Archive for December, 2009

Resolutions: Past & Future

Posted: December 30, 2009 in Uncategorized

So, with one day to go before NYE, I thought that, seeing as how I blogged my resolutions for 2009 at the same time last year, now might be a good point at which to figure out how many of them I achieved, and perhaps to set some new ones for 2010.

Most actively, my goal for this year was to try and read only new books. From long habit, I’m an inveterate rereader, and while this is still a policy I endorse, it’s been my habit for so long and to such an extent that it’s actively prohibited me from trying new authors. I am therefore proud to report that, with one exception, everything I’ve read this year has been virgin territory. All up, including individual volumes of manga comics, I have read ninety-five books since January 1, in an unprecedently broad range of genres: aside from the usual quantity of graphic novels, fantasy, steampunk, manga and YA titles, I’ve ventured into the realms of straight fiction, biography, autobiography, popular science, crime fiction, history, classics, political commentary and philosophy. Which, frankly, is astonishing, and something I am keen to keep up in 2010. I’ll still allow myself the comfort of an occasional reread, of course, but with so many new stories itching to be heard, it will become a very selective treat.

Otherwise: I didn’t take up tennis again, despite my best intentions. My short stories have improved, and though I still didn’t write too many, the important thing is that I’m thinking up more ideas for how they might work, with a stronger sense of my own style. All in all, I’ll call that a win. Undeniably, I have broadened my addiction to awesome TV shows, discovering Dexter, Dollhouse and True Blood all in the past few months. I’m not sure how often I’ve surprised other people this year, but I’ve certainly surprised myself, which should count for something. I have done nothing by the way of anarchism, and though my poetry output has been meagre, I’ve been happy with the results. My life hasn’t overflowed with an abundance of jigsaw puzzles, but more than one new pair of comfortable pants has found its way into my wardrobe, I have certainly delighted in silly hats, I have been caught in the rain more than once, and even if I haven’t always succeeded, I have tried throughout the year to listen more and talk less. I have given thanks to Vizinczey – and, even though it wasn’t on the list, I’ve signed the contract on my first published novel, which is the most exciting thing of all.

Which leads us to my resolutions for 2010, the last year of the noughties decade. They are as follows:

1. I will do everything in my power to ensure that Solace & Grief gets off to the best possible start.

2. I will continue to work on my short stories, and to submit them places. Optimistically, the aim will be to have one published somewhere by the end of the year.

3. In addition to finalising edits on The Key to Starveldt and completing at least a full first draft of Falling Into Midnight – respctively the second and third volumes in the Solace/Rare trilogy – I will complete the Mystery Ambush Novel, currently titled Finding Echoes, shop it around, and start the immediate sequel. Also, seeing as how I have at least three more stories planned for that universe in a sort of loosely linked, sequential-but-separate arc, I will aim to set down my plans for all of them in a vaguely comprehensive manner, and figure out if there are more to come.

4. An oldie but a goodie: I will embark on some form of regular exercise, and try to show a little more restraint in the presence of cheese and chocolate.

5. At some point, I will come back overseas.

6. I will continue to be thankful for the opportunities I’ve had and for all the amazing people who’ve brought me to this point.

Happy 2010, people! It’s going to be awesome. 🙂

Warning: absolutely giant massive spoiler alert!

OK, so: part one of the final David Tennant episode of Doctor Who, The End of Time, has now aired in the UK. The fact that I’ve been predicting the return of the TimeLords ever since Tennant first announced his retirement has left me with a warm, glowy feeling of narrative vindication. (The fact that said glow has undoubtably been heightened by the large glass of eggnog sitting to my left is by the way and nothing to do with it.) As soon as the Ood declared that ‘they are returning’, I knew it was game on, which view was ultimately proven correct when Timothy Dalton appeared mid-episode wearing the unmistakeable red and gold of Rassilon. It makes perfect sense that the Tenth Doctor’s exit would in some way be tied to the return of the denizens of Gallifrey, as his tenancy (hah – pun!) has been entirely characterised by their absence. In terms of mining the original show, the other TimeLords are the single facet yet to be brought back, and as the Daleks have turned up numerous times despite their supposed destruction during the Time War, finding a means of resurrecting their enemies is an act of natural balance. In the trailer for the final act, it has also been revealed that the drumming tune in the Master’s head – the inspiration for the four knocks which are prophecied to preempt the Doctor’s death – is representative of the double beat of a TimeLord’s heart. Armed with this knowledge and a glipse of the final episode, therefore, here are my predictions for the final ever episode of David Tennant’s term in Doctor Who.

