Monthly Archives: July 2012

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Market Day!

Today is market day. After a slightly out-of-sync start, I bundled the kids and the shopping bags into the pushchair and walked down to town.

I like the market for it’s bustling atmosphere, for the idea of supporting local businesses and growers (though they’re probably not that local), and because I get to practice my french. Not to mention, I get a bit of exercise.

It feels very French, very harmonious, to wander around this local market and pick up this and that, take my time, enjoy the sights and scents… and very soon tastes.

First stop: the ever-overwhelming fromagerie… how do you choose?

Today I was restrained: one Camembert and one hunk of Comte. I was meaning to get Parmesan but the Mediterranean place usually has it and I meant to get pasta from them… only the Mediterranean place was shut.

Next up: fruit and veg… but how do you choose which fruit and veggie stall to shop at? I suspect it’s cheaper further in, away from the roads and sunlight. Today I struck lucky and seem to have gotten decent quality stuff. It can be a bit of a gamble if the salespeople select your items for you.

There are numerous stalls to choose from and I’m only just starting to learn my way around the huge market, let alone know which stalls are best.

There are definite advantages to going later in the morning, or even early in the afternoon, once it’s close to closing: they’re giving stuff away! Only question now is, what am I going to do with all these bananas. Had two in a smoothie for lunch but there’s loads more.

Stocked up on the fresh produce… big time.

(Got talked into 2 lettuces – one euro! – and a LOT of bananas.)

Meat next: saussison sec (something like salami) sliced by the butcher (because it’s so solid I can’t slice it thinly myself) and some beef for dinner. I suspect I need the iron and Luuk never complains about steak… not that he complains about anything that I cook.

Last stop: the bakery.

“Bonjour. Une baguette, s’il vous plait.”

“Un euro.”

“Voila, merci. Au revoir.”

“Merci, bonne journee.”

And then I walked that heavy-laden buggy back up the hill to our apartment, sweating a bit, and thirsting a lot.

Louis was calling out for Baguette – which sounds quite a lot like he’s saying ‘bugger’. He had a chunk of baguette and some grapes for lunch.

I had a liquid lunch…

But now I’m peckish again and there’s delicious hummus in the fridge… that with some lettuce and feta on fresh baguette, sounds like a good sandwich to me.

And a coffee. Bien sur! (Of course.)

That’ll set me up for a good afternoon of writing.


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The day won’t quit

But will I?

I was so close today. As soon as both babies were asleep something else happened. I had two things on the calendar today and the kids did their timing-magic: slept through most of both of them. But then they weren’t sleeping in-sync the rest of the day.

Sometimes Louis goes all Luuk-like and uber-focussed… and then I get to write! Or cook a meal. Or eat a meal.

But not today.

We had the plumber and the owner of our apartment here this morning. Our shower is now waterproof. Shame there’s already a whole lot of water in the wall between the shower and our bedroom… Some days it’s great to not own the place in which I live.

After lunch Louis went down for his nap just in time for Elena to get up. It was her turn to go down for a nap just at the time our French lesson started. After French Luuk went back to work for a colleague’s farewell party. (A celebration or farewell party at the office is known as a ‘pot’ in France. This is pronounced like the name of the smallest teletubby. Fun facts, anytime!)

Having been inside all day, and being out of bread, it was time to go for a walk. And that was where I turned the day around: I took my journal.

But then when I got to the playground Elena was fussing. I picked her up and carried her around till she calmed down, but by then was mid-conversation with another mum – a French woman. So I practised my French and tentatively made a friend. When she left she asked, “Demain?” which means “Tomorrow?” and I agreed. Yippee! making friends.

Luuk messaged me to tell me he wouldn’t be back till seven so we stayed at the playground a while longer.

While Louis did laps (olympian in training?) of the playground I sat on a bench, journal on my knee, and wrote more than a page!

Better yet, I was a bit stuck and now I’m in the middle of a conversation which will be super-easy to pick up tomorrow.

Louis was being so adorable. He would come up to me and I would say, “Go go go! Allez allez allez! Go go go!” To which Louis would reply, “Go go!” and then he’d take off with his adorable wobbling run, round the sandpit and back to me. All this time he’s carrying his new orange sand-rake, as if it’s a baton. And he hasn’t even seen a relay yet – men’s freestyle swimming aside, as they don’t use batons.

Louis is enjoying the olympics. While he ate dinner it was the horses, at which Louis points and says, “hor!” Earlier today it was men’s hockey (unfortunate result that)… but Louis was happy: “Ball!” And yesterday, the Woman’s Judo… “Boy!”


This evening I probably could have done more writing but between/during baby feedings we watched an episode of The Wire (enjoying the black comedy aspects of season four) and then the latest episode ofThe Newsroom.

