On being a great loser

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On being a great loser

For starters, never begin a game of Risk. No good can come of it. Fun, fun, fun, rising blood pressure, glee, despair, fury, philosophical levels of doubt about your value and place in the universe because if you were worth anything you’d surely roll something above a two!

I’ve never been great at losing. Some people are cool, calm, untouchable. Not me. When it’s board games, I’m getting better. Sometimes I still want to cry. I remember, one time, my husband and I once spent two days straight playing chess and late on the second day I won a game. I might have won two, total. It was long ago, before we had kids, and there was this great vibe about it: I’d decided I was allowed to lose, to begin with, at least, because I’d never really played before. This was learning to play chess and we kept playing until I had a fighting chance.

Losing without a fighting chance is the losing that sucks. So Risk is out because it’s a little tact and a lot of luck. Games that are a lot of luck drive me crazy. It doesn’t help that my husband is insanely lucky. No lottery winnings as yet but seriously, if a game is luck-reliant, he’s in. Lucky Luuk, we call him.

Okay, it’s just me who calls him that.

I’m much better than I used to be at losing at board games, anyway. The trick is playing lots and losing lots, I suppose. And winning often enough to not feel totally useless helps.

But boardgames are the baby pool, aren’t they. Stakes are low. Hours of your life (more or less) wasted unless you CONQUER, but no real stakes. No money, career, livelihood, DREAM on the line.

On the other hand, when I’m talking about my writing… ouch.

I have been sending out a heap of writing submissions: query letters to lit agents, to publishers, manuscripts, partials, short stories and flash fiction, poetry too, for competitions and journals. I’ve been doing this for years now, actually, and most of that time it was silence or rejection. Polite, impersonal form rejection.

But every now and then I’d get feedback. Notes on my work, not general niceties, but constructive criticism. It was a good sign. My work was worth the time and energy of saying something about it: that something being the reason it wasn’t right for whatever I’d submitted it for.

A step in the right direction, however painful.

I figured out that I wanted to get those notes before sending it out to be rejected. I needed criticism during the writing process, or rather, during the rewriting process (but that is part of the writing process, really.)

I had this AMAZING writer’s group in Paris. They gave brilliant notes. They didn’t hold back and yet none of it was cruel. It wasn’t me and my work versus the critique group; it was me and the critique group versus my work. It wasn’t personal, though my writing often was and is.

I lap up criticism. But once upon a time, it was personal, even if it came from a lovely, warm, collaborative place. I didn’t know how to separate myself and my worth, from the work and its worth.

I don’t lap up rejection, of course not, but I’m pretty good at taking the hit and getting up and getting on with more submissions or more rewrites or something else entirely.

But once upon a time it was THE END OF THE WORLD. My one almost-novel wasn’t good enough (and, in truth, it was not, and thank you lucky stars it didn’t go anywhere because embarrassing) and therefore I was not good enough. Rejecting that one manuscript was rejecting my entire body of work.

No one gets to do that anymore. No one sees my entire body of work. It’s more than a million words now and oy vey, right? That’s a lot of words.

When I get a rejection now, it’s one of MANY, rejecting one of MANY stories, poems, novels… Compared to that baby writer, a decade ago, a rejection now is a blip on the radar. It hurts, but it doesn’t take me out. I still write that day. I don’t chuck the lot. I don’t even chuck that story.

 

I’m sure different people have different processes and experiences, but for me it’s like learning patience: the only way to do it is to wait. For ages. It sucks. But you can’t learn to be patient without being impatient for, oh, hours.

Learning how to take rejection is the same: take lots of it, one way or the other, and you’ll get better. Which, I know, and I’m sorry, is NOT what anyone wants to hear, unless they’re well into years of getting rejection, and there’s the hope that it’ll start to pay off.

And one day, it won’t be rejection. It’ll be constructive criticism.

And then it might well be a few more rejections. Or years.

And one day it will be a yes.


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an ordinary week (with a few sprinkles)

I am such a routine fiend. I love having a plan and (mostly) sticking to it. Just love it. Lap it up. I get SO MUCH DONE when my days basically go the same, one after another, for four or five days in a row.

