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Posts Tagged ‘Cats’

 

Worried womanI’ve spent the first three months of this year finishing off the 1st draft of the sequel to the cat book. (See right.) I’m now at around 80,000 words, and I’m embroiled — no other word for it — in arranging the scenes in chronological order. You see, I write novels out of order, just picking one scene from the story line as the mood takes me. I don’t do this with short stories, which I plan out in advance, but I do it with novels, god help me. Now I’m the proud possessor of around 80,000+ words, roughly 85 scenes — all out of order.

To get a book out of this is no mean feat. When I saw the extent of the problem, plus the fact that I still had three critical scenes to write, I thought of lying down on the railway tracks.

Railway tracks

But the train doesn’t run in these parts anymore.

How to proceed from here? My method was to buy a packet of catalogue cards, write the name of each scene plus a brief description on a catalogue card, and then sort the cards into piles representing the main characters. I then sort each character pile into their journey arcs. After that, I shuffle the cards until they’re in what I hope is the right order for the novel, interpolating the main character cards as I go. This takes time. Quite a bit of it, in fact. When that’s done, I take the printout of the novel and put the printed out scenes into the order I obtained via the catalogue cards. Then I read the printout to see if it flows, where bridges need to be added, etc.

It’s madly time consuming, and I’m only at the catalogue card stage at present; I have a fair way to go yet. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of thing that can’t be hurried. Glitches in the plot will always appear at this point, and it takes time to work through them, for something to occur to me that will solve the problem.

Writing a novel out of order is a mug’s game; I don’t recommend it to anyone. But that’s my way with novels; I just take them on, one bite at a time, until eventually they’re done.

So here I am with my catalogue cards wrapped around with a rubber band. I get up in the morning, put on my dressing gown, feed the cat, make a cup of tea, and shuffle the catalogue cards.

Worried woman in dressing gown

I predict it will be a while yet before I have a properly organised printout that I can use to arrange the scenes in the right order in the computer version.

As the late Bob Ellis used to say, “So it goes.”

PS If you’re wanting to catch up on any of my short stories, the easiest way to do it is to go to http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-de-Valera/e/B00H286LXI  There’s a list there of all of them.

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Monkey2

Tomorrow, the 8th February, ushers in Chinese New Year, the Year of the Fire Monkey. Sometimes I wish I lived somewhere where there was a celebration of that — I’ve always related to CNY far more than the traditional western New Year’s Eve, which, in Australia, is just an excuse for a good piss up.

Drunken revellers

Though NYE’s not as bad as Australia Day, which is a regular Bacchanalia.

Passed out man

I hope this new year brings you all good health and happiness. What about wealth? I hear you say. Strangely enough, that’s really not that high on the happiness scale – as most people who’ve ever come suddenly into money will tell you when the glitz wears off.

Monkey1

Different animal years in Chinese astrology are said to affect different signs in different ways. Checking on the link below to see how I might fare in this Year of the Monkey, my prediction’s not looking very good; I hope I will be able to keep the cat in the style to which he’s become accustomed.

Tim worried

Cat worried about maintaining his standard of living.

Perhaps you’ll fare better. Have a look at the link below (one of the most comprehensive re CNY I found in a Google search), if you’d like to know what your fortune holds in the Year of the Fire Monkey.

http://www.chinesefortunecalendar.com/2016/

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super moon in starry sky on sea

 

Nine years ago or thereabouts, the Australian Women’s Weekly ran a short story competition with a first prize of $5,000 and guaranteed publication in this most circulated of Australian women’s newspapers. Being a writer and thus financially on the rocks (I figure I’ve made about $8 a week from my writing over the last 20 years, and that’s a high-end estimate), I decided to enter. I didn’t expect to win, but I thought there’d probably be a short list and the stories on that would be offered publication. And the Women’s Weekly pays, baby, pays.

So I sat down and sweated out a story of 5,000 words and sent it off. Months passed. Eventually the result was announced, but Danny Margaret had scored zero, zilch, and there didn’t appear to be a short list. Well, I thought, so much for that, and I put the story away in the proverbial bottom drawer.

