ve read for a long time. He talks about “free, indirect style” which allows for the voice of the author, not always obviously, to be there alongside the characters.
A long quote from How Fiction Works

"The novelist is always working with at least three languages. There is the author’s own language, style, perceptual equipment, and so on; there is the character’s presumed language, style, perceptual equipment, and so on; and there is what we would call language of the world—the language that fiction inherits before it gets to turn it into novelistic style, the language of daily speech, of newspapers, of offices, of advertising, of the blogosphere and text messaging. In this sense, the novelist is a triple writer, and the contemporary writer now feels especially the pressure of this tripleness, thanks to the omnivorous presence of the third horse of this troika, the language of the world, which has invaded our subjectivity, our intimacy, the intimacy that James thought should be the proper quarry of the novel, and which he called (in a troika of his own) “the palpable present-intimate."

The writer Paul Freidinger from April 15 2009 comments in regard to the Wood book:

"I’m suggesting a reader examine whether a writer can resurrect our daily language and give a character an authentic voice, or whether he becomes a victim of the superficial, to the degree of being unable to make us care enough about that character to complete his story. The rest of Wood’s book takes one deeper into the formation of a novel and what is essential to its success. He offers equally sound advice as he takes the reader through the essential elements of the novel. Give it a chance, read the book. It might make you a better reader. It might even cause you to reconsider your own writing."

James Wood credits Flaubert with changing the way western novels are written, so I re-read Madame Bovary What a pain I found Emma to be. However, giving attention to Wood's ideas, I was more aware of the presence of an authorial view. (Does this matter? I don't know, but I find it interesting.) One example, from page 341 of my edition, translated into English by Gerard Hopkins, "Where had she learned the arts of a power to corrupt which was so profound, yet so well disguised, that it appeared to be somehow disembodied?"

How Fiction Works is a short, dense book, written, quaintly, in numbered paragraphs and is in the Wellington Public Library. (Dewey number: 809.3 WOO)

In my next post, I'll be back to talking about marketing.

October 1, 2009

Fronting up to marketing online

I’m working my way through the Smashwords marketing book. Sheesh! Put my book in a signature for my emails, it says. A good idea and I am resistant to doing it. Is that in part because most of my emails are within New Zealand where ebook readers are limited to iphone/ipod touch? Or because I don’t like the idea of advertising to my friends? Both. Compromise - make an alternate signature with book details in it and (remember to) use it as seems fitting. Now learn how to do active links.

Click here for my profile page on Smashwords:

Click here for Take It Easy on Smashwords:
You can buy an ebook version from this page. You can buy a printed version from

Okay, done that. I had to go to Blogger help, and it did help.

September 26, 2009

the ebook world

I’ve read a few books on my iphone touch recently, using Stanza, which is free from the apps store. I’ve focussed on out of copyright books from (a very interesting project to epublish out of print books and make them available for free). I read Kafka’s Metamorphosis, because my son told me he had read it as a teenager and was very enthusiastic, and followed that with The Trial, which is one of those uncanny books that reads as very contemporary.

And I’ve read Flatland; A romance of many dimensions by Edwin A Abbot, which is about a land in two dimensions; am dipping into Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Montaigne’s Essays, and have some Herodotus, Homer and Dostoevsky waiting in the wings.

I still really prefer to read books as books, but the carry-around aspect of the ipod is a winner and it is easy to read and use. It works splendidly for print, but Stanza does not cope with pictures of any kind, so seems best for fiction and poetry.

I have not yet bought an epublished book. I still buy books on paper. However, I am now selling one. There’s a process for doing it for free at and I’ve converted my final word file in accordance with their instructions, which took a couple of days, and submitted it. Search its title - Take It Easy - on the Smashwords site if you want to check it out. It costs $5.96 USD to buy it as an electronic version. You can choose what format you download it in, everything from html and pdf to epub and a whole lot of others. I don’t know anyone who would want to read a novel on their computer, and there’s nothing much in the way of an ebook reader on the market in NZ except for the ipod touch/iphone. If you happen to have an Amazon Kindle, I think you can download from Smashwords, but I’m not clear yet on that.

So now I’m going to read the Smashwords book on marketing. Don’t hold your breath.

April 21, 2009

A year later

The absence of any further posts since March of 2008 makes it fairly obvious that the whole promoting area failed to hold my interest. I didn't realise how apathetic I could be about the publicity machine. I kind of knew what to do and couldn't bring myself to do it. Just as I got myself some expertise in the design and layout of the book I should have got some for publicity. I did reasonably successfully promote Take It Easy to New Zealand libraries. And among my friends. I now find I don't care how many I sell and am inclined to give it away if anyone is interested.

So now I will turn this blog into a general one. Wonder if I can change the title of and take off the pjpress and just call it 'out there'.

I don't have another novel underway. There's no big idea for a novel floating around in my consciousness. I am writing some short stories and a little poetry and enjoying that, but am easily distracted from it. Oh dear.