Which supposedly looks something like this:

Monday

Morning pages, breakfast, make kids’ lunches, bribe them to dress and eat and put on shoes. Walk Louis to school, Elena to kindy, and then walk home (via The Sign of the Takahe, for a bit of a sweaty but healthy start… if I’m feeling up to it.)

walking home from kindy drop-off

Walking home from kindy drop-off, in the lovely morning sun, with the shiny ocean view.

Next: writing-prompt writing and maybe a poem draft… then emails and social media. And then REAL writing, which at the moment is editing an old manuscript.

editing a manuscript

Lunch, and more writing/rewriting/editing. If I’m on a roll, I’ll run off to kindy pick-up at the last moment. If I didn’t walk after drop-off then this is my other opportunity to leg-it up to Sign of the Takahe and trek down for a work-out-ish-thing before picking up Elena. Then we grab loopy Lou from school and… and then do whatever. If it’s sunny, we often go to the school pool.

Monday night I have my practical theatre studies course so early tea for me and the kids. Luuk has to come home a bit earlier than usual so I can handover the kids. After theatre studies I do the groceries, then head home. The kids are in bed and the newest episode of Madame Secretary is waiting for us.

 

Tuesday

The morning runs the same: writing, food, kids, walk, writing, web stuff, writing, food, writing, walk, kids…

Once a month there’s the Committee meeting for the NZSA Canterbury branch. I often go early to the library where the meeting is held. I almost always forget to return the library books. gr.

 

Wednesday

Ditto the morning.

Ditto the avo.

walking to school

Walking home from school and kindy.

Basketball in the evening, at 6:30 or 7:15 or 8pm… and after yesterday’s game I’m NEVER AGAIN eating dinner beforehand. So Wednesday afternoons will from now on include a mammoth afternoon tea. And preparation of reheatable dinner.

 

Thursday

Ditto the morning.

Ditto the avo.

Plus this is play-date day.

 

Friday

Ditto the morning.

Ditto the avo.

Luuk sometimes comes home earlier on Fridays… but not so much if he has to come home early for me to dash off to my class/basketball.

 

‘Tis the plan. It all goes out the window of course if I get called in to relief teach. But money… so, no complaints. Plus, I love being in the classroom. And I can usually still jam in a bit of writing at lunch time, or while the kids veg in front of a screen, or while dinner’s cooking…

more editing

Editing. And more editing.

Sprinkles

This week is the first week of theatre studies and basketball, so they feel like special glittery things, but on top of that, I’m going to a parenting seminar… which is basically a girls night out because I’m such an old lady. My lovely friend Kirsty got an extra ticket, and I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert in parenting, so sure, I’ll go along.

Also, sprinkles this morning: I took a tour around Ngaio Marsh’s house. We’re planning a writing workshop – make a note in your diaries, for 19th March – and we’re going to have it there. Such a lovely spot!

A portrait of Ngaio Marsh

A portrait of the lady herself, on display in the Long Room.

Ngaio Marsh's writing chair

Ngaio Marsh’s writing chair. She also wrote in green ink, the guide informs me.

ngaio marsh, self portrait

A photograph of her, and a self-portrait. She loved all things theatre.

So much lovely art! The workshop will be INSPIRING and not only because the brilliant Zana Bell is facilitating, sharing her wisdom on ‘World Building’. Seriously, pencil it in. 19 March, from 9-3. Discounted rate for NZSA members.

Tomorrow’s glittery thing is the New Families BBQ up at school, by the pool… so weather, please cooperate.

And on Sunday, for a bit of something else entirely, I’m playing Clarinet at church. I hardly ever play at all so… yay!


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and the winners are…

Earlier this year, a couple of days after we got to Christchurch (after relocating from France and visiting people for a few weeks in the north island before tripping down the country) I applied for a program the NZ Society of Author’s runs each year, called ‘CompleteMS’. Basically, I want some editorial-flavoured feedback from someone in the writing and publishing industry. I’ve had helpful criticism and lovely praise from my writers’ group and assorted reader/writer-friends, and I know this particular story has its strengths but it isn’t getting bites from literary agents. There are many reasons literary agents don’t bite – it’s not all about the quality of the work but that’s a factor. So rather than rush head-long into self-publishing, or continue firing off queries to agents, hoping someone will fall head-over-heels for this manuscript in its current form, I’m hoping to lift my game a bit, take this novel up another notch.