Well, if we’re going to watch tv all evening at least we’re watching the creme de la creme of television drama: these writers do so good. With any luck I’m learning writing/story-telling skills as well as whatever lesson Aaron Sorkin was no doubt trying to teach me in The Newsroom. That man does love to educate, but so long as he keeps doing it so well, I’ll keep watching.

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We’re in!

Tonight at church we sang How Great Thou Art. The hymn book tells me this song is of Russian origin. This I did not know, though the song is very familiar. However, the words that pop into my head are the maori version…

We go to a tiny English speaking Anglican church south of Paris. I am very aware of how quickly we became a part of this congregation. We are missed when absent and included so willingly.

But I am also aware of being a very small part of the much bigger Church. Each week we read the Apostles Creed and one of the later lines in it says, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

I’ve always thought this was rather ambitious. The church is so divided. But affirming this every week reminds me that we have much in common and most aim to be united.

It is a thrill, a joy, to me, to remember that I am a tiny part of this much bigger thing. Sure, the church is more than problematic: responsible for so much that is overtly good (charity, generosity, community) and yet so much that I can never be proud of (discrimination, violence, hate). But what I’m thinking about tonight is belonging: how important, how great it is, to be a part of something greater than ourselves.

Currently, I am hyper-aware of being a New Zealander, what with being far away from NZ, my children just applied for Dutch passports… and to top it all of the Olympic games are on.

The Olympics remind us that we are all part of one world. The games bring all these nations together, even those at war. During the opening ceremony I think it feels like the whole world have got together to watch telly – doesn’t get much more family-like than that!

As a New Zealander, I feel like i am represented in London by a select bunch of athletes, even though I don’t really give two shakes about sport. In a strange way this sporting event seems to transcend sport.

As a member of a team, or a supporter of a team, we are in.

Belonging is so important. It motivates so much of what we do.

I just bought some new clothing – pants that fit! I am very aware that I’m dressing more and more like the French, like what i see here, in the streets, every day, than what would blend in back home.

I want to blend in – not to be dull and samey, but to be a part of my community, of my locality. I am foreign but I don’t want to look like a tourist. I want to be in.

Speaking of belonging…  I’ve been thinking of finding a writers’ group. This turns out to be rather difficult due to language and location. I have found a drop-in writers group that meets at the Shakespeare and Co. bookshop in Paris.

This historic location, and being an artist in Paris… very charming ideas, but have reservations. Getting feedback on my writing, critique and whatnot, from strangers could have pros and cons. I’m nervous about sharing my work, of course. I don’t have anything prepared especially, but I will. I think the opening paragraphs/chapter of one of my finished novels would be a good thing to rework anyway. This is the bait, after all, that catches the publisher or agent… with any luck.

Next Saturday evening this group meets. I will endeavour to go along. I also intend to go along to one or two coffee groups this week. The small group of other mums there have been the other group, other than our church, to which I’ve come to belong, since arriving in France nearly six months ago.

When I’m working and focused and trying to get Elena into a habit of sleeping on her own, in her bed, it’s tempting to stay home and keep things simple… but it’s good for my sanity to get out, and good for me in so many ways, to discover that I do belong, in some way, in this foreign place.

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Location, Light and Longhand

I am very much affected by my environment. The atmosphere affects my mood even if I push through and work anyway.

I don’t need a pristine, empty, clean and tidy desk or room in which to work, but if it’s really messy and dirty productivity is a challenge.

More than cleanliness, the light affects me. Our flat in Christchurch had great light.  I painted in that house. I wrote a novel in that house. Louis lived the first year of his life there and Elena, the first few months of gestation… Thirty people applied for the place when we moved out. Sure, that was partly because of the rental shortage, post-earthquakes, with all those people forced out of their damaged/destroyed homes. Nice place though.

Many writers have a special place where they can hide away from the world to write. Joanne Harris has a shed, set up with all the things she needs for a good day’s work. Stephen King recommends a place where you can close the door and focus for at least a couple of hours, uninterrupted.

I have two small, reliant children. Closing the door? I sometimes do that when I go to the loo. Working uninterrupted? If my writing depends on the promise of no interruptions I’d never get anything done.

I write on a laptop computer, set up with a proper keyboard, at a desk in the corner of our living room. This corner used to be so dull, and then recently we had the shutters fixed – now they open! – and the light is so much better. I didn’t realise how bad it was, and now it’s fantastic.

Now it has a view of the street, trees, sky, apartments and houses, people and dogs… and natural light!

But that’s not the only place I write. I can un-dock the laptop and take it across to the couch. Having pillows around me and my feet up makes writing feel less like hard-work.

I can also relocate myself (and laptop) to the deck, lounging on one of our great ikea chairs, positioning myself carefully so as to avoid sun on the screen and not on my legs… I’m all for multitasking, so if I can sunbathe and write a novel at the same time then fab!

I have a fantasy of taking the laptop with me down to a cafe and setting up shop there for a couple of hours and several coffees. It hasn’t happened yet.