Five years went by. One day (I must’ve had nothing better to do, perhaps it was the wet season) I pulled the story out and reread it. It’s not bad, I thought. Very Women’s Weekly – what a shame it didn’t get anywhere … Then I remembered Australian writer Marele Day saying once in a writing workshop that magazines were always looking for Christmas stories. They were drowning in the other kind, she said; but they were always short of Christmas stories. Hmm, I thought.

At the time my finances were in worse-than-usual disarray. Publication in the WW would sort all that out. O-kay. There was just one hitch: My story wasn’t a Christmas story. To solve this problem, I had the main character’s daughter refer to Christmas in an already-existing phone conversation and I had two people the main character passes on her way to the beach wish her a Merry Christmas. That’s all I did.

By now, my CV had filled out, and I had a little more confidence than I’d had in earlier years. I approached the editor of the Women’s Weekly by email, gave her my CV and a 3-line synopsis of the story and asked if she’d be interested in reading my “Christmas story”. Next thing I know I’m being offered publication in their 2010 Christmas edition.

The moral of this monologue is: If you put a short story in a competition and it doesn’t get anywhere, that doesn’t mean anything. What matters is being published. Craig McGregor told me this way back in 1979, but I didn’t take any notice. Besides, being a single parent, I needed the money that comps could provide.

Now here is “Stella by Starlight” minus the Merry Christmases. I’ve also made one other change, transforming the main character from female to male, to fit the story into the collection I’m publishing next year. Everything else, though, is the same, and the theme and moral of the story are unchanged.

Sales points for “Stella” are below. I hope you enjoy it. I wish I could provide a direct sales link to Apple, but I’m digitally disadvantaged.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG9C

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

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MagnifiCat_Cover_for_Kindle

Anyone taking a casual look at the novel I’ve just put up on the web might be forgiven for thinking I need therapy.

Cat CartoonBut though the cats have the spotlight, many other Australian animals feature in this fantasy for adults — a porcupine policeman, a python bank manager, a kangaroo in the milk delivery business, etc. etc.

Aside from all the animals, though, that slide, hop, glide through this novel, and despite my determinedly lighthearted approach, the book’s theme of life below the poverty line gives it gravitas. It’s not as innocuous as it seems.

But enuff about the novel. Maybe it’s merely a drop in the digital ocean, but because I’m such a klutz digitally, I’m just happy to have survived the experience of getting it up there.

Take a look. It’s available in both e and print form. It’s certainly unusual.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY

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For years now, in summer I’ve slept in the downstairs bedroom of my 2-storey apartment with the back sliding door to the garden jammed open a few inches for coolness. Around 1 a.m. the perfume from the white ginger blossoms blooming near the steps would start to filter inside, and along with it would come beautifully cool, dew laden air. After the insane heat of the day, it was like being touched by the hand of God.

Quoth the raven, “Nevermore.”

A few nights ago, as I was watching an episode of The Mentalist on TV, I was distracted by the strange behaviour of my younger cat Tim, who was sitting on top of the air cooler near the back door. He kept looking down at the floor between the cooler and the door, and back to me. As time went on, he grew more and more agitated. Suddenly, he leapt to his feet and puffed himself up. I thought it must be the tom from across the road, come to torment him: Ha ha, look at you, what a pansy, to have to be locked in at night!

But instead of rushing forward — Tim’s neutered, but he likes a good fight, I’ve got the vet bills to prove it — Tim came back to me.

He looked horrified.

Now this is a cat that has brought in six-foot-long pythons in the past, and once, a yellow-bellied black of about five feet, which my daughter, up on holidays from Melbourne, inadvertently took a shower with. Says I to myself, If Tim’s horrified, maybe I should be horrified too. I jumped to my feet to close the back door against the rabid dog, vengeful tom, whatever, but when the sliding door reached three inches, I hit an obstruction. The door wouldn’t close any further.

What was stopping it? I couldn’t see. The only light was behind me and the air cooler threw a shadow into the space between it and the back door, and my eyes aren’t very good, anyway. I peered over, still holding the door as shut as I could.