So I applied and I’ve won one of the twelve assessments they award each year! Hurrah!

Thanks to The NZ Society of Authors and CreativeNZ, I’ll have some help from… mystery guest. I have no idea who my assessor is, but I’ve posted off the big, fat envelope. It’ll take a month or two to get the thing back, with notes and all that, and then there’s a work-shopping session, a chance to talk through the issues and next-steps. And then I’ll be ready to rewrite the thing, again. Make it magic. Fine-tune. Or, you know, rip out great hunks and suture the wounds.

It could happen. It’ll hurt but if that’s what it needs…

So, yeah, that’s my news. Yay! It feels like a big smack of a kiss of legitimacy, to have something I wrote recognised as kind of up-and-coming. I even get my bio on the NZSA website.

In the meantime, while I wait, I’m still working: rewriting another many-times edited manuscript, one that has already had some professional editing. It’s not a magic fix-all, and I’ve gone several rounds with this baby, even after those assessments. I suppose, for all that, my expectations of this CompleteMS thing are in-check. It’s an honour to be supported in my work, but I still have to do the work.

We’re in school hols so with 2 kids under-toe I’m scrabbling at time to get at the manuscript. After sunset, I say fair game and let the kids at their screens, and pour myself a glass of wine and try to switch on my brain (and yes, I’m aware that’s counter-intuitive). If I can just get into it a bit them the odd interruption won’t hurt: I can go make hot chocolates or find someone a dummy, or build a mattress “slide bridge” and then return to my page and pick up where I left off. But I have to get my head into what I’m working on to begin with, and some days that takes longer than others. I went and hid in my bedroom this evening and read a whole chapter aloud. Off the back of that I managed several new paragraphs, necessary because of the massive changes I’ve made in the previous three chapters (cut the bulk of two of them – bam. Ow.)

So, yeah, that’s me, word snatching when I’m a bit past it. Today we roller-skated.

That's how we roll

Tomorrow we’re hanging with friends, assuming we don’t get snowed in. Thursday we’re going to try gymnastics on for size. There’s a school holiday thing on with heaps of stuff to do… so we’re doing, rather than bumming around at home, getting annoyed at one another. Or that’s the goal. I’d get more writing/editing done if we stayed in, but I’d be fobbing off the kids and I do try to delay that till later in the day.


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finding pace

We’re back at it. Luuk’s at work, Elena’s at halte garderie (well, not this very minute. Right now she’s watching Monsters Inc. for the thousandth time), Louis is at school and I’m in the thick of revisions… again.

the kids and their friends

The kids are happy to be back in routine, and playing with all their buddies.

They’ve gone and changed up the school timetable, so Wednesday is now a school day – but a half day – and every other day wraps up at 4pm (used to be 4.30) which means everyone’s a bit confused… but three weeks in, it’s settling down.

I’ve found myself a french conversation group, and signed Louis up to stay after school on Thursdays so I can go. I’ve even got myself a little job – talking English with a kid for an hour a week. Yeah, it might cover the cost of printing all my drafts. But probably not.

lovely autumn

Lovely autumn

September is gorgeous in this bit of the world, if you can slow down enough to notice. They have a cheese and wine fair in Antony each year, which seems a wonderfully hedonistic way to celebrate.

cheese and wine fair

Foire au fromage et aux vins!

champagne at the antony foire au fromage et aux vins

My happy place: the champange tasting.

Last year it rained… but this year I think Luuk got a bit of sunburn. Needless to say, we are stocked up to our eyeballs. We will be eating a lot of cheese in the next few weeks. Wine, at least, lasts for a long time. But in our enthusiasm to taste it we have two bottles open right now – one has gone into a bowl with chicken (I’m gonna try coq au vin) and the other will be going into tonight’s risotto. (The chicken needs a day or two of swimming so we’ll eat it tomorrow.)

So we’re eating well. Surprised anyone?

There have been a few cool bits and bobs in the past couple of weeks:

– I met Margaret Atwood at the Festival America at Vincennes. And she signed a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale for me. I was not at all cool about it. Star struck silly, in fact.

handmaid's tale, signed by margaret atwood

– Elena is biking to school and garderie, so we’re inching toward the end of the pushchair.

elena on her bike

– There was writers’ group last week, and we tackled a whole novel. We’re all working away at novels and usually do a chapter from each, in a session. But for editing purposes, looking at a piece of work in its entirety can be hugely helpful, and it went very well.

photo (2)

 From beginning to end.

