Monday, May 30, 2011

School's Out 4EVER; or, The Time I Got Busted For Drugs

School's Out 4Ever, people, and I'm getting the jump on the blogfest thanks to the International Date Line! Oh, yes, it's May the 30th in Australia, and I'm blogging away while everyone else is sleeping! And here it is, my embarrassing high school story -- one of many -- sponsored by Sommer Leigh at Tell Great Stories.  

I went to six different schools in twelve years, but not as often as I should have. I wagged school a lot. Townsville State High had a policy that senior students, being trusted and mature, were able to sign themselves out of school for medical appointments and suchlike. I misused this privilege to such an extent that it was taken off me. Meh. I just went back to the old system -- writing my own permission notes. Because I couldn’t forge either of my parents’ signatures, I made up a non-existent guardian and signed everything in her fake name. I think it says a lot about their appalling lack professionalism that the school staff took so long to investigate that lie.  

Sometimes I went book shopping. Sometimes I went to the movies. And sometimes I went to Theology and Philosophy classes at university with my sister Kath, because I was the most uncool truant ever.

When my tangled web of deceit eventually came apart, I was sent to counselling. I made every appointment with the counsellor to coincide with Maths. And then Economics. And then anything else with numbers in it that I didn’t feel like going to. My counsellor, who was a lovely lady, talked a lot about backpacking in Europe in the seventies. We got on well.

When the Year Eleven Geography camp came up, I didn’t want to go. Three days in the rainforest with kids I didn’t really know -- my fault, I was never there --  looking at plants and rocks. But away I went, stuck in a convoy of teachers’ cars heading up the winding Paluma Range Road.

So we looked at the old tin mines. We looked at the bioluminescent fungi. We were supposed to look at bandicoots, but that was optional so none of us bothered. Turns out they were my sort of kids after all. Don’t wander off into the rainforest! the teachers warned us, but it’s not like we could light up our cigarettes in front of them. So we kept sneaking away to smoke and drink and do silly things. And it was okay, as long as you didn’t pick the same spot as the teachers.

On the second night of camp I got busted for drugs. I wasn’t, however, doing drugs. What I was doing, along with two other girls, was that thing that toddlers do: spinning around in circles with our arms out until we got dizzy and fell over. And I will defend it by saying there was no television in Paluma and we were very, very bored.

It was like a comedy of errors. After spinning around and falling over for a while, the three of us went up to the shower block to get into our pyjamas. And, without realising we could be overheard, we giggled about things like “head spin”, “high” and “can’t even stand up”.

A teacher with a face like stone stormed into our little party. We were summoned up to the main building. Now! We were ordered not to talk, put in different rooms, and interviewed separately by our suddenly very unfriendly teachers. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know why I was there. I didn’t know what I’d done, and nobody was saying. I felt like Josef K in The Trial.

If I went through your bag, my teacher asked me, what would I find?

Holy crap, I thought, my smokes! I muttered something noncommittal and looked at my feet.

What about drugs?

Um, my Ventalin? Yes, an asthmatic smoker. It wouldn’t be the irony I’d choke on.

Anything else?

And then the penny dropped. This was a drugs bust. An actual, proper drugs bust. For realsies. And I had never been so acutely embarrassed in my entire life. I would have been less humiliated if I’d actually had drugs stashed somewhere in my bag -- at least that would have got me some street cred -- but having to admit to a teacher I was spinning in circles going wheee until I fell over? Mortifying.

We hadn’t been busted for drugs. We’d been busted for stupid, and that was much worse. The three of us never spoke of it again. Not on the long, awkward drive back to civilisation, not when we were waiting for our parents to pick us up from the front of the school, and not for the next year and a half of geography classes when my teacher kept looking us and trying not to laugh.

And meanwhile, the boys on that camp had smoked so much dope in the rainforest that they were still high a week later. How was that fair?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Versatile as well!

L.G. Smith at the fantastic Bards and Prophets has given me a lovely Versatile Blogger Award. Hooray! 

