Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Road...

At my son's insistence, I've just read Pulitzer Prize winner, The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It's a very grim end of the world story and I guess you couldn't find a book more different from a Mills and Boon, but I have very eclectic reading tastes, and I do love beautiful prose, which this book has in spades, despite its disturbing subject matter.
Richard had told me ages ago that he thought the last paragraph of this book was one of the finest passages he'd ever read, so that certainly kept me turning the pages.
But in truth, I found myself hooked from the start, reading with a kind of fascinated awe, applauding the heroic characters (father and young son) and desperate to see what would happen next and how the book could possibly end.

As one of my writer friends said: "I couldn't put it down. I wished I'd never picked it up."

I asked myself why people want to write and read books like this. Why choose gloom when there are so many feel good stories? I wondered if perhaps reading a dark book makes our return to the real world all the happier. Perhaps we're filled with gratitude that we're better off than the characters in the books. Another son (Andrew) told me that studies have shown that people who listen to heavy metal rock (noted for its dark and morbid themes) are actually surprisingly happy (i.e. happier than most) in their real lives.
On the other hand, some feel good fantasies might leave us feeling envious of the characters and dissatisfied with our lot. As a child, I'd emerge from an exciting Enid Blyton and feel very jaded about my boring little life in suburbia. It didn't stop me reaching for another, of course.
The Road did remind why some of the best romances take their characters to very dark places before they achieve their happy endings. As adults, I guess we choose books to suit our mood. I know that our little romances have helped many people in times when their lives have been particularly dark. One reader told me she read my books after 9/11 to help her calm down. Another read them beside her husband's hospital bed.
Anyway, on I read, travelling down the road with these unnamed characters... and I found the ending surprisingly uplifting. I haven't read any discussions of this book, but to me it seemed like a metaphor for our lives... we trudge on, often burdened by trouble and hardship, doubt and fear, but if we keep the faith and hang on to our code of ethics we find that even the worst that happens can still bring relief and reason to hope. I don't think I want to see the movie of The Road, where the awfulness of the post apocalyptic world will be blown up into huge graphic images, (even though I was very impressed with the young boy actor when he starred in Romulus, My Father). But there's a most definite feeling of redemption in the book's ending. And yes, the last paragraph is a stunner.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


First of all, the above is evidence that we really have been painting at Tarzali. All the furniture is still piled in the middle of the room, and those walls used to be pale green with dark green trims. We're painting everything off white to open the whole place up and make it feel much bigger, and hopefully, to enhance the country cottage feel.
Back in Townsville, I went to the hairdresser yesterday, and yes, she found paint in my hair. But for those who were worried (thank you) I am writing again, adding some male viewpoint (at my editor's request) to my latest submission. I'm pleased to report that she's v happy with my first attempt at a romantic comedy. I'll tell you more about that soon.

On the way home from Tarzali, we called in at Innisfail's Feast of the Senses, where we lunched from paper cones filled with local seafood. The most popular stall was made up of huge trestle tables covered in vividly hued plies of lush tropical fruit. We brought home sugar bananas, late season mangoes (from Mareeba) and mangosteens, a fruit I hadn't tried before that's delicious -- a cross between a lychee and a lemon sorbet.

Now I just have to get as excited about my next story as I was about my last. I love the feeling of anticipation and "let's go!" that takes hold as a new idea gets its claws into me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

not a lot to report...

Instead of having an exciting time in Thailand, we're at Tarzali painting the inside of the house. Today we've painted the kitchen ceiling and we've undercoated one and a half walls. Exciting, huh?
Our saving grace? Audio books -- today a Minette Walker mystery. Where would our lives be without story tellers?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Surprise Discovery...

My first novella Charlotte's Choice was republished in 2007 as part of Mills & Boon's centenary celebrations. I never knew, so it just shows that an occasional wander through can bring pleasant surprises. Sometimes.
I might order myself a copy.

Oh, and I'm back from Sydney. I escaped Cyclone Ului, but so did the rest of Townsville. Will tell more soon.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A trip to London...