I also found it encouraging to read a complete manuscript, written by a member of our group, and next time we’re doing one of my whole manuscripts. There’s at least one other member with a finished one so perhaps we’ll tackle that (when said member gets back from hiking in Nepal…)

– There’s an election in NZ, in a couple of days in fact, and there have been lots of great conversations via social media. I’ve been particularly encouraged by how many of my former students are taking an interest and getting involved. One of my favourite units to teach was on government and democracy (link is to a great documentary) and five years later those kids are old enough to vote, and still give a damn. So, win!

– I’ve been reading ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig – a downright brilliant book. Highly recommend. It’s not long or difficult, but wow, talk about tackling the big questions with humour and heart.

I feel like I’m forgetting something, but that might be it. Elena’s gone down for her nap so I’d better get back to my disgraced heroine and the unconventional earl she’s accidentally falling in love with. As you do.

 


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wind-down

We’re usually the ones who take-off on holiday on the evening of the last day of work, or at crack of dawn, next morning, but this time we are taking an entire leisurely Saturday to pack and potter around. A much more relaxing start to a holiday.

We have three weeks and first stop is Switzerland. This time tomorrow, all going well, we’ll roll into Geneva, kids fresh from a very long nap. What shall we see? I guess I’ve got some reading to do. There’s a lake, definitely, and mountains, it being Switzerland. Fortunately, most of the five hours-or-so drive is within France, and I can hot-spot the 3G on my phone and use my ipad in the car to google things. Ah, the joys.

The next stop on our trip is properly in the Swiss Alps, and then we head down into Italy, where we will chill out by a lake for a few days. From there we will stop off at Milan, Padova and Venice before heading north to Salzburg.

I make no promises but there might be a blogpost from Salzburg. I’m glad we are going back to Italy; it was pretty awesome last summer. I suspect we’ll need warmer clothes this time, as we are basically lapping the alps – which gives a rough idea of our complete route.

Fewer days are set aside for dedicated lazing about, than last summer, but we will be seeing all sorts of stuff in five different countries. And we’re driving which gives us a bit of freedom – and I’m not gonna lie, air conditioning is nice. Public transport in Italy in August… steamy.

I’m glad we didn’t rush off first thing today. I’ve had the kids home with me all week. We’ve cleaned out the perishable foodstuffs and stayed on top of the laundry but packing didn’t happen till today.

What did we do? Well, there were three markedly different huts – not bad for our cozy wee living room.

inside the first hut

Inside the first hut, a picnic for the toys.

hut number three

The third hut, before the friends arrived. They had a real picnic lunch in there.

On discovering the ludotheque was closed for the week, we took advantage of good weather (which didn’t last, I’m sorry to say) and visited a different park to usual, at the other end of Antony.

exploring the distant playgrounds

The distant park – which still has sand!

the favourite playground

And we went back to our usual haunt – the kids’ favourite park in town.

working on the cycling skills

And when the rain came and went we dashed out to the closest park, and Elena biked!

We ate our breakfast one morning by the fish pond.

breakfast by the fishpond

Mmm, fresh pastry and ominous skies.

fishes!

But the fish were out and the weather waited a little while.

Another day, we stopped in at Louis’ favourite cafe, for hot chocolates.

chocolat tiede

Or rather, ‘chocolat tiede’, so that it’s cool enough to drink.

menu angst

And the kids had more fun with the menu than the tiny waffles.

There was a little down-time each day, while they napped. I’ve been trying to make all the broad-strokes edits to my manuscript, according to some horribly wonderfully insightful questions and suggestions from an editor. Meanwhile, Luuk has had a FULL ON week at work, and had left-over work to do every night. Needless to say, we were in no shape to pack and go first thing today.

And I finished my major-edits about an hour ago. Hurrah!

And margaritas! Had to use up the limes, of course.

Occurs to me now that there are clothes in the machine, clean and wet and not getting dry enough to pack. So much for being on top of the laundry.


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whelmed

It’s a lazy Sunday here, and tomorrow is 14 Juillet (known as Bastille day only outside of France, apparently). Sundays are so much nicer when Monday’s a holiday.