Now, the original rules are these: 
1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
2. Share seven random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 0 - 100 deserving blogging buddies.
4. Contact those buddies to congratulate them

But I'm going with the alternative rules that L.G. used. I am posting the first and last lines of the first five chapters of my novel. It's called Sub Rosa, it's a murder mystery, and it's set in Rome in A.D. 64. Or is it A.D. 63? This is the WIP I'm on a break from, and apparently I've forgotten a lot about it... but it does pay to remember that the narrator is often drunk. Anyhoo! 

Chapter 1: 
First sentence: If I’d expected the women of my household to greet me at the door with a cup of Falernian, a dish of nuts and a cloth with which to mop my troubled brow, I was out of luck.

Last sentence: I pulled a face at Octavia, instructed her grimly to replace Cicero when she was finished with him, and went inside to face my greatest fear.

Chapter 2: 
First sentence: Julia Drusilla had the fortune to have inherited her mother’s looks, and the misfortune to have inherited her father’s personality.

Last sentence: Please, please, please let him have heard.

Chapter 3: 
First sentence: An invitation to dinner meant another visit to Fish Alley for a shave.

Last sentence: I had slipped in his blood.

Chapter 4
First sentence: The ancients teach us that each person has a star in the heavens that shines bright in their ascendancy, and dims in times of personal and public decline.

Last sentence: There is nothing sweeter than Fulvia’s sympathy.

Chapter 5
First sentence: Mad Uncle Maro was the first to turn up on my doorstep the next morning to congratulate me on attending the most talked about banquet in months.

Last sentence: As she began to recite her increasingly irrational litany of woes, I smiled benignly at her and waited for Fulvia to come and rescue me.

And I'm passing this award on to Teralyn from A Writer's Journey because her blog is great, and she shares my love of ancient Rome! 

And also to Girl Friday at Reading, Writing and Ribaldry because she shares my love of alcohol. 

And T.L. Conway at T.L. Conway writes here who just shares the love! 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How well do you know your characters?

I know very little about my characters before I start writing. Sometimes I’ll start with a vague idea of what they look like, or just a given name, and see where it takes me. Or sometimes I’ll start with a scene and, like a director, zoom in on one particular character and follow him to see where he takes me. Or her. I’m an equal opportunity stalker.

Pantsers like myself rarely know our characters when we get started. It can be very exciting, like sharing a carriage on the Oriental Express with a mysterious stranger who hands you a key in an envelope and says, while looking over his shoulder at the approaching secret police: “You must take this! The life of the dauphin depends on it!” And you know absolutely nothing about this person, except that it’s going to be a hell of a ride to Istanbul.

Unfortunately, sometimes the person you hope is your ticket to mystery and intrigue turns out to be Roger, who works in Accounts Payable of a multinational plastics-manufacturing company specialising in making castors for office chairs. And you really wish you’d picked another seat before the journey got underway.


So, for the plotters out there, how much do you know about your characters before you begin writing their stories? Do you wait for them to reveal their secrets as you journey together? Or do you know enough details about them to set them up a fake profile on an internet dating site?*

Let’s test that theory.

What is your main character’s star sign?
What is their favourite colour?
What is their favourite song?
What is their guilty pleasure?
How much money do they have in their bank account?
What is their favourite book or movie?
Do they like long walks on the beach?

So, can you answer any of those questions about your main character? I can’t, because they haven’t told me yet. And also, I can’t get Roger to shut up about the difference between polyurethanes and halogenated plastics for long enough to ask him. 

* This may be fraudulent. But also fun.

School's Out 4EVER Blogfest

The awesome Sommer Leigh over at Tell Great Stories is hosting a blogfest.
Get on board, people, because it's going to be fun!

Enter HERE and I'll save you a seat at the back of the bus.
Oh, and I will be relating one of my more embarrassing high school experiences.