Sometimes I don’t write on the laptop. Sometimes I write the old fashioned way, and I’m not talking about a typewriter. (I did buy one once, for my brother, who was into all things retro.)

Writing longhand is said to access the subconscious. I write longhand for my journal. I don’t know if I’m accessing my subconscious but I suspect I’m a little less crazy than I would be if I didn’t write a journal.

Recently I’ve been writing bits of my novel by hand. I can throw my journal into the pushchair or into my purse and take it along to the park, to the shops… it’s there if I happen to have the time/space/opportunity/headspace/inclination to write some novel. It’s also a lot faster than writing into a memo on my phone.

At home I write bits of my novel in my journal when someone else is using the computer.

I’m all about removing obstacles. One of those obstacles is that I forget exactly where I’m up to. If I want to write in my journal, because I don’t have access to the computer, then I find it best to just jump to the next scene in my outline/plan. Today, for instance, I wanted to do some writing while Luuk was on the computer. I grabbed an exercise book (because I’m running out of room in my journal) and then couldn’t put a word down for a few minutes. I’m half way through a scene with the main characters and their friends. They’re all in the pub, half way through a conversation… and I can’t continue the scene without reading the last couple of lines.

But I can remember that the next scene in the plan is set at the school. My two main characters are going to have a conversation about their friends’ relationship. They’re going to have a bit more chemistry and nothing is going to happen, hopefully riling up my readers who are, at this point, keen as beens for something to happen between them.

Well, I don’t know about my readers yet, but I’m keen as beans for something to happen between them, so I might get on with writing it.

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it’s in the telling

We went to see Jane Eyre last night. The last time I went to see a film was over six months ago, on the other side of the world. It was The Muppets; quite a different experience.

Films here (in France) are shown in French or ‘V.O.’ which thankfully doesn’t mean Voice Over, but Version Originale. Jane Eyre was on, 8.45 at Massey, in V.O. and I’m nearly always keen for Jane Eyre. It is a significant book for me.

So… Mum and Dad babysat, I left lots of breastmilk in the fridge, and we were free for a whole four hours! Unheard of.

All dolled up for Date Night!

We ate dinner at this gorgeous Lebanese place just up the block – sat outside under the awning, in 30-something degree heat, after seven at night, and had a gorgeous, flavourful meal. Knowing I wouldn’t be breastfeeding again for a few hours I finally tried a ‘Kir Royal’ – champagne with Creme de Cassis. Good idea. Very good idea.

Then we found the movie theater, following Luuk’s memory of the map and his nose – success! (GPS was in the glove box but it’s like a challenge to get around without it.)

The movie was beautifully filmed and the soundtrack was great. There were a lot of scenes without any background music, but the melancholy melodies set to scenes of the moody moors – perfect.

We saw it in the English, with French subtitles. Except there were no subtitles for the bits in French… gah! Managed to follow most, but not all of it.

Probably most noteworthy in this, the most recent of dozens of versions of Jane Eyre, was that they rearranged the story line. The novel sets out the events in chronological order and, as far as I’ve seen, all the film versions have done the same.

You can argue till you’re blue in the face about films being faithful to the novels they’re based on, but I’m going to put it out there and say that I think this was faithful to the book without being a dead-copy. Films are, after all, quite another thing: what works in a novel may not in a film and films can do things which novels simply cannot.

I took a writing course at university – Creative Writing for Stage and Screen – and the teacher summed up the difference between the two (stage and screen, not novels) quite simply: the screen is more visual, less talk; the stage relies on talk to fill in the visual.

Novels are, of course, another thing entirely: There is no visual unless it’s a picture book. The words paint the visual, which is entirely in our minds. Or, if we see the film version first then that’s often the visual in our minds. It can be quite jarring to see a film of a book you’ve read (especially if you loved it) – the filmmakers never do get it just as you imagined.

If you read the book first you get to imagine your own visual, but you might not enjoy the film.

If you see the film first then you’ll probably like both the film and the book.

Which is why I tend not to be a ‘read the book first’ purist.

All this has got me thinking about the order in which I’m telling the story in my novel. I’ve written it pretty much chronologically but fully intend to mess with it when I’m editing. One of the better pieces of writing advice I’ve heard/read is to start your story as close to the climax as possible. If you use language carefully (which, of course, you should) then information can be conveyed without the necessity of showing every little bit of the story. Flashbacks are one way of doing this. Conversations between characters, about things that happened in the past, are a little less risky.

My goal, in editing, is to be succinct. In editing, not so much in this first draft – hit 50 thousand words this week and managed 2000 words a day for the last two days. Who knows? Some of it might be succinct. But I wouldn’t bank on it.

Today I haven’t touched it but this gave me plenty to think about on the train. I’ve been on the train quite a lot…

Louis, using his time wisely, reading on the train.

We went into Paris to apply for the kids’ Dutch passports, and an I.D. card for Luuk. European I.D. is handy-dandy in Europe.