If you'd like to dip into what it was like to be at this year's Romantic Novelist's Association's annual awards lunch in London, go over to Fiona Harper's blog.
Apart from seeing a pair of mega-glamorous red shoes owned by Penny Jordan and modelled by my editor, Meg Lewis, you'll find out about some lovely new books. (Avert your eyes to the reference to eating guinea fowl.) I'm off to The Book Depository next. I especially like the sound of the winning book Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts by Lucy Dillon, as well as The Nearly Weds by Jane Costello.
When the abandoned strays from a local dogs' home are matched with brand new owners, it turns out it might not just be the dogs who need rescuing. Rachel's aunt has left her a house, a Border Collie and, despite knowing nothing about dogs, crowded kennels. But since her life has collapsed she's not sure she can deal with any more lost souls.
Zoe's ex-husband has given their children a puppy. The kids are in love, but she's the one stuck training Toffee the impossible Labrador. She's nearly at the end of her tether -- until Toffee leads her to a handsome doctor...
Meanwhile Natalie and Johnny's marriage hasn't been easy since they started trying for a baby. But is a fridge-raiding, sofa-stealing Basset hound like Bertie really the child substitute they're looking for? As the new owners' paths cross on the town's dog-walking circuits, their lives become interwoven. And they -- and their dogs -- learn some important lessons about loyalty, companionship and unconditional love ...

Monday, March 15, 2010

a mixed bag of a week...

It's been a busy week... I had a birthday last week, which involved a certain amount of celebrating. Plus... I had a deadline. Book sent off last night. Fingers crossed as it's a total experiment.
But also, last week, our little twins ended up in hospital with pneumonia. I'm pleased to report that they're well on the way to recovery now.
Oh, and also... E and I were were planning a trip to Thailand, leaving next weekend. We were going to a cooking school in Chiang Mai and I was planning to set a book there (of course), but we've cancelled it because of all the political unrest and demonstrations and terrorist threats etc.
So now I have to dream up a new idea for a book...
I'm doing that in Sydney at gorgeous Coogee.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

This sounds so interesting... to me...

Sometimes I like being intrigued by a book for a while before I actually dive in and buy it. A book that's been calling to me lately is Devotion by Dani Shapiro.

Shapiro's newest memoir, a mid-life exploration of spirituality begins with her son's difficult questions-about God, mortality and the afterlife-and Shapiro's realization that her answers are lacking, long-avoided in favor of everyday concerns. Determined to find a more satisfying set of answers, the author seeks out the help of a yogi, a Buddhist and a rabbi, and comes away with, if not the answers to life and what comes after, an insightful and penetrating memoir that readers will instantly identify with. Shapiro's ambivalent relationship with her family, her Jewish heritage and her secularity are as universal as they are personal, and she exposes familiar but hard-to-discuss doubts to real effect: she's neither showboating nor seeking pat answers, but using honest self-reflection to provoke herself and her readers into taking stock of their own spiritual inventory. Absorbing, intimate, direct and profound, Shapiro's memoir is a satisfying journey that will touch fans and win her plenty of new ones.
Here's what people are saying about it.
"Courageous, authentic and funny, Devotion is Shapiro’s exploration of her own relationship with faith."

"Shapiro’s journey is a deeply reflective one, and her struggles are as complex as they are insightful, philosophical, and universally human."
— Booklist

What makes Devotion most compelling is its willingness to explore the elusiveness of certainty.
—Time Magazine

"I was immensely moved by this elegant book, which reminded me all over again that all of us – at some point or another – must buck up our courage and face down the big spiritual questions of life, death, love, loss and surrender. Dani Shapiro probes all those questions gracefully and honestly, avoiding overly simple conclusions, while steadfastly exploring her own complicated relationship to faith and doubt."
– Elizabeth Gilbert , author of Eat, Pray, Love
And here's Dani's very cool question and answer set up.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Debut Australian author

I've just been "down the hill" to a fun night in Cairns for the fabulous launch of Helene Young's exciting, debut book 'Border Watch' published by Hachette, Australia. This was held in Glaskins Gallery at Trinity Beach, which was beautiful, a perfect venue for a book launch. (Well chosen, Helene!)
Of course this gathering also involved meeting up with other Far North Queensland writers, which is always terrific, and we went out for dinner after the launch for a proper catch-up.
Here's Helene, making her gracious launch speech to huge applause.

