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My earlier post on research referenced online research and how a writer should use their research to enrich the world and create atmosphere, not show how very well you can search through Wikipedia. I just finished reading the section in Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ related to research and to use his words, “don’t let the tail wag the dog”. Not sure I could say it any better than that.

In that post I sort of made research sound dull, like you’re stuck in front of your computer trawling the internet for information fish or in a corner in a library flicking through encyclopaedias. Research doesn’t have to be, it can be fun too (not saying the library and computers aren’t fun). Another example, and from the same book, is my trip to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens.

Mentally I was (still am) quite adamant that I wanted my ‘real world girl’ to live in Brisbane. I moved her into a house I once lived in, sent her to Uni in the heart of the city and even knew the path she would cycle along to get from home to Uni. I also knew if I went to Uni at the Garden Point campus I would have lunch EVERY DAY (well I suppose except for rainy ones) in the Botanic Gardens, so I wanted my girl to have a favourite spot. Everyone has a favourite spot, why shouldn’t she? This required some knowledge I didn’t have, so yay: family trip to the city!

We explored the Botanic Gardens, met a lizard, saw baby pukekoes, played in the bamboo and eventually even found a tree I deigned perfect for my protagonist to sit under every day. I even went to the effort of wearing the clothes I imagined her in the first time I visualised her (hence including that terrible, blurry shot) the white singlet with mystic symbols, the jeans shorts and the fabulous strappy sandals. Of course I’m not 21 anymore and certainly not a red head, but it was fun to play dress-up and get into my characters head, and all in the name of novel research! Now, if only I can convince my husband to let me swim with a manta ray as ‘novel research’.

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It’s rather odd researching for a novel. You need to know a lot of details (even when your world is made up) but while you research you have to be careful to not put too much of your findings in your writing and bore your reader. It’s a fine line to walk down. You need to create authenticity with your details, but you can’t bash your readers over the head while fanning yourself with a smug smile that says ‘I know more than you do’.

For example, I spent over an hour trawling the internet looking up Bedouin musical instruments (I started off thinking Arabian musical instruments, but then thinned it down a little more). I researched what they looked like, where they came from, listened to how they sounded on YouTube, all for perhaps a paragraph and a couple of tiny references when a musical troupe performs for my protagonist. The instruments themselves and the music they created were overshadowed largely by their players and the dancer alongside them. Those characters in turn were overshadowed by my protagonist.

I could just have written ‘they played music’, but how does that help illustrate the strange new world my protagonist finds herself in? I detail my music, give you some sounds and a picture for your imagination to work with, but I don’t tell you everything I’ve learned about rebabs and khallols because frankly, the reader doesn’t need to know. The reader only needs the atmosphere the presence of these instruments creates.

That is what your research details are for, creating atmosphere – not showing how well you can comb the internet.

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Xander’s First Swimming Lesson

Yesterday was the end of term 2 swimming lessons, but sadder than that it was the last day of work for our swim teacher Miss Mikayla. You may briefly remember in the post about Miette’s Moment that I mention we had the best infant swimming teacher ever. She plays with Xander (and all the other kiddies) as well as teaching them and I remember being impressed to see how quickly Xander learned swimming. She was helpful and informative, always happy to share a personal-life tale to giggle over or a fact about water safety. She was also the master mind and organiser of Miette’s Moment.

Miss Mikayla finished yesterday morning with light-hearted claims that it was just pool water under her eyes, but we knew better because we had similar excuses.

It’s hard to find good teachers for anything, and when you just happen to stumble on one by pure luck you stick with them like glue. We have been swimming with Miss Mikayla for a year now and sadly now that time is over. I’m not sure what is worse, knowing it is over like I do, or simply never seeing someone you adore and trust again like Xander will.

Goodbye Miss Mikayla, we won’t soon forget you, and all the best for your future.