We were early but there was plenty to look at while we waited.

 Not a bad spot for a morning stroll.

Once that was done – last week’s photos accepted! – we headed off to Tuileries to meet Mum and Dad for Lunch.

Louis had a waffle with chantilly cream for Lunch. Went down a treat. Literally.

After lunch we went to Musee de l’Orangerie and spent a couple of hours looking at some of the creme de la creme of the impressionists. In the nearly six months we’ve been in Paris this is only the second art gallery I’ve visited! It’s a crime, I know.

So much culture in so little time: a film, and an art gallery, in just twenty four hours. I’m feeling rather spoilt.

My feet are feeling rather burny and tingly from walking so much (and I had Elena in the sling, adding weight and heat).

We’re all worn out.

Louis fell asleep on Luuk’s shoulders and slept all the way back to Antony.

Louis is grumpy, though currently placated by a balloon. Luuk is trying to turn beef mince into dinner for four. Mum’s holding Elena, who is watching Louis run around in circles, and Dad is playing an air traffic control game on his ipad. (Can you believe it? An air traffic controller, playing air traffic control. While on holiday. He swears it’s fun.)

We’ll blob out this evening and watch the opening ceremony to the Olympic games. Perhaps I’ll do a little novel writing in the boring bits.

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a holiday or a holiday

Mum and Dad are back from tripping around the Benelux.

‘Benelux’ is, I’m told, commonly understood. But in case you’re uncommon, as I was till recently, it is short for Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Having the folks around is a bit disruptive to routines, such as they are, but there are many perks.

I have help with the kids and the housework, which sometimes means more writing, but is really great regardless. I get to have adult conversations, during the day, in the comfort of my own home, and we have a good excuse to go out for a meal (as well as the extra two pairs of hands to juggle the babies).

They motivate us to see the sights of Paris rather than laze about at home (though perhaps we don’t need help here: have been into Paris every weekend now for a month.)

Mum and Dad are spending seven months travelling. They had my sister’s wedding a month ago, in Ohio, and now they’re in Europe till Christmas.

When you say world-travellers I tend to think of single, or at least childless, people in the twenties or thirties, who probably don’t own property, stick at a job for more than a year at a time, or iron their clothes.

I really shouldn’t think this way because, hey! We have kids and travel anyway. We don’t iron or own property, but we both stick at jobs for longer than a year. In fact, Luuk’s worked for the same company since he graduated – ten years ago now.

But Mum and Dad break all the rules. In their fifties they’re tripping around and seeing the sights. As if they needed further excuse to leave Christchurch, what with all the earthquakes (still going on), they are over here to spend time with us, and especially the kids.

But they’re only here for a week or so at a time, between gallivanting around Europe.

It’s rare, I guess, for people to travel without working for so long – seven months! Dad has extended leave and Mum’s left her job. It’s a brave move, I think, to pick up and go, to open yourselves up to so many unknowns. Exciting, sure, but also a bit scary.

And a bit exhausting.

They did two weeks travel and came back to Antony pooped. Mum said it was a bit like coming home, since they’ve spent a few weeks here before.

All that travelling isn’t much like a holiday. They might take an easy, lazy day or two, occasionally, but they’re still in unfamiliar places – a new bed, a strange diet, no routine…

Makes me think that maybe the best place to holiday is at home. At home or in one place, for an extended period, to the point where you know your way around and it starts to feel a bit homely.

Our most relaxing holidays in NZ have been like this. Usually camping at a deserted lake, where we’ve been loads of times, with people we know well. The bed becomes familiar, the diet and routine settle into predictable patterns…

I love seeing sights and experiencing new places. But I do find it tiring. Perhaps the smart thing to do would be to split Luuk’s leave and carefully allow for both restful holidays and travel holidays.

We’re in the midst of planning a combo of the two for September – a week in a villa in the south, with Mum and Dad. Four people trying to plan a holiday together is quite the juggle. Mum’s on her phone, Dad’s on his ipad, Luuk’s on the laptop, and I’m looking over people’s shoulders and suggesting we might come to a decision more quickly if we are all working together.

The goal is to book something tonight – a place to stay, train tickets, and a rental car.

Mum and Dad are here till the weekend, then off for six weeks going around the UK. I’m a bit jealous. I spent a few days in Scotland seven years ago and loved it. I’ve never been to Ireland or England. Or Wales (the poor forgotten Wales).

But once the kids have their new Dutch passports we’ll be planning some trips. I’ve got so many places on the to do list. Italy, Austria, Estonia, Portugal, more of the Netherlands, Greece, and maybe a little bit of Northern Africa since we’re so close.

Exciting! But not really a holiday 🙂

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I’ve got you… under my skin

Category : Uncategorized

One after another, since I was a shiny-eyed pre-teen, I have gone into one obsessive tail spin after another.

I can’t tell you which came first: Anne and Gil in Anne of Green Gables, or Jo March and Professor Bhaer in Little Women. Peter and Assumpta in Ballykissangel, or Elizabeth and Darcy in… need I really say?