Far North writers: Christine Barker and Shannean Moncrieff from Cairns and Noreen Allen from Ravenshoe. And below, I'm with Becca Quinn from Mareeba.

Helene had plenty of Cairns' supporters.

And this is the beautiful view behind us as we head back to the Tablelands.

Now back to my looming deadline.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Writing rules...

One thing I've learned about writing: there are no rules. Every writer has to work out what's the best writing regime or way to plot or to write dialogue, or whatever. Nevertheless, aspiring writers are always looking for information about how other writers "do it" and the UK's Guardian has listed rules from an interesting range of famous writers.

These rules (below) are from Hilary Mantel, winner of the Man Booker prize for her historical novel Wolf Hall (which I haven't read yet, but have heard people raving about), and her thoughts really struck a chord with me. I especially liked: Write the book you'd like to read. (Although I have to admit I'd be writing single title if I followed that suggestion to the letter). Hmmm... food for thought.

You can read the other writers' rules here.

Hilary Mantel
1 Are you serious about this? Then get an accountant.

2 Read Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande. Then do what it says, including the tasks you think are impossible. You will particularly hate the advice to write first thing in the morning, but if you can manage it, it might well be the best thing you ever do for yourself. This book is about becoming a writer from the inside out. Many later advice manuals derive from it. You don't ­really need any others, though if you want to boost your confidence, "how to" books seldom do any harm. You can kick-start a whole book with some little writing exercise.

3 Write a book you'd like to read. If you wouldn't read it, why would anybody else? Don't write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book's ready.

4 If you have a good story idea, don't assume it must form a prose narrative. It may work better as a play, a screenplay or a poem. Be flexible.

5 Be aware that anything that appears before "Chapter One" may be skipped. Don't put your vital clue there.

6 First paragraphs can often be struck out. Are you performing a haka, or just shuffling your feet?

7 Concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change. This is especially important for historical fiction. When your character is new to a place, or things alter around them, that's the point to step back and fill in the details of their world. People don't notice their everyday surroundings and daily routine, so when writers describe them it can sound as if they're trying too hard to instruct the reader.

8 Description must work for its place. It can't be simply ornamental. It ­usually works best if it has a human element; it is more effective if it comes from an implied viewpoint, rather than from the eye of God. If description is coloured by the viewpoint of the character who is doing the noticing, it becomes, in effect, part of character definition and part of the action.

9 If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don't just stick there scowling at the problem. But don't make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people's words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.

10 Be ready for anything. Each new story has different demands and may throw up reasons to break these and all other rules. Except number one: you can't give your soul to literature if you're thinking about income tax.

Monday, March 01, 2010

dessert post mortem...

Following on from my last post...
The first two courses of our dinner party weren't quite as rich as I expected. They were an experiment with venison, you see, which none of us had eaten before. I think I could have actually gone for a creamier, richer dessert, (like my family's favourite -- caramel rum pie) but then, I'm a terribly harsh self-critic. You should see me worrying for days and nights on end after I've given a workshop.
Anyhow... I think this dessert would be perfect for lunch, especially in summer.
You make the jelly by boiling half a 375 ml bottle of dessert wine (Noble One is the best, but there are other cheaper options), then adding the rest of the bottle and three leaves of gelatine (that have been soaked in cold water) or half a sachet of gelatine softened in a little cold water. I always add a dash of extra gelatine just to make sure it sets.

When this is served, you top it with balls of watermelon, rockmelon and honeydew and then pile on shavings of a watermelon granita. The granita is made by blending half a diced watermelon with 60 mls of sugar and 60mls of vodka, passing it through a coarse sieve and setting it in a tray in the freezer overnight. When serving, you use a fork to scrape the grantita so it looks like piles of fluffy pink snow. I couldn't photograph the finished effort because it's assembled at the last minute, but I can show this hasty shot of the jellies lined up and ready in the fridge.

Speaking of food, my editor commented that she loved all the foodie references in The Cattleman's Adopted Family, which is now on sale in the UK and NA and online in Australia. Here's what the new Australian cover looks like. I rather like it, even though you need a magnifying glass to find my name.