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Normally I post my reviews on Goodreads. This blog isn’t intended as a book review blog (not that I’m against them, I follow quite a few and they are the ruin of my bank balance) however considering how many posts prior to this one have been about or sprung from ‘Jane and the Dragon’ (how many? Try here, and here) I felt I really did need to post my review of the book I so enthusiastically tracked down.

As with several other books I have purchased for my son, the for my son part needs to be put in sarcastic quotation marks, like someone is standing there waggling the first two fingers on each of their hands to emphasize the fact it was more for me than he – at least for now. The reading age this book is aimed at is several years away from my seventeen month old son. I’ve sat down repeatedly and tried to read it with him, but we never seem to make it past page 5 (there’s 24 pages, so that’s a dismal failure) if I read the text. We have leafed through to the end admiring the pictures several times and I’ve read the book on my own a couple of times.

Jane is destined to be a lady-in-waiting like her mother, but what she really wants is to be a knight. She is brave enough to tell everyone. In return for her honesty everyone either shuts her down or mocks her for it – except for the court jester, who gives her a suit of armour(it was his because he too once dreamed, but now he wants her to dream it for him). Just in time as well, since a dragon swoops in and captures the prince. Jane seizes the day and rides to the prince’s rescue to fight the dragon and – well I’ll leave you to read the book or watch the show to find out what happens next.

The characters are quite a delight, Jane’s mother and father – even though they are minor characters are clearly drawn (in words, not pictures – though pictures as well since this is a kids book) in their responses to Jane’s announcement that she wishes to be a knight. The prince and king are also well thought through and it’s lovely to see background characters receiving a decent treatment.

Jane herself is what drew me to this book and she didn’t disappoint. Jane is brave and forthright and works hard. She also allows herself to dream big. I love these qualities and can’t help but adore Jane. She also is merciful, which is a great thing for a knight to be – for anyone actually. Jane is in my personal Hall of Fame for good female role models.

The artwork within is colourful and detailed. The costumes, Jane’s wild red hair, the dragon himself, all magnificent. The artwork looks like it has been drawn with coloured pencils so might inspire children to draw their own adventures. I would love to share some here, but I have a feeling that would infringe on copyright, so I’ll just tell you to buy the book yourself or go to the library and borrow it. (Here’s a link to the Book Depository if you want to order online, but I do encourage you to try buying from your local bookstore – after all, tomorrow is Save The Bookstores day.)

I was surprised to find it was originally written in 1988, but republished again when Martin Baynton joined with Weta to make the TV show. I love that in the author bio on the final page there is a small explanation as to the origin of Jane’s character. It’s a great insight as to why Baynton chose to write this book.

All in all it’s a great book. I loved reading it (yes, from an adult perspective as well as a mum perspective) and can’t wait until Xander is a little older and can comprehend the story to see what his reactions are. I think I’ll have to go out and buy the sequels as well. “For him” of course ;p

 

 

What did you think of my first book review for a children’s book? Did I miss anything you would consider important?

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I had planned today to post my review of Jane and the Dragon. However I was quite distracted by a Facebook message from a friend who has recently become a new mum. She was asking for help because she wasn’t sure her tiny new son was getting enough sleep. She also worried that she was creating a terrible dependency by not teaching him to self-soothe yet – at the tender age of six weeks.

I had almost forgotten what those early months were like. Between the immense lack of sleep and the thousand different things books/people/the internet/your conscience tells you that you should be doing you lose all self-confidence.

It’s a brave new world, motherhood, and no amount of books or babysitting prepares you for when it is your child cuddling up to your chest, so tiny in your hands you can’t believe he took up so much space in your belly. You may have a clever friend or family member who is wise enough to tell you to trust yourself and do what feels right, but listening to them and not the plethora of information around you is harder said than done.