I would discover a love story and then I’d read the books, if there were books, and then repeat. Obsessively.

I’m a little embarrassed, but I know I’m not the only one.

I write romance. That’s my genre. It’s what I love, and it’s what I’m good at. Good-ish.

I want to write love stories that have this effect on people – that get them on the edge of their seats, fingers crossed, hearts beating, breath held… But what’s the magic ingredient? Why do certain love stories get under our skin?

My theory: because they’re tragic, or because they really could be.

Be it simple unrequited love or a truly tragic end, a guaranteed way to rile a reader/viewer is to thoroughly disappoint all their hopes and expectations.

But that’s just mean. A good tragic ending might be the only believable ending, sure. Anna and the King never had a shot, did they?

For some characters, death might be the perfect ending, because its ironic, or narrative genius, but it still blows.

The film, Stranger than Fiction, shows this quandary beautifully.

I love that line in The Importance of Being Earnest, “The good ended happily, the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”

There’s enough tragedy in real life, surely. As brilliant as a tragic ending can be, I’d rather read, and write, happy endings. Not the too-easy unbelievable kind, but the kind that give some satisfaction.

I suspect the most satisfying conclusion is the one you hope, but don’t really believe, is possible: when tragedy is possible, even likely, but our hero and heroine escape by the hair on their chinny chin chins. (His chin, obviously, because no romantic heroine ever has facial hair.)

In two words or less: forbidden romance.

This is most effective when there are internal and external factors making a romance impossible or at least very risky.

Classic external factors are disapproving family, social or racial divides, a career/mission which gets in the way, a previous marriage or relationship commitment, bad timing etc.

The internal factors are the clincher though. The characters own fears, their own conflicting values, misunderstandings and mistakes… these can be so small and ordinary and familiar to us. This makes the characters and their conflicts real. We identify and we are cheering for them.

Okay, examples…

The external factors keeping Darcy and Elizabeth apart are initially Wickham’s lies. But you have to have a really good reason to keep the couple from clearing up a misunderstanding. If they’re at all reasonable people then eventually they’ll figure it out and then what’s to keep them from getting together?

The misunderstanding, in this case, has kept one party from forming a romantic attachment. But now that the misunderstanding is cleared up, Elizabeth goes right ahead and falls for him. So what’s to keep them from getting together? Darcy’s pride, all his reservations, are still there. He has to go through a process of transformation.

Any good character changes during a story. Darcy struggles and grows and becomes a better man.

But then there’s Lady Catherine, another external obstacle. Lady Catherine’s objections themselves are nothing much to overcome at this point. Their power is in the fact that Darcy had the same objections to begin with. Which means Elizabeth’s fears are brought to the fore. On top of which, she is now Wickham’s sister-in-law! This is yet another external obstacle: an appalling family connection.

Little does Elizabeth know, Darcy is too in love to be thwarted by the prospect of Wickham for a brother. Meanwhile, Darcy is still a rejected lover, afraid of a repeat performance.

These final obstacles end up being the catalysts that force the pair to get past their fears, clear up their differences, and live happily ever after. Nicely done, Miss Austen.

Now for something completely different: While you were Sleeping (yes, the 90s movie with Sandra Bullock)

External obstacles: he believes, mistakenly, that she is engaged to his (comatose) brother.

Internal obstacles: she is lonely and terrified of losing this great family who have taken her in.

The trend, perhaps goes something like this: the internal obstacles are what keep the characters from overcoming the external obstacles.

It’s really nice (for us readers/viewers, not so much for the characters) when the obstacles snowball – external plus internal plus external plus internal… one is overcome only to make way, if not create, another obstacle.

I’ve recently rediscovered a hilarious Irish drama BBC put out in the 90s: Ballykissangel. In this series an English priest moves to a small Irish town and over three seasons falls in love with the publican, who, despite loathing the Catholic church herself, has come to love the priest right back.

The external obstacle is obvious, but it’s compounded by the internal and external conflicts that follow: his faith is still important to him for starters. Then there is the loyalty he feels toward the community. Believing there is no future for them, the publican leaves town and rushes into marriage with an exboyfriend… so now we have a catholic priest and a married woman. If all goes well we’ll soon have an ex-priest, still a devout catholic, and a divorced woman…

Yep, they’ve got obstacles and conflicts coming out their ears.

Then the actors decided to leave the show… so we got a tragic ending on top of all that.

Way to get under my skin.

One other thing which raises the stakes in a good love story is a higher purpose. If one or both of the characters are doing important work, are on some kind of mission, and the relationship would affect that work, then there is more conflict.

And that right there is the key: more conflict.

So, off I go to make my characters more miserable… for a while.

But I promise they’ll get a good ending.