Mum, don't read this on May the 30th.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cool Blogger Award

Thanks to Teralyn at A Writer's Journey (an awesome blog!) for giving me a Cool Blogger award. So now I have to tell you one cool thing about myself. And that

Okay, I don't know if this is cool, but it's certainly weird. I have been in a proper Turkish bathhouse, in Selçuk, Turkey. Naked, with strangers. And lying on a big stone slab. Naked, with strangers. And then a Turkish man scrubbed me with a loofah and attempted to make conversation. 

"You are Australian?" he said, reaching for places I'd usually only let someone with a medical degree inspect. 

"Yes," I squeaked. 

"Ah," he said with a knowledgeable nod. "Yes, you are very dirty." 

And who would have thought that situation could get any more awkward? 

(And in my defence I was backpacking at the time, and I hadn't had a decent shower in ages, and you never realise before getting into a sauna/steam room/Turkish baths just how much grime is going to come out of your pores.)

And I'd like to share the love by pointing you all towards Mooderino at Moody Writing. Mood has some great posts about structure and craft. 

And I am also now on Twitter. Scary, no? Well, I'm scared. Not Turkish bathhouse scared ...but close. So if you're on Twitter as well, and I'm not following you yet, leave your username in the comments and I'll get right on that. You probably won't hear much from me, because I am easily confused by hash tags, tiny urls, and many, many other things. But I'll muddle my way through!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Eurovision... (I'm so ashamed)

For anyone who thinks that Europeans are cool, sophisticated and cultured, I give you the ultimate counter-argument... Eurovision. The Eurovision Song Contest is so bad that it's good. So, very, very bad that it's good. For me it's not about who wins or loses, it's about who was the weirdest. And this year that came down to Ireland and Moldova. Identical Christmas elves on crack, or unicyling garden gnomes. On crack. 

Anyway, this year Eurovision surprised me. Check out the entertainment they put on stage when the voting was being tallied during the semi-finals: Breakdancing meets Bach. And yes, you'd think that would easily fall into the "So bad it's good" category, but it doesn't. Because these guys are actually good. 

They are called the Flying Steps, and they're performing to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

And here are some images that will stick to the walls of your brain and infect your nightmares with giggles:
Jedward from Ireland.

Zdob & Zdub from Moldova. 

 And, for the record, both Ireland and Moldova were robbed.

So, what are you guilty pleasures?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sleep Deprivation

Just occasionally on night work, nothing happens. Last night was one of those nights, and I had great plans. I was going to map out all the plot points for a novel I’m working on. I was going to battle my way through that one chapter that’s being a stumbling block on another story I’m working on. I was going to finally remove that vaguely good idea from my brain and pin it down on paper. And did I do any of these thing? No, I did not.

Because one problem with night work is sleep deprivation. I can hardly get a coherent sentence out at the best of times, so it’s doubly tricky when a lack of sleep makes your brain turn into damp cotton wool. Or one of those weird green spongy things you stick flowers in for flower arranging. You know, the ones that go all strange and crumbly and bits fall off everywhere. That’s my brain right now.

So here is a list of things I did on night work:

  1. Work. Well, obviously, when it came up.
  2. Listened to my iPod.
  3. Played games on my phone.
  4. Watched The Bourne Identity. And then that show from the eighties where this guy flies around in a futuristic helicopter and save girls with bad haircuts and shoulder pads. Then Magnum PI.
  5. Ate peanuts.
  6. Wrote a grand total of 468 words, most of which were misspelled, none of which advance the plot, and none of which will survive editing.

But that’s 468 more words than I would have written if I’d been asleep, right? So I’m going to count that as a moral victory. Or a Pyrrhic victory. Or something.

And tomorrow night I will do great things! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Do you write yourself notes? Ephemera from my brain.

Being a pantser rather than a plotter, I often write myself handy little notes for things I intend to follow up, and then don’t. This means that whenever I have a clean up (read: “unexpected house guests”) I tend to find these little notes scattered all around the place. In my cutlery drawer, in my bathroom cupboard, and they seem to breed in the bowl on top of the fridge. In fact, the only place you can be guaranteed not to find them is my study.