While all that information can be important, you will find no end to conflicting advice if you read enough. This is where that trust comes in. Trust in yourself. Don’t put your baby in a cot in another room if that doesn’t feel right to you. Don’t put your baby in your own bed with you if it doesn’t feel right to you. Both sleeping options are perfectly fine(as long as you follow precautions such as safety guidelines and SIDs prevention tips) and I assure you neither will affect the likelihood of your child growing up to be a psychopath (never did the research for this sorry, but I’m pretty damn sure). Some studies will tell you your child will gain independence better if he sleeps in another room, some other studies will tell you he will grow up and be more faithful to future partners if he co-sleeps (I kid you not, I saw research which claimed to prove this). Research can be skewed by the opinions of the gatherers all too easily.

You can probably guess I hail from the parenting school of ‘do what works for your family’. As long as you follow safety guidelines, the advice to prevent SIDs and common sense then I see no reason to do something that doesn’t feel right for your family. If asked I give advice but I will never be offended if the receiver doesn’t follow it. Just because something works for Xander and I does not mean it will work for my friend and her child. She is not a clone of me and her son is not a carbon copy of Xander, thus what worked for us may not be so efficacious for them.

All I can hope is that every new mother can find faith in herself and look forward to a long and beautiful life with their new children.

Note: I used ‘he’ throughout this post only because I have a son, feel free to imagine it a ‘she’ if you prefer, my advice is not gender exclusive. Do also focus on the fact I say “As long as you follow safety guidelines, the advice to prevent SIDs and common sense” I’m not advising anyone throw out safety! Though I would hope no one would feel something was right if it were dangerous I do recall those early days to be crazy and hazy at times.

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Writing my second novel was the easy part. My son was a sleepy angel who would wake me for a 5:30/6am feed then sleep til 8am and go to bed at 9pm (obviously there were naps during the day as well) allowing me to get up early and stay up late without exhausting myself and I used this fabulous month to tap the novel out of my brain and onto the page.

I printed it out as soon as I’d run spell check and tried very hard to wait a fortnight before editing(a well-known writer’s trick that is supposed to ‘distance’ you from the words you wrote).

The entire editing process has been painfully slow. I’m only about two thirds through. I wrote the novel faster than this. The lethargic pace is partly due to my son not being so generous with his bed times (babies love to change up their schedules every few months). The other (read: larger) problem was that something was wrong, but it was eluding me.

In my earlier posts I told you all that my writer’s group sure as heck knew what the problem was. As soon as my problem was identified I was full of ideas and went back through that first chapter and a half and rewrote probably 90% of it. A few lines and paragraphs made it through alive, but the remainder were slaughtered as sacrifices to the Muse.

It’s very interesting to see how much a simple idea (or hint or tip) can help you. It’s just as interesting to see how much of a problem the same ‘simple’ idea can be when it remains unidentified.

Has anyone else found this to be true?

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Well the three weeks of working 5-6 days a week at the day job are finally over – huzzah! Of course I’ve been battling through it with a cold which – now the work has paced back – has become even worse. At least now I have a chance to catch up and start blogging at my more usual pace of every 2-3 days rather than the meagre once every 5-6.

During what little downtime I had our family was playing catch-up with TV. We’d watched halfway thru the first season of Lost at the time it was originally airing, but then became distracted by some other show and never caught back up. So we just watched the whole she-bang in marathon style each night. For all the complaining you hear people make about it I expected it to be much worse. Also thanks to the radio station who on a drive home from work while they talked about spoilers gave the spoiler for the ending. Luckily the guy who gave the spoiler clearly didn’t understand the ending so over simplified it thus making it not that much of a spoiler. I also think some of the irritation others felt sprang from EVERY episode ending in a cliff-hanger. When watching weekly that would have me chomping at the bit as well. It was a lot easier when the longest distance between episodes was 24 hours.

We also watched the last episode of House last night. Don’t worry, no plot spoilers here, but the ending definitely satisfied me. The episode itself was a little odd, but it was a good way to wrap things up. Does anyone know if the song that ran at the end is sung/written by the band that wrote/performed ‘Hell’ (you’ll probably recognise the lyrics better: in the afterlife, you will be headed for some serious strife, now you make the scene all day, but tomorrow there’ll be hell to pay), I’m too lazy to look it up right now. If no one answers I might get up off my metaphorical ass and look around the interwebs for the answer, but I have to get ready for my next day-job shift soon.