This isn't me! It's Tanya BennettPhoto by Manly Daily, n.d.

This isn’t me! It’s Tanya Bennett
Photo by Manly Daily, n.d.

The python raised his head and looked up at me, a sort of: What are you doing? look. Python? Correction, make that humungous python, one of the biggest I’d ever seen, already halfway into the room. He had come for the old cat who was sleeping on the corner of the bed near the back door. I grabbed both cats and flung them into the living room, snatched up my mobile phone, turned off the TV and fled. I closed the door that led from the study to the rest of the apartment, and jammed the space underneath with a length of wood held in place with two heavy pot plants.

Now I’ve lived with pythons before, always against my will, mind you. There was one in the ceiling of the house I moved into in the bush in 1978. But he was a gentleman, he had guidelines. He never came down to hunt mice and bush rats until after nine at night when I and the children were safely tucked up in bed. (With no car, no phone and no power, there was little to do in the bush once the sun went down.) This South Golden Beach python was singularly lacking in manners.

The wildlife people came out next day, but they couldn’t find him. Perhaps, they said, he went back out in the night through the back door I’d left open for him. Perhaps, perhaps … The back room leads to a space under the stairs crammed with things I’ve accumulated over the last 14 years, he could have been anywhere there among the boxes.

But they thought he’d gone, so I locked the back door into the garden and rang for a repairman for the back screen door. I also needed a screen door for my upstairs bedroom; I’d had no screen door upstairs for years – with a mosquito net over the bed, I’d never felt the need of one. Now I did! This place is subtropical, surrounded by lush vegetation and big trees, the python could easily get into my upstairs bedroom unless I kept the glass sliding door closed, which turns the room into an inferno in summer.

And there the situation stands. I come in here to work on the computer for an hour or so a day, and I’ve begun to clear out under the stairs, a job that was more that overdue. But I won’t let the cats in here until I’ve completely torn the place apart. I’ve lost cats to pythons before, it’s not a nice experience.

All up, the event produced some good outcomes: I get two much needed screen doors, and the back bedroom gets its first really good going-over in 14 years. I’m all set for whatever the Mayan calendar cares to throw at me.

Now it’s on to sorting through the 35 years of papers I’ve been carrying around, and the 14 years of useless objects I’ve collected while my head was stuck in a computer, writing.

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I had a funny experience the other day: I’d gone to the pathologist for my annual blood test, which required fasting – always a stressful time for me. I’d been fasting for 14 hours by the time I came out of the pathologist’s. As I was maundering, a bit light headed, through the shopping centre afterwards, I noticed the weighing machine.

The machine and I are friends. We have a date, once a fortnight. It was only five days since our last tryst, but there it stood, and I thought: Wot-the-hell, it won’t hurt to weigh myself again. I tend to put on weight in winter. It was mid-winter now, and I like to keep an eye on things.

I fished out a dollar coin and stood on the machine, which informed me that I was four pounds lighter than I’d been five days ago. Four pounds lighter! For an instant, I was jubilant, but then I began to have doubts: Four pounds in five days — in the middle of winter? Not likely. I wandered away, thinking that, with my low blood sugar, perhaps I’d read the numbers wrongly.

I really was feeling a bit strange. I went into the coffee shop and wolfed down a cappucchino and a large piece of banana bread with butter. That should do it, I thought. Then I read the local paper for a while, to give my body time to catch up; but I couldn’t really concentrate on who had just grown the biggest pumpkin in Goonellabah. I was still brooding about the weighing machine, and how I couldn’t possibly have been four pound lighter.

Out with another coin. I returned to the machine. This time it told me I was five pounds lighter. Five pounds! But I’d been four lighter, twenty minutes ago. Dearie me. I began to do the math. One pound in twenty minutes was three pounds an hour.

I was fading away. At this rate, I’d be lucky to last two days.

The banana bread, plus the sugar I’d put in my coffee, still hadn’t kicked in. I made it to a bench in the shopping centre and sat down. Two days. I’d never get my e-book out in that time; I was only up to page 82 of Mark Coker’s Smashwords Guide, and I hadn’t even opened the How To Kindle book. I’d never get the sequel finished, and I’d never get to see my daughter, who was arriving at the end of August.