Back in The Sound of Drums, it was revealed that what originally sent the Master mad was the TimeLord ritual of staring into the Time Vortex through the Untempered Schism. From this point on, the drums in his head were always calling to him. We know, too, that the Doctor can sense the presence of other TimeLords alive in the galaxy – but there are exceptions to this ability. Consider that creator Russell T. Davies, much like Joss Whedon, has a habit of planning his storylines long in advance, such that he is in a position to drop hints as to their eventual conclusion. One such notable clue is the Medusa Cascade, a place the Doctor was reported to have sealed off during the Time War, but where Davros and the Daleks were later proven to be hiding, along with a number of stolen planets, at the end of Season 4, by being a second out of sync with the rest of the universe. I won’t venture an explanation as to how, but my speculative guess, after the Ood announced that ‘things which have already happened are happening now’, is that those TimeLords who survived the Time War did so by a similar trick of temporal displacement; perhaps even utilising one of the Nine Gallifreys of old. Which is why, when the Master gazed into the Vortex all those years ago, the sound of drums was embedded in his head: he could hear the future/present of the timeless TimeLords, and was irrevocably altered by their (which is to say, Timothy Dalton and his prophetess’s) call to war. The Ood can sense this displacement at a psychic level, and now that the Master has turned everyone on Earth into copies of himself, the fact of this will allow the rest of the TimeLords to return: because of what he is, and of what was originally done to him.

Which leads us to Wilf, who appears to be having visions of a female TimeLord council member, and to Donna Noble, who is no longer quite human, and who has been forced to remember everything she was made to forget. This is somewhat interesting, as the Doctor has explained that Donna can’t remember without dying; but if she can, then what does this say about her deeper nature? Perhaps – one might speculate – her survival has something to do with those Huon particles she imbibed so long ago, given their relationship to TimeLord technology. We were told ealier that there was no coincidence in the Doctor meeting Donna more than once, and now we know that there is no coincidence to Wilf’s continued appearences, either. Why is he the only man to remember his bad, precognitive dreams? Perhaps this is an example of cyclic time: due to the Doctor’s protection, he was never going to turn into a copy of the Master, and was therefore able to remember in the present what his future self would eventually learn. Wilf is a stargazer, a soldier who has never killed a man; alternatively, his significance might lie in the fact that he is human – wholly human, unlike Donna – and therefore represents a viable template from which the human race might be restored. But he also has a choice to make, a life to take: the Doctor’s, the Master’s, or perhaps Timothy Dalton’s.

So, to wrap up all these vague speculations, I’ll end on a more solid, if perhaps more obvious note: Timothy Dalton’s character will die; Gallifrey will return; the Doctor will be offered the mantle of Lord President (again) and refuse; the Master will escape to fight another day, as per his speciality; and Donna’s memories will be restored.

There. How’s that for a prophecy?

Much to my astonishment, while we were still in St Andrews, I managed to write roughly 45,000 words of the ambush novel in just over two weeks. This is a little bit scary, but also served as justification for my decision to take a break from it while we were in Leuven. That was four days off; since we’ve arrived back in Surrey, I’ve had a few more days of rest, and although Christmas loometh large, I’ve now decided to try and jump back in, albeit at a slightly reduced pace. The current total is 47,000 words, and my feeling is that the whole work will come out at somewhere between 85 and 100 thousand, depending on Reasons. In accordance with the fact that I am a Crazy Lady, I’ve set myself an impossible goal: to reach the end of the first draft before we return to Australia – that is to say, by 10 January 2010. Or, put another way, to write another 40,000-odd words in less than twenty days, days which contain Christmas and New Year’s Eve and trips to Bristol and London. I also plan, as a sort of New Year’s present to myself, to submit the polished earlier sections to a particular agent.

Did I mention I was insane?

What’s remarkable about this project is the extent to which the whole story is planned out – a much more organised approach than my usual scattergun habit, and one I’m going to try and harness in the future. Thinking on plotpoints as we flew into Belgium, I realised a need to return to earlier scenes and add in some extra detail so that the bit I’m up to now makes more sense, but other than that, I’m confident that the narrative is flowing well. There’ll be exposition sequences to trim down, of course, and overall editing to do, but it says something about my current levels of madness that I have also jotted down titles, key plot points and progressive storylines for a subsequent three books featuring these current protagonists.

‘Tis the season, I guess!

Leuven Walk

Posted: December 18, 2009 in UK - 2009
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I’ ve just spent the past two and a half hours walking around Leuven, taking photos of pretty things. We arrived in Belgium yesterday in the middle of a snowy afternoon – everything was blanketed white, and the few locals we spoke to told us that it rarely snows so much over here, as evidenced by the fact that 400km of traffic was backed up in neighbouring areas as a result of the weather. As the plane touched down, we saw rabbits darting along beside the tarmac; one peeked up at us over the top of a bush, ducked back down as we rumbled closer, then tentatively began to re-emerge, ears first. On the train from Brussels to Leuven, everything outside was a white blur, and once we alighted, it was tricky to find a cab, because of the snow and the number of outside roads that were closed. Once we arrived at the hotel, though, everything was fine, and we went for an afternoon/evening walk through the falling snow. The lights from the churches, Christmas trees and shops turned everything golden.

Today, I walked through a Christmas Market, through parks and sidestreets, and was everywhere amazed by how beautiful a place this is. Perhaps it’s just the lingering snow and the bright blue sky, which conspire to make even mundane sights extraordinary; but it’s also the architecture, and the fact that everyone is friendly, with children, students and adults alike all stopping in groups to throw snowballs at one another. When I went to the ATM, I heard a familiar accent and realised that the woman in line behind me was also Australian; we chatted happily for a few minutes, and discovered that both our husbands were here to visit the university. Slush, slurry and ice cover every scrap of path and road; when I slipped, a random stranger travelling in the opposite direction stuck his arm out and kept me from falling backwards.