This is what we’ve been doing:

and a few minutes later:

Movies, music, food. Hanging out like pros.

It is summer holidays and so far so good. The weather has been lousy, and continues so today, but I got to the market, and we have friends coming around tonight. During the week, I crossed paths with friends who have kids, and we all keep each other company. I had writers’ group. Things are going okay.

And yet, I am feeling rather under-whelmed, just at the moment. I’ve been solidly working on writing for two and a half years now… and the reasonable bit of my brain knows I’m getting better, and I’ve written LOADS, but there’s a little bit of my brain, a bit that is both a) irrepressible, and b) immune to logic.

That dangerous cluster of neurons (I took science until they let me stop. I was 15. I don’t even know how to spell neurons. No squiggly red line – good) is getting me down.

I’m feeling rather overwhelmed by how much work goes into writing (and rewriting and editing) a decent novel. I’m not a naturally gifted wordsmith. I’m not a speedy reader. I have to work hard at this stuff.

working, at the playground

Working hard. At the playground.

I’ve been working hard for two and a half years now. That’s as long as it took me to get my B.A. – which you might argue is about as useful. I had to do another year of study on top of my degree before it made me employable. And there was always more to being employable than those qualifications.

It’s possible that publication, or even finding a literary agent, is a ways off. Maybe not, but maybe. I actually had a dream last night, in which a friend, who has written a lot less than me, got a book deal. If that were to happen, sure I’d be very happy for them, but I’d also be angry. I’m a little bit angry anyway. And it was just a dream! Two people I studied with have prize-nominated published books, and one of them won the freekin’ Booker.

Now, I know, comparison is a foolish idea. But there it is. The brain goes there anyway, don’t it?

 

writer with angst

Louis, with writers’ angst.

I’m terribly impatient. And most of my anger is to do with impatience. If I stick at this long enough (and I will because I love writing) then surely it will pay off… eventually.

Exactly what ‘paying off’ looks like, might not be just what I think it is now.

I recently had one (of seven – oy vey) of my manuscripts assessed and got comprehensive editorial feedback from a professional in the publishing industry. There are lots of positives in her report, but what I was seeking (and what I got) was advice on how to lift my game.

I’ve got plenty of work to do. Perhaps not all of it is strictly NECESSARY. But I do intend to go through the entire thing again and fix up that which is (now) obviously improvable. And for a while, before I touch it, I need to just think about what I want to do. Especially about the opening chapter. (But I really am horribly impatient.)

so many words

So many words.

One of the discouraging things is that two of the editor’s concerns are to do with things I added, relatively recently, in response to other people’s feedback! (Including the opening chapter.) I made big gut-wrenching changes… and it’s possible they didn’t work. It’s always frustrating to try something and have it not work.

But it’s part of the learning process, says the reasonable bit of my brain. Writing is not all you do. Writing is not all you are.

Look at your lovely kids and all the things they’re learning. Look at that fantastic feast you’re slapping together without a recipe and when did you start understanding french on the radio???

But still. Gr. Writing a book is a slog. A first draft is something I now find easy, but that is far and a long ways from a book. In fact, what happens to first drafts, in this house…

That about sums it up.

 


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it must be love

I’ve been in an obsessive love-fog frenzy, working on my new book. I keep staying up too late, letting veggies rot in the bottom of the fridge, forgetting other deadlines… all classic symptoms of distraction.reconciliation

Making good progress, however. Just need to switch focus to a couple of other things this morning, if possible. I need to do a small revision on another work, then post it off. I need to take a look at a couple of short stories and poems I’d like to submit and either do them, or put reminders on bright post-its on the kitchen cupboards, so I won’t forget about them, when I return to the love-fog.

I have now missed one deadline, but perhaps for the best. Unless anyone knows of a way to post an A4 envelope to arrive in NZ four days from now. Yeah, not likely unless I fork out far too much money. So that’s that.

How does obsessive working on a book work with two toddlers? Well… it often doesn’t, but this weekend was good. On Saturday, we returned seriously overdue stuff to the ludotheque and then borrowed a couple of new toys and games, including Agricola, an elaborate board game for the big kids (certainly not the toddlers).