Anyway, some of these little notes date back a long time. Some of them were once vitally important, but it was so long ago that I can’t remember what vague idea they were attached to. And some of them, I’m fairly certain, were written by ninjas who sneak into my house at night just to confuse me. Or maybe the possums.

Here are a few orphaned notes of unknown origin:

What are ivory nuts? Look this up.

Ocean names. Morwenna - Solwata - yay!

She is the queen who marries the enemy and saves her people - could work!

What if the journalist is the narrator?

“You built me up again. What for?”

A ship. Really? Fix this.

What is wrong with Third Person? Juxtapose with Field Manual stuff.

The Renoir is a fraud. Or maybe you need those freaky apocalyptic paintings..?

It almost horribly backfires.

And it turns out my internal editor is a bit snarky: 

One day I intend to collect all these little notes and write the weirdest short story known to mankind. Until then, I need a decent filing system. Or, you know, any sort of filing system.

Also, am I the only person who leaves notes to themselves in Second Person? 

Friday, May 6, 2011

By the pricking of my thumbs...

...something wicked this way comes.  Well, Wicked and Tricksy, which is even better!

Four of my favourite bloggers have joined together in a League of Evil Fellowship of Awesomeness. Their new lair is called Wicked and Tricksy, and you can enter its cavernous depths on May 9th.

You guys know the Fellowship of Awesomeness already.

They are Sommer Leigh from Tell Great Stories.

Claudie from Claudie A.

Margo from Urban Psychopomp.

And SB Stewart-Laing from Writing the Other.

Check out their personal blogs, and check out Wicked and Tricksy:

Wicked & Tricksy

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Anachronisms. Whoops.

I once read a book set in the Middle Ages in England. I don’t remember the title of the book, but it was by a well-respected author. I was enjoying the book -- it had good characters, nice conflict, and I really wanted to see how it all worked out. And then it happened. The main character, possibly an apothecary, was doing up some poultice or potion or what-have-you and -- gasp -- she added witch hazel.

And it ruined the whole book for me. Because witch hazel is from America and, unless this thirteenth-century apothecary had some sort of as-yet-unrevealed powers of teleportation or possibly a portal to the future (I was open to it!) it sure as hell didn’t belong in that book.

And just like that the author’s whole world unravelled for me. One tiny detail, and it broke the spell. And I wish I could forgive it, but I can’t. And maybe some people wouldn’t have noticed, but I noticed, and it mattered.

Writing historical fiction means doing a lot of research. A lot. And not just in the obvious stuff like political leaders and dates and whether or not that building was actually there yet, but on the day-to-day minutiae of ordinary life. And, personally, I need to have the following covered:

What sort of underwear did they wear?
What did they use instead of toilet paper?
What did they eat?
What did their bedroom look like?
What sort of stuff would they own?
What did their shoes look like?
Birth control? Yay or nay?

And this doesn’t mean that you’re going to be subjected to a three page toilet visit in Ancient Rome including a whole paragraph on bum wiping (sponges, in case you’re interested, cleaned with vinegar and shared by all members of the household - ugh) but I need to know these things to feel confident I have a handle on that world. And yes, I’m sure that I’ve made mistakes as well. There might be some absolute clangers in mine and I guess that’s the problem -- just because I haven’t spotted them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

When you’re building your own world you can call all the shots -- flush toilets in an otherwise medieval  society, why not? Heaps of fantasy books have surprisingly advanced sewer systems and waste management -- but in historical fiction you’re at the mercy of historians, astute readers, and people who happened to read “Product of the USA” on a bottle of witch hazel the week before they picked up your book. 

Have you found any anachronisms lately? 

And for the historical fiction writers out there, what questions do you need answered before you can begin to feel comfortable in your world? 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Yay! New blog look!

Today I have followed Sommer Leigh's great advice and changed my blog design. Sadly I am not clever enough to design my own blog, and not even savvy enough to install any of the nice ones that I found outside Blogger. 

But this deign is simpler, cleaner, and, most importantly, orange. 

And we know that orange is awesome, right, Bransforumers


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