I’ll talk more about re-writing my opening chapters based on critique and a review of Jane and the Dragon soon.

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In my previous post ‘Nerves’ I told you all that I had submitted the first chapter and a half of my current WIP for critique. One of the reasons I chose that was because of how much I was struggling with my revision of the first draft and how I couldn’t pin-point what was wrong. Well my group certainly knew! It was unanimous that my protagonist was a whiny, passive bitch. It makes perfect sense. In Storybook Perfect my main protagonist (Yui Watanabe) is already a strong young woman so doesn’t have a great deal of growth in that area. I wanted Fanta to grow more so I purposefully weakened her at the start, burdening her with an anxiety disorder among other things. Unfortunately I made her so weak she’s not easily likeable.

Fortunately this is something I can fix. The person Fanta becomes later in the story will simply have to be clearer at the start. I’m quite confident that this is the problem I was sensing from my manuscript – the false/forced growth of my protagonist. I’m sorry Fanta, hopefully they’ll like you a bit more next time ;p

Getting my work critiqued was great. It was also widely agreed that the alternate world setting was awesome. That makes me beam with pride since the reason my other novel was turned down by the agent who requested the full manuscript was because the world was too ‘stock standard fantasy’(I’ve made a lot of changes now so it’s a bit less run-of-the-mill for those curious – I listen to feedback). Funnily enough she disliked the world, but loved my protagonist – the exact opposite of this story, so I’m laughing quite a bit right now.

I also really love talking to several of the members of the group. I’m looking forward to next time eagerly.

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The last two weeks have been crazy with work. My once part time job in which I worked two days a week for 5 hours a day or less is suddenly a five days a week, full day shift job. It’s because the store manager is on holidays and while the boss is away everyone seems to be looking to me to run the store and the massive mid-year sale set-up. I can understand why, I was a manager for 5 years sometimes running much busier stores, but I came back from maternity leave as a simple casual for a reason: to avoid this. This is the cause of my less-frequent posting, but not the cause of my nerves.

I’m nervous because I uploaded my first piece for critique with my writers group. I originally planned to post some of my very best work (the first chapters for Storybook Perfect if you were curious) but didn’t for two reasons. Number one is because I am struggling a bit with revision on Fanta’s story – something’s not clicking right, but I can’t pinpoint it (editing in tiny fragments of time is not helping me either) – and a critique of the early chapters might help me find what I’m missing. Reason number two is because what would I do if my ‘best work’ was torn to shreds?

I know I’m just being paranoid, I mean the work is pretty solid – those opening chapters were enough to get the first agent I approached to ask for my full manuscript, so they can’t be too crappy – but that doesn’t ease the fear that all writers have: that I’m just not good enough.

Funnily enough, even with that thought in the back of my head it doesn’t stop me from uploading other work for critique or from continuing to work on becoming a published author. Even if I worry I ‘might not be good enough’ I’m not going to give up, because you know what? If I’m not good enough now, what’s to say I can’t work hard and eventually be good enough – or better? Anyway, giving up just isn’t my style.

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All around the place at the moment are posters up that say “Can’t” in big, bold lettering and a tiny URL down the bottom. The minimalist approach is to inspire people to look up the website in the hopes that the lack of information will be irresistible.

It won’t work on me. Okay, sure, I’m as curious as all hell. No joke. I’m being driven mad by curiosity, but I’m irritated by the fact they’ve used a negative word for their advertising rather than a positive. I would rather see ‘Can’ than ‘Can’t’. If they had chosen the positive word I wouldn’t keep my curiosity at bay. Right now though I don’t want to see the word can’t everywhere I look, so I’m ignoring the advertising as best I can because I don’t need any more negativity in my life.

Really, what marketing genius decided can’t was a better option than can?

Am I being unnecessarily obstinate, or do you agree they could just as easily have chosen a positive word?