We had lunch (mothers’ day was the excuse…) at a crêperie and then walked home. The kids slept and Luuk played ‘Papers, please’ which is a game that looks a lot like hard work. I wrote and wrote and wrote, all by hand, which apparently accesses a different part of the brain. I’d generally prefer to type, but writing by hand makes a nice change and then when I sit down to type, I can start by copying out my hand-written stuff, editing it as I go, and by the time I’m finished I’m (hopefully) on a roll.

On Sunday, Luuk did galettes for breakfast (actually was mothers’ day now), which are crêpes of buckwheat flour. They are usually used for savory fillings. First, you cook them like (thin) pancakes, and then you cook them again, fill them, and fold them over. We did ham and cheese and egg, like the Bretons. Delicious.

Elena and I went to the market. She ate the strawberries while I bought many vegetables, eggs, goat’s cheeses and fish. And then we ate most of it… well, not quite.

Luuk took the kids for a bike ride and I wrote some more. So nice and restful and undisturbed. Then I made lunch in peace…

veggies and cheese and more veggies and more cheese

grilled aubergine, capsicum and courgette stacked with fresh mozzarella and a bit of balsamic vinegar. Salad on the side, with avocado, cherry tomatoes and a soft but strong goat’s cheese (which Elena loved.)

The kids were all worn out from exploring two different playgrounds, so they slept. Luuk and I played Agricola (it takes a while so we have to time it carefully) and then experimented with the leftover crepes and flambéeing…

experimenting with crepes

Raspberries and appelstroop (dutch spread made with apples), flambéed in poire williams… or strawberries and chocolate, flambéed in poire williams… or lime and sugar, flambéed in rum.

To flambée you just need something with 40% or more alcohol. Whatever you prefer. Warm the alcohol in a small saucepan and when you’re ready, light it with a match and pour it, flaming, onto whatever you’re flambéeing. Fun, theatrical, and yum. And most of the alcohol burns off.

I got back to my book after our wee goûter, and luuk back to checking passports (in the game). Then the kids woke up. No boozy crêpes left for them, but plenty of berries. I do love summer. We will have stone fruit and berries for months now. And they’re good and ripe already. The season here is longer than in NZ, probably because the fruit is imported, but from relatively close by.

busy bees

By some miracle, the kids were happy to do their own ‘work’ at the table beside me, and I managed to keep on with my revisions. Glue everywhere, and pen, and tiny pieces of cut-paper, but that’s the price.

We’d run out of cutlery at dinner time. Too much cooking and eating. Luuk and I spent half the evening doing dishes, and the rest… you guessed it: writing and checking passports.

That’s our life now.

But I’m sure we’ll come out of it in a week or two.

 


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just act normal

Category : Daily Life

Well, there’s nothing normal about the limbo we’re in at the moment, and all the travelling, and all the travelling-to-come… but this week and last week and next week are going to be ordinary.

There’s school and work and writing. Bit of house work. Shopping for groceries (but nothing else because the big sales are a few weeks away yet and why would you shop now? That’d just be silly.)

The kids are well and happy and driving me up the wall.

ie. normal.

Luuk’s been playing Civilization on the computer so I’ve been getting LOADS of reading done. Love that. Finally getting around to reading Hemingway. I have a degree in American Studies, for heavens sake! Every second american in Paris (and more than that if you stick to people at Shakespeare and Company) is a bit obsessed with the man and he comes up in conversation too regularly. For a while I was not reading him because of that, and also because of Kat’s bit in ‘10 Things I Hate About You‘:

skip to 5:30

So I’m reading the thing Hemingway wrote about living in Paris. And if I make it to the end of that (because Kat ain’t all wrong) I’ll probably stop there. But I’m also reading Potiki, which I have meant to do for years. I even brought the book with me from New Zealand, yeah, two and a half years ago. So it’s about time.

And book number 3, because there are always 3, is Amercanah. Rave reviews got me curious, and so far, lovely prose and obviously an observant semi-genius writer, but I haven’t got far.

Note the absence of mush? I know. New leaf? Unlikely. Just taking a breather from the romance diet. What I’m writing, on the other hand… well, it might be a tad more serious than my usual flavour.

I have a slightly odd practise of under-writing first drafts and then fattening them up with important stuff like descriptions of characters and settings, later. Draft one will be 60 000 words, draft six will be 80 000.