I bought a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream and a proper European sauasge in a roll for lunch in the Christmas Markets, and listened to carols being piped through a soundsystem at just the right volume. There are evergreens everywhere, covered with lights and clumps of snow; it’s the first time, I think, that Christmas iconography has ever made sense to me, or seemed appropriate, or done anything to generate a sense that This Is Christmas in a way that doesn’t relate to commercialism. Cars, bikes, rooftops and benches are all covered with layers of snow, and in the markets, every second stall is selling Stella Artois, Irish coffee, Italian spirits, European beer and mulled wine to keep out the cold – when I bought my hot chocolate, even, it was a struggle not to ask for the version which came with Baileys and Amoretto, a temptation I resisted only because I hadn’t yet eaten anything. Later, when Toby has finished giving his paper, I intend to investigate it more closely, in conjunction with the many chocolate and waffle stalls.

There’s something I’ve heard people say before, that you can visit a place and leave part of yourself behind. I feel like that about Leuven. Everyone here seems to speak at least two of the four ambient languages – German, French, Flemish and English – such that it’s impossible to feel like an outsider, or anything but welcome. We’re only here for three days, but hopefully, we’ll be able to return at some point in the future – if only for another helping of the delicious Flemish-style rabbit I had for dinner last night.

I found out today that Thora Morris, a woman who was once a second grandmother to me, has been put in a nursing home because of dementia. This poem is about her.

Thora


Rose-thumbed, green to the elbow,

you smiled wide to see

a small girl in a flower-print dress,

barefoot, poking her head through the gate –

.

frowning, as children do, at the mysteries of rich soil,

bright violets, lush carnations –

.

you invited her in, down the dim hall

behind the screen door, past the old photos, out

to the veranda, sitting her down

beside the typical crocheted rug, the bowl of home-grown oranges

and told her stories.

.

Once, your hair was princess-red, burning a bright fire.

You rode a Clydesdale called Jack, whose broken gallop

threw you clear over the paddock fence. At school,

you were Puck, laughing as a stubborn boy vowed

that he weren’t sayin’ any thees or thous

when after almost seventy years, you still remembered your closing lines

.

and said them with me, word for perfect word.

.

Grown up more, you loved a man

who went to war, piloting the high skies. His name was Bing

and though you wished him home again

even his body never made it back, buried instead

with an English squadron, name marked up

alongside English dead.

.

I said, when I grow up, too

I’ll visit at his grave for you, or else

find his name on the memorial, so that one of us

could say we’d been. It’s not too late. I’m here, visiting the right soil.

I can still do it.

.

But your memory has betrayed us both.

These last few years, the older me has wilted away,

browning at the edges, peeling back like a dead petal,

falling aside; but there is no new blossom underneath.

.

Last time we met, your eyes wavered through me.

Here was some strange impostor, far too tall

and far too old to be Mary’s granddaughter –

Where is Philippa? you asked, and though I answered

here, I’m here,

.

you didn’t quite believe.

.

Now you’ve been taken away

to where the dementia can be kept at bay, ministered

by careful hands and careful minds.

I imagine you in a small, grey room, your tiny frame dwarfed

in a wooden chair, your clever hands idle, twitching for a trowel.

.

There will be no more gardening.

.

What will become of your roses? I try to imagine

the nurses will give you a plot of earth, some seeds to sow,

but in such institutions, life either visits, or fades;

a temporary gift.

.

It does not grow.

As anyone unfortunate enough to be reading my Twitter/Facebook updates will vouch, I’ve been somewhat engrossed this past week in writing an Ambush Novel. By which I mean, I wrote 3,000 words of backstory last Monday, 1 December, having suddenly realised that three different ideas I’ve been toying with for the past few years were actually, in fact, one idea, and since then – that is to say, over the past six days – I’ve written a little over 18,000 words in roughly seven chapters. This is sort of unprecedented, given that I am:

(a) lazy; and

(b) easily distracted by shiny things,

most notably television, the internet, and old-school games of Tetris. On the other hand, final changes to Solace & Grief are long since done, and as I finished the first draft of its sequel, The Key to Starveldt, when we were still in Bristol, I now have to wait the regulation month-or-so before my brain is able to cope with the notion of editing it. Up until this week, therefore, I’ve been in something of a unique (for me) position, viz: being totally free to write, but having no major project. I won’t deny the break’s been nice, but clearly the tiny scrap of enthusiasm currently doing double-duty as my work ethic has grown bored with this sudden influx of free time, and decided to collaborate with my imaginative hindbrain in mixing things up. Hence, we arrive at the Rise of the Ambush Novel.

I’m not quite sure what genre it is. So far, there’s magic, weird technology, political wrangling, frustrated romance, quite a lot of swearing and – oh, yeah – some murders to be solved. It’s an absolute blast, and even though we’re talking early dawn of days, something tells me I’ll see this one through to completion.

So, side project. Squee!