Biochemistry’s a wonderful thing. After about ten minutes of this, my blood sugar finally decided to get the message, and kicked in. With this came the realisation that there must be something wrong with the weighing machine. I went into the chemist shop and reported it. Bad machine, to have let me down in my hour of need.

Waiting for the bus that would take me home, I was struck by how beautiful everything looked — the trees, the sky, even the shopping centre’s crappy banners flying in the wind. And I thought: Reminders of mortality are a good thing.

Nothing <i>too</i> big, mind you. Just something small that can be fixed with a cup of coffee and a piece of banana bread.

Danielle de Valera
twitter.com#!/de_valera

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To be honest, I’m pretty damaged; I guess I’ll recover eventually. For 10 days, eight of us, friends from way-back university days toured New Zealand, lurching from meal to meal (we’re old, yn’kow) across the country — watch for my e-book: NZ Picnic Spots I Have Known. After a while, I grew tired and tended to crouch in the back of the minivan, whimpering, when we made yet another stop. But I never complained. Not even when I slipped on the insane tiling of the Hundertwasser Toilets, now a major tourist attraction for Kawakawa in the Bay of Islands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nor did I complain about my experience in the Old Rotorua Bath House, now a museum, where I was underground inspecting the pipes that once brought in the healing waters when the information film showing unknown to me in the theatre above my head, reached the point where it depicted the 1896 earthquake, complete with sound effects, floor tremors and rocking furniture. (The patrons’ seats actually rock up and down, side-to-side.) There were no warning signs underground about the film. As my girlfriend and I fled the scene with our hair on end, I couldn’t help wondering how many tourists were lost to heart attacks while down there inspecting the pipes.

Yep, NZ is exciting. We dislodged retinas on the bungee jump and lost two of our number on the 8-Hour Redwood Epic Walk; but the Inflatable Rubber Hamster Wheel pleased all. Rotorua’s Perorming Sheep were, however, a disappointment. The corps de ballet lacked cohesion, the leading ewe kept falling off her points, and the costumes were uninspired. Top marks to the company, though, for enthusiasm, and the combined Southdown-Border Leicester choir was impressive.

Meanwhile, back in South Golden Beach the cats had devised various schemes to torment their conscientious keeper. The old cat was a challenge, as always — her profession, really. Worse was the young cat’s decision not to walk on the bedroom floor while I was away — some kind of cat oblation to the gods? Who knows. I’m told he leapt from shelves to ledges and pieces of furniture, never once touching the carpet, causing my friend to wonder what horror might be concealed somewhere on the floor of the bedroom she was sleeping in. (He’s the cat who brings in the snakes.) All in all, both cats had a good time, but I wonder about my friend, who never once told me later ‘what a lovely time’ she’d had.

Seriously, if you are in the North Island, a must-see is the Princes Gate Hotel in Rotorua — a beautiful, ornate timber 2-storey building built in 1897, which served a fabulous, 2-course Early Bird dinner for NZ$29.95, the Rotorua Museum (but give the underground pipes a miss unless you like to live dangerously), and the Waterfront Fish & Chip Restaurant (BYO) at Mangonui.

I rounded off my adventures with a 3-hour languish in the Gold Coast airport when the shuttle bus I’d booked failed to appear and I had to wait for another with no money left but the price of a cup of coffee. New Agers would say I attracted this experience with my fear of airports. As long as they don’t say it to my face, they’ll survive.

And so it’s back to my reclusive lifestyle. As the song says: ‘It’s very nice to go travelling, But it’s oh so nice to come home.’

If anyone out there reading this is intending to travel – have fun. I did.

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Is there anyone out there who feels the way I do about travel?  Surely I’m not alone in this. There must be a few other people who, no matter how alluring the prospect, find themselves thinking: I’d rather stay at home.

‘Are you excited?’ friends ask me when I tell them I have to go to New Zealand next Saturday for ten days — that’s my phrase: I HAVE to go away, as if I’ve been dragooned into the situation. ‘No,’ I tell them, ‘I’d rather stay at home.’ ‘You’ll enjoy it when you get there,’ they say gamely.