So I’m fattening up a second draft. I’m a bit of a wuss and tend to gloss over hard stuff like emotions and anything to do with religion and faith. All my stories are love stories, so emotions are vital, but in this current work-in-progress the religion and faith stuff is increasingly central.

And challenging to write about without gross generalisations, cheese, and overly simple answers to incredibly complicated questions. I’d also hate to exclude, ie. I’m trying to make no assumptions whatsoever about my readers beliefs and values. Which is difficult, nay, impossible. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying.

Now, a video of the kids and then I’ve got to get on with things.

Expressing affection can be complicated.

Good lesson to learn young.

 

 


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so very many

When we moved from NZ to France, we thought it was an 18 month stint. We shipped over a few things: baby and maternity clothes, our top five kitchen utensils, a few toys, and some linen. There were no furnished apartments and so Luuk’s company helped set us up with a bit of furniture. A few months later we forked out for a desk, a bookshelf, chairs… Not two and a half years later, we have got quite a collection of stuff.

We brought towels with us, but before we arrived, Luuk’s company bought us some towels. So, we’ve got far too many towels.

Until there’s a baby throwing up in her bed. Again and again and again. Turns out, we’ve got just enough towels.

And far too much laundry. That was Friday night. The little lady is fine now. The laundry pile is still astounding, but c’est la vie.

We didn’t even bring over all our towels. Some are still in storage in NZ. If we take all the towels we have here back to NZ, then we really will have too many towels.

Oh, so big news… a decision has been made: we will be moving back to NZ. Done. Decided. And now I can breathe.

Har de har har har. Why did I think it’d be easier once the decision had been made? There are still another gazillion decisions and plans to make and yet right now, this week, I can do zilch. Nada. Except have weird dreams in which I panic that we shouldn’t buy our Easter chocolate in France because it’ll get crushed in transit.

Whaaat? We will absolutely be in France for Easter. I am (subconsciously and not) worrying about our things getting damaged in transit, and what we should take back to NZ, and feeling rushed… and we’re not actually packing up anything till July.

Even that date is not firmly fixed. But most likely, come the end of July, we will ship a bunch of things back to NZ and then spend a month or so travelling in Europe before we jet back to NZ. Arriving September, or so.

We will have stuff to get rid of here. I’ve never messed with France’s answer to TradeMe/Ebay – Le Bon Coin. I am (not so) secretly hoping I just happen to have friends who’d like to buy our oven, washing machine, fridge and microwave.

I think the kids are picking up on the stress of all these coming shifts. Louis, especially, is very fragile. Very happy, happy, happy, and FREAK OUT! CANNOT CALM DOWN. RIDICULOUS AND IRRATIONAL. I am exhausted. Partly because of the (multiple times) daily freak outs.

Luuk’s away on business again this week. He leaves tomorrow for Romania, and gets back on Friday, so it’s just four nights, not a full week like last time. Fortunately, the kids haven’t quite shaken the daylight savings time shift and are waking up after 7am most mornings. Long may it last. At least a week or I’ll be a write-off.

Speaking of writing, I am editing. Rewriting is more accurate. But it’s going well, when it’s going at all. Daily? Yes. Probably. But not as much as I’d like. I’m reworking the end of a novel. Rather than hearing all about the exciting climax of the subplot, the heroine is going to get in there and (attempt to) save the day. A much better way to round it all off. Action! Confusion! High stakes! True love!

Anyway, we’ll see. Might be a bit far-fetched. Only one way to find out. I do love a good story. Went to see Monuments Men today, with a couple of friends. It was stellar. Fantastic. Excellent. Loved it (clearly). Just the kind of flick that makes me want to write properly great stories.

On that note, back to work.

ps. Sorry, no pictures. Next time there’ll be too many. Maybe.

 


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self determination pep

The concept of self-determination first impressed me at university, in a fascinating 400-level history course. I’m sure I had social studies and history teachers who touched on the subject at school, but my brain engaged a little later…

Self-determination comes up in NZ history particularly because of the conflicts surrounding the Maori and English texts of the Treaty of Waitangi. Self determination, to quote wikipedia,

“…states that nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference which can be traced back to the Atlantic Charter…”

And to make a long story short, the Maori people of New Zealand didn’t mean to cede the highest sovereignty of the islands to the British crown, but woops, the British thought they did.

freedom camping east coast, new zealandFreedom camping on the east coast of the North Island.
(Perhaps similar to what the Maori chiefs meant to let the Brits do…)

And why am I rabbiting on about it on a cold Tuesday morning in France some hundred and fifty years later? The Treaty of Waitangi was, until the 1970s, largely ignored. A movement for ‘self determination’ rose up and while there are still huge inequalities and problems in NZ, I for one am rather proud of how the Maori language has been saved, how Maori culture is celebrated and respected by people throughout the country (and the world, in fact).