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See it, live it, write it

Yesterday we went into Paris (we live about 30 mins south on the RER train) to get the right kind of particular photo from the right particular photo shop so that the kids can apply for Dutch passports. (The Dutch, particular? Never.)

I’m a New Zealander. Luuk is Dutch in terms of nationality but has lived in NZ since he was very young. He qualifies for dual citizenship but when he found out how much it cost he bought himself a new computer monitor instead.

Louis, being born in NZ, qualifies for dual citizenship. He has a NZ passport but as we’re in Europe life would be easier (and involve less beaurocracy) if he had European identification.

Elena, being born in France, doesn’t meet the particular Dutch requirements for dual citizenship. She can be Dutch, or a New Zealander, not both. She only qualifies for French if she’s living here when she’s eighteen. Life, for now, is easier if she’s European.

And so I’m going to be the only pure Kiwi, the only non-Dutchy, in the house. Eek.

In an odd twist, the kids, being parented by a Dutchy, are automatically Dutch, unless they take another citizenship and yield their Dutch citizenship. Meanwhile, they’re not automatically NZers, though their mum is, but they can easily become NZers.

Argh. Complicated. But, now that the decisions are made, I’m moving on. They’ll be Dutch. I’m not too fussed about it. Official nationality and patriotic feeling needn’t line up as far as I’m concerned, but I know others would disagree.

Being a bit patriotic: eating NZ fruit, all the way over here in France.
(not very environmentally friendly though…)

Perhaps if I was technically not a NZer I would want to become one because of sentiment, but I doubt it. Luuk feels like a NZer, but technically isn’t one. Perhaps Elena will too.

As my nationality has never been in conflict, I am, no doubt, ill-qualified to join the conversation.

And yet here we are. So I’ll move onto subjects I can comment on with less conflict.

There are a lot of train trips, lots of underground stations to traverse and people to watch on your average day in Paris. I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly what it is that I love about being in a big city.

Luuk would much rather having forests and fields in our backyard. I like forests and fields but I’d rather visit them on occasion than be a long way away from people and cafes and galleries all the time.

Yesterday, while we were on our way through yet another Paris Metro station, I think I figured out at least part of the reason why I love big cities. We saw a couple fighting (verbally, not fisticuffs) in a stairway, there were musicians on the trains, and in the stations (some of them incredibly talented!), and then there’s the sheer variety of people – I’m judging entirely on appearances but I’m bound to right in the general sense, and inevitably wrong in half of my assumptions about any given individual (based on their flamboyant wig/transparent shirt/shiny pants…)

Big cities, by virtue of their population alone, can support independent artists – musicians, painters, and street performers abound. And then there’s the not-so-independent arts: concerts, plays, musicals, operas, ballets, exhibitions…

There’s the art itself, and then there’s the people the art draws: from all corners of the world, all corners of society…

All the life and colour and noise! I see characters everywhere, inspiration for so many stories, ideas everywhere! Love it.

A bit of crazy: a ride at Jardin d’Acclimitation
(we visited this park yesterday while the photo shop was closed for lunch)

If I’m honest, it’s inspiring but also exhausting, and I’m happy being close to, not really in, Paris. Different people need different circumstances/environments in which to create.

Most artists probably need some space – a quiet, still, empty place, on occasion.

Most artists probably need some of the crazy too.

The ratio is variable. I guess, part of being an artist is figuring out how much crazy, and how much quiet, you need to be productive and healthy. This changes, I’m guessing, throughout any life. There’s a time, a season, for everything, as the Byrds, and the bible, say.

I’m noticing a trend in my current season.

With two kids under two, a routine by the clock is just a pipe-dream. I would say that both kids are in a routine of sorts, but it’s very flexible and more like a sequence of events than a schedule. Every day, without fail, we bend or break the pattern, at some point.

I have a plan. Some days it goes well, but most days it doesn’t go perfectly, and there are plenty of days when it doesn’t go at all.

I’m noticing, however, that if I get a few words down first thing, even just a couple of sentences of my novel, then I get my head in the game. I find my thoughts wandering back there, and if I’m intentional it’s easy to think about it all day. I am keen as ever to get back to the computer and write some more. Given the opportunity I’m there in a moment, and within minutes I’m writing; I’m away!

Four days in a row now. The few minutes, half an hour tops, first thing when the kids go down for that morning nap, before they’re even asleep sometimes… that’s the key, it seems, to my making as much progress as possible in a given day.

Today’s reward for writing session number two:
a big fat slice of the lemon yogurt cake Louis and I baked earlier in the week.
(I’m running out of those stars…)

It could be a while before thing settle down and I can do anything except snatch time to write. But I’ll keep at it nonetheless. If I don’t I’ll regret and resent, I’ll see characters and stories and ideas, all around me, and feel guilty for doing nothing with them. It’s no way to live.

Je suis un écrivain, je suppose.
(I am a writer, I suppose.)

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word snatching

I read this great article yesterday, ‘Writing between diapers‘.