Maybe.

Already the burn back’s begun – what if someone slips a bag of dope into my luggage before I go through customs?  Most worrying of all is the trauma my cats are going to go through. (Note to Cat Lovers—Not: I’ve owned more dogs in my lifetime than cats, but the fence around my current home’s no good, so it’s cats these days.)

I tell myself that travel will be good for me. But I can’t seem to convince me.

The part I hate most is not the plane trip — I don’t mind the idea of dying if it’s quick. It’s the airport. I picture myself wandering lost forever around the endless corridors they always seem to have, like the character in the old Kingston Trio song, ‘But did he ever return? No, he never returned, And his fate is still unlearned …’

The fact that the Gold Coast airport isn’t big, and the cheap, pedal-driven airline I’ve chosen to fly with is little more than a hangar with no corridors doesn’t seem to make any difference. So there weren’t any corridors last time. There could be corridors this time. Well, there could be …

I’ve got a kindly, live-in babysitter for the cats; I couldn’t have gone otherwise. But they’ll still be traumatised because I hardly ever go anywhere, and they’re not used to it. I imagine the old cat living up the paper bark ti tree in the back yard the whole time, drinking dew off the leaves, sneaking in at night to snatch a few mouthfuls of food as death from malnutrition approaches. And I know the young cat will pine — when I went to Brisbane for five days in 2010, my formerly handsome, upstanding cat was a wreck when I returned.

Still, there’s nothing for it but to go. My ticket’s paid, my bags stand ready to be packed. I’m leaving on a jet plane and, like the song says, I hate to go.

Some people love to travel.

Not me.

Is anyone else out there a home body?

Danielle de Valera,  Australian author, editor & manuscript assessor since 1992

http://www.ecademy.com/account.php?userid=danielledevalera

@ de_valera

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Like the American Indian narrator of that fine book One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest says at the end of the novel, “I’ve been away a long time”.  Things have been happening here.

First, the landlord decided to replace the living room carpet in my little 2-storey broom cupboard 300 metres from the Pacific; the carpet had come with the building thirty-five years ago. Everyth piece of furniture in the room had to be emptied and the furniture carried outside. This was followed by an orgy of washing 12 years of dust off the furniture – writers aren’t renowned for their housekeeping. After the new carpet had been laid I discovered that the LL had chosen a carpet shade so dark it’s like living on a bitumen road. I have to stop myself from looking left and right when I cross the room): Perhaps it was on special.

Then my male cat bought in Snake No. 3 (it’s Spring over here in beautiful, downtown Australia). He likes to take them into the bathroom upstairs, figuring the shower recess is the best place for an interrogation and easy for me to hose down afterwards. BUT this one was larger than the previous two and he lost it halfway up the internal staircase. I couldn’t do the bucket trip I’d applied in the bathroom scenario on the previous two occasions and had to resort to waiting until the snake  reached the living room floor and corralling it with a straw In basket, held down by an antique flat iron; these were the only things to hand at the time. What to do next? That took some thinking. I managed to slide an old Barry Manilow vinyl record cover under the In basket and then transfer the whole lot to a giant garbage bag which I carried down to the canal. The captive looked none the worse for wear when I released him – standing well back and retrieving the various items afterwards. He made for the water and I made my way home with tips for writers the last thing on my mind.

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Before we go any further, I suppose it would be a good idea to let you put a face to this writer, let you know who you’re dealing with, as it were.

This is one of the few photographs I have in which I look even halfway presentable. It was taken in Brisbane in 2010 (I know it’s almost seven years ago; I’m harder to photograph than a yeti) at the 50th reunion of agricultural scientists who graduated from Queensland University in years in ’58-’62 approximately.

What’s a person with a B. Agr. Sc. and a major in Plant Physiology doing writing fiction and editing/assessing manuscripts? It’s a l-o-n-g story …

For more, click on the About section above. For information about manuscript assessments or editing, please see: http://patrickdevalera.com

and click on Manuscript Development Services in the menu bar.

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