At several points in history, people predicted that the entire race would die out, the language was certainly expected to become extinct. The culture was at risk of being reduced to dolls in headbands and ‘grass’ skirts, green plastic tiki necklaces and Goldie paintings in museums. But people stepped up and said ‘No. This is worth saving.’ And they kept it alive. And now it’s a vibrant, living, growing, changing thing, not a relic.

pania by the seaPania by the sea, for all her charms, a relic.

I love this progress. Call me a sappy romantic, a naive optimist, but I think the story applies widely. What we are, what we were, is not the end but a chapter in the ongoing narrative. It’s easy to feel stuck, to think the path is set and perhaps not going anywhere great.

I got a rejection letter yesterday, from an agent who was actually interested in one of my novels. Ouch. She says it’s a great story, she sees potential but she’s not willing to sign me on. It needs work, and she goes on to tell me how.

Helpful, but still sore. I’m not jumping into more rewrites and edits just yet, but probably soon. (Hopefully, with the aid and advice of a literary agent who sees the potential and believes in me/the book enough to get on board.)

What my manuscript is, in its current form, is unfinished. Novels, unlike cultures, do get finished eventually. They get published and all the little errors are set in stone unless there’s a second, third, forth edition. But until it’s published that first time, it can still change and grow. Which is exciting and scary.

I could give up, self-publish it as is, say it’ll do. Perhaps it would. Or I can be patient, work hard, keep hope. Either path, to be fair, might be an example of self-determination.

Kids are constantly changing and growing. They are a great reminder of individual self-determination. Just when they get into a habit of doing things one way, a week later they want to try it differently. They question why we act in certain ways. They want to try marmite by the spoonful, and playing chess, and doing vacuuming… ready or not, here we come.

marmite, by the spoonful

Louis would not let me put on his second glove this morning. He managed the first but the second (using the first-gloved hand) was just plain difficult. He was determined to do it himself. Elena insists on feeding herself, even if that means pesto and pasta and orange juice all over the kid, the chair, the floor… laundry, laundry, laundry.

Louis has been doing half-days at school, coming home for lunch and napping at home in the afternoons. He did full days for the first two weeks of term and it was too much, too stressful. He wasn’t eating and he was getting upset every morning. But half-days weren’t a problem. He was happy and engaged, speaking french, playing and excited and all that jazz.

Last week he told me he wanted to stay for lunch. In fact, he threw a fit on the way home, determined to stay at school for the afternoon. Yesterday we tried it: he ate the fish, the potatoes, the lettuce. He slept on the mezzanine with all the other kids and didn’t wet the bed.

I was so damn excited when the teacher told me, “Il mange bien, il dort bien, c’est très bien!” This morning he was reluctant and a little teary, but bravely marched on and cuddled the teacher on arrival… and it’s rice on the menu, so I think he’ll be fine. He wasn’t ready two months ago, but perhaps he’s ready now. We’ll see. It’s probably to do with whether or not he wants to be ready, believes he’s ready.

My big boy.

Ready to go!

My whole life I’ve felt like my health and fitness were out of my control. At some point, just after Elena was born, I felt ready, and believed I could take control, and I did. I don’t know what the formula is, but from that point on I’ve been able to manage losing weight, keeping it off, eating healthy, exercising regularly.

This is all vaguely related to the concept of self-determination, see? I can’t bite off too many things at once. Louis couldn’t hack school and lunch and nap time all in one go, but just morning class was fine. When I learned to drive I used Mum’s easy automatic car. A couple of years later I mastered a manual gear shift and it was relatively easy because I’d already figured out mirrors and the give-way rules, indicating and parallel parking… One thing at a time, but determined, and taking responsibility for self.

We can do it!

And pep talk finished. In my next installment, at least one pretty pic of Paris. Promise.