Not only did it quote this beautiful piece of wisdom,

“Nothing has a stronger influence
psychologically on their environment
and especially on their children
than the unlived life of the parent.”

–C. G. Jung

But it also talked about stealing opportunities to work on your writing.

Which is just about exactly how it feels: like stealing.

On Wednesday we had visitors – Luuk’s aunt and uncle from the Netherlands. They were going to arrive some time in the morning and spend the day with us. Luuk took the day off work to spend time with them.

This looked at the outset like a classic writing-aint-happening day: it was both busy and a rare occasion. Busy: hard to find time. Rare occasion: easy to make excuses.

But not knowing when they would arrive, we were ready early. Both babies were down for their morning naps in preparation to socialise the day away later. Luuk’s aunt and uncle phoned to let Luuk know they were on their way and I was already sitting at the computer (checking facebook probably).

Luuk went to get some pastries for morning tea. I opened my word processor and snatched some words!

I had this great relaxed feeling for the rest of the day. I’d already done some writing. I have a reminder set up for four in the afternoon and I had already ticked it off by eleven in the morning.

But that wasn’t the end of it. We had this great day, picnicking and talking, playing with Louis’ new bubble gun (the best type of gun ever!) and adoring Elena.

On the way to our picnic lunch – watching the fishes and frogs outside l’hotel de ville (town hall).

After dinner but still fairly early in the evening, our visitors left to return to their camp site. Rather than bunker down, shut the curtains, and watch an episode of The Wire, I sat back at the computer. And there it was, an open document, an open book, just waiting for me.

I didn’t feel at all pressured to write, there was no guilt, no ‘should’, but I wanted to, I could, and so I did.

A little while later Elena woke. I relocated to the couch and watched a bit of tv while I fed her.

I know that breastfeeding is great reading time but sometimes the brain needs to blob – and Modern Family is good comedy to blob with. I have got into a habit of watching tv while breastfeeding – especially if Louis is awake. I can’t entertain him very well and the tv tends to keep him happy if he stops entertaining himself (which he’s pretty damn good at for a kid shy of two years old).

It is possible that the tv makes it more likely he’ll stop entertaining himself. But at least he’s not trying to hug/wrestle with me, or yelling in his adorable but often incomprehensible quest for something he wants, or thrusting books at me and accidentally taking out poor little Elena.

Yesterday, Thursday, was a more ordinary day, but I still have to snatch and steal to get writing time.

There’s a period most mornings when one or both of the kids are not settled. They’re both in bed and enroute to sleepsville, but they’re not there yet and I’m not certain they’re both going to be – at least not at the same time. If I’m going to have a nap then during their morning sleep is the best time, but I don’t want to go to bed until I’m certain they’re not going to get me up again.

While I wait for that fifteen minutes of silence that usually precedes a couple of hours of solitude (I know, I have it so good) there are so many things I could do: laundry, tidying the kitchen, putting away toys, having a shower, eating breakfast, taking the rubbish to the basement, etc. Breakfast and a shower are the only essentials, I think. Some days I skip the shower (too much information? sorry) and some days I eat breakfast before they go to bed.

If I can bear it, though, everything else can wait. I can write, right now, if I don’t mind doing it in a bit of a dump. I turn my back on the mess and look out the window…

…and get on with it.

I can do laundry and dishes and toy-tidy-away (though what’s the point really?) when Louis is awake. Writing with him running around is a bit more problematic. It can happen, but I don’t like to bank on it.

It is another opportunity I must snatch when I can because it doesn’t often last long.

I am noticing a trend, though. If I write first thing, even if it’s just a few lines of words likely to get cut later, then it’s more likely I’ll snatch more words later in the day.

Yesterday in happened again. My lovely toddler has two naps a day – still! I don’t know the secret. I’d tell you if I did. But he’s usually out to it for a good two hours. Elena’s rarely up for more than an hour at a time, so pretty regularly I get two periods of at least an hour.

It’s rare that I spend all of this time writing. But I suppose I could.

(Perhaps I’m not as good at ignoring the mess as I’d like to be. Perhaps that’s not entirely a bad thing.)

So there’s that afternoon nap. I’m often tempted to nap at this time myself, but I’m more likely to grab a third or fourth cup of coffee and scroll through facebook or twitter or pinterest, till I remember to snatch some writing time.

Another time to snatch is when Luuk gets home and is spending some time with Louis. If I prepare dinner before Luuk gets home, and Elena is asleep, then this works out.

If Luuk cooks I can sometimes write then.

Writing at the playground would be wonderful but I might be dreaming. Prime playground times are between 11 and 12 in the morning, and then again between 4 and 6 in the afternoon. There are usually loads of other kids (and all their sandpit toys) which means I don’t need to focus much on Louis as he tends to have plenty to keep him busy/entertained.

I usually sit there and read – be it on kindle, my phone, or from a for-real paper-and-card book. I’ve written in my journal a couple of times, and I’ve noted ideas in a memo on my phone, but reading is a bit easier to juggle. We spent about twenty minutes on Monday kicking/pushing the ball through the little tunnel under the slide. I was standing up, reading something on my phone, and kicking it back to Louis whenever he pushed it through. Brilliant!

I suppose reading is snatching words too, kind of. If nothing else it might mean more time to write later.

Once-a-week I can snatch some words after our French lesson. Luuk is home early for the lesson but not early enough to commute back to work. Sometimes he will work from home after the lesson, but it’s not always possible.

What is possible, if the weather isn’t abysmal, is a bike ride. Off they go, my two boys, to see the world on two wheels, and if Elena sleeps I am all on my own for up to an hour.

And now? Well, it’s friday morning. I’m snatching these words, rather than novel words. But no more. I’ll put on a load of laundry, put on a pot of coffee, and then snatch, snatch, snatch!

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the teacher becomes the student

well, if that title doesn’t get my old students reading…

Today we had our second French lesson with a tutor. I suppose I’ve been a student of French since late last year, but I’ve only had a teacher for a week.

Ever since becoming a teacher I have thought that, should I go back to being a student, I’d be a much better student than I was the first time around. At school and university I did a bit more than the bare minimum, but a long way off from my best. I always had other things going on and I’m not sure I regret that. I had friends, work… a life outside of school. But I could have worked a bit harder, dedicated a little more interest. If a book was set reading it suddenly lost most of its appeal. If there were thirty questions in a maths exercise I tried to get away with doing every third one. If I could watch television while answering geography questions from the textbook, then so much the better.

I’m not sure why exactly, but I decided early in high school that I didn’t like maths or sciences. I was good at both subjects, but they held no interest. When I was teaching, however, the sciences became much more interesting (thanks in part, no doubt, to my friendship with the head of science) and every now and then I’d help a student with some maths homework and remember the thrill of figuring out a difficult equation.

My favourite subjects at school were the essay-writing ones. (No surprise, eh?) Unfortunately I didn’t naturally excel at these. Making clear points and supporting with evidence just went right over my head. Perhaps the memory of this struggle helped me to break down and teach essay writing more clearly when I came to it.

As for English and creative writing, I occasionally got as much as a B grade. The exception was 6th form Creative Writing – a whole separate course full of a variety of genres. I have never done well with short stories, but that was only a small part of this course. There was a children’s literature unit, a romance unit, even one act plays. I was in my element! Out of sheer joy and passion I came top of the class (there were just 12 of us by the end of the year). There were several kids MUCH more talented than I, but I was the biggest writing-nut. That was one of the few times I was an excellent student.

Ah, think what I could have done if I’d poured that kind of dedication into my other subjects.

But, I wouldn’t have had time to be a youth leader, and I probably wouldn’t have learned all the moves to several Britney Spears songs, and at least one chart-topper by S Club 7. I probably wouldn’t have written my first novel (ah, the thought makes me cringe!). I definitely wouldn’t have written a dozen fanfiction stories. But then they might eventually pay off – not the ones I wrote at high school, because they’re just embarrassing, but since then I have written a few that still pull rave reviews on an almost-weekly basis.

Can you believe I’m being so honest? Britney Spears and fanfiction in the same paragraph? Neither.

I suppose one of the advantages of moving to the other side of the world, to a country where you know no one and barely speak a complete sentence of the language, is that your free time is suddenly very free.

I started out in France with ZERO community involvement, no social commitments, nothing. I can carefully choose just a few things to really focus my energy on, and hopefully I can avoid signing up for all sorts of other things unintentionally.

I want to focus on learning french, because I might only be in France for a short time and it’s a rare chance to become fluent in another language. If/when we return to NZ I would struggle to progress further, or even retain what I’ve learned, but if I can get to fluency it’d be a huge achievement.

My other focus is obviously my writing. I am a student here as well. There are two parts to this – the writing craft and the path toward publishing.

As a student of writing I mostly practice. Practice practice practice… If I am patient and persistent I will improve.

It’s working for my culinary skills… Today’s lunch: tomato, feta and lime juice salad.

Totally made it up! Delish. (And very healthy: 2 small ripe tomatoes, diced, chunks of feta, squirt of lime juice, salt and pepper… mix and munch.)

As to publishing – the industry baffles me. I have just started reading a book about the process, From Pitch to Publication, written by a literary agent, and in fact recommended by that same literary agent in the same letter in which she rejected (kindly, but still) my manuscript.

I am taking her advice, to read her book, but I bought it second hand online. (I paid five times as much for the postage as I did for the book, and it still came in under 10Euro. If she’d given me more than the stock ‘thanks but no thanks’ letter I might have forked out and bought a new copy.)

It could be a long, slow process toward publication – whether I decide to self-publish or not. I suppose the other thing I’m learning (besides French and to be a better writer) is patience.

Now that’s a fun lesson.