Monday, May 28, 2012

Too many Karens

Here is one thing you get a lot in life, but almost never in fiction: too many Karens. 

I have at least four Karens in my life: my cousin, my colleague, my boss, and my hairdresser. Hi, Karens!

My cousin Karen has a brother called Tony. And a husband called Tony. And on the other side of the family I have an uncle called Tony. This doesn’t confuse me because I know every Karen and Tony as distinct individuals, but it might confuse you because to you they’re just names.

Real life is messy. Fiction has to be neater, but this ignores the fact that names, like anything, come in and out of fashion. When I was a kid, every second boy from school was called Mark. And every third one was called Jason.

When my family lived in Papua New Guinea, my father used to travel around a lot. I don’t know how much of it was necessary for his work, or how much he just liked to get out and explore the place. Once, my dad and three friends went to a village and introduced themselves as John, John, John and Mario. Then they had to try and explain how three men who weren’t from the same family could share a name. And that even though Mario’s grandfather had been on the other side in the war Mario was okay, but that’s a whole other story.

I can only think of one instance where I've seen this common name clash in fiction. This is from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. Gordon Way is leaving a message on his sister's answering machine while driving home. Shortly afterwards he is shot and killed by an electric monk from another planet hiding in the boot of his car. And that's not the weirdest thing that happens. 

"Make a note to Susan, would you please, to get an 'Armed Response' sign made up with a sharp spike on the bottom at the right height for rabbits to see. That's secretary Susan at the office, not you, of course." 

Read this book. I promise that you'll never think the same about Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Are there any names overrepresented in your life? 
Do you think we can use the same name for two different characters? 
Would you? Or is it just easier not to? 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I am home. I have sore feet and no money.

I am back from my road trip to Cairns.

Here are some creeks named by white Anglo-Saxon Protestant explorers:

Chinaman Creek
Frenchman Creek
Blackfellow Creek 

Here are some photos I took on Instagram (I am really quite a bad photographer): 

The Highway
The Barron Falls, Kuranda

Lake Placid...seriously, it's called that. 

And here the excuse of the guy who side-swiped my friend’s car when we were stopped at the traffic lights and he braked too late on the wet road: “It's because these tyres are really small.” 


But the most important thing I learned is that sometimes it’s great to recharge your batteries by getting away, even if you didn’t realise they needed recharging. See something new, do something different, and you’ll find yourself getting a second wind in your writing as well. 

What did you do this week? 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Road Trip to Cairns

Okay, so last time this didn't work out so well and the girls' trip, or moll patrol, if you must, was postponed due to bad weather. But this time it's on! 

On Monday we're driving up the coast to Cairns! Google Maps says that it is 348 kilometres, and will take 4 and a half hours.

All I know is that the time will really fly when we've got ABBA: The Greatest Hits playing at full volume. Yes, you read that right. Screw you, I'm not ashamed. 

We will leave Townsville at about 9 am. 
We will stop in Cardwell for a pie, because that's tradition. 
I will finally get a picture of that incredibly pointy mountain whose name escapes me. 
We will get stuck behind old people towing caravans. 
I will make a note of awesome place names like Murdering Point.
It will only be four and a half hours away, but it will feel like a real holiday. 

So until next week it's a break from writing. I'll be catching up with friends, drinking wine, and enjoying tropical Cairns. 

What are your plans for the week? 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Do you have a writing routine?

I don’t. At all. But as Nicole reminded me last week in the comments here, some writing guides recommend that you write at the same place at the same time every day. 


This falls into the Totally Impossible category of my life – the same place where I keep my time machine, my Nobel Prize for General Awesomeness, and my gym membership. I mean, I do not do routine. Do Not.

I do 24/7 shift work instead.

Sometimes my alarm goes off at 5 am and I crawl out of bed and get to work without really remembering the drive there. Sometimes at 5 am I’m sitting at work watching the clock and waiting for the bleary-eyed morning shift to straggle in looking like something from Dawn of the Dead. And, just rarely, sometimes at 5am I’m in bed asleep like a normal person.

I can’t write at the same time every day. I can’t even eat breakfast at the same time everyday. I write when I can, where I can. I’d love to say that it’s the method that works best for me, but I’ve got nothing to compare it with.

If you have a writing routine or have tried one, I’d love to know how it works for you. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I love deadlines. 

Deadlines force me to work. I am the ultimate procrastinator, so I need deadlines. 

I also hate deadlines. 

I hate how I go to sleep worrying about them, and how I dream about them, and then I wake up feeling like I haven't slept at all because I've been writing to that effing dealine all night in my sleep. And I can remember how horrible it was, but I can't remember any of the fantastic words that I somehow managed to write. Or I can, and it turns out that what is fantastic in a dream is just plain rubbish in the real world. 

This week I've been rushing toward a deadline, working nights, and organising my nephew's eighth birthday party. It's been interesting.

And by interesting I mean frantic. Harried. What's my name and what day it is? 

This week it feels like writing is a competitive sport. Don't stop me now, I can see the finish line! 

Meanwhile, in Dorset... 

How do you feel about deadlines? 

Monday, May 7, 2012


Big, fancy words are like red flags to me. I notice them. I say to myself, “Oh, there’s a big, fancy word.” I like them, in moderation. But one thing you don’t want to do is overuse big words. If you use a big, fancy word once I might be impressed. Use the same word twice, and I’ll wonder why you’re shoving it in my face. Use it a third time, and I’ll know you’re just trying to get your money’s worth out of that dictionary you bought.

Take the word obstreperous. It’s a great word. I had a book called Obstreperous when I was a kid. It was about an obstreperous kite. I enjoyed it because I was quite obstreperous myself. I still enjoy being obstreperous. By now I think I’ve used the word obstreperous often enough that it’s beginning to lose all cohesion. It’s not a word now, it’s a jumble of letters that link together to make a sound that means nothing. Obstreperous, obstreperous, obstreperous. See?

Find out about Obstreperous at Goodreads
Once upon a time in an entirely hypothetical situation, four people had to go to court and be witnesses. One of them was a police officer, whose idea of good advice to his civilian colleagues (all of whom were very new and very nervous) was to jump sharply to the side after swearing on the Bible, so the thunderbolt missed them. But because the three civilians were utter scaredy cats, the police officer eventually took pity on them and talked to them about what was going to happen inside the big, scary room, what questions might be asked, and the best way to answer them. Collusion? No, not at all, your honour.

So what did happen? Hypothetically. Well, four different people got up on the stand and described the defendant as obstreperous.

Yeah, totally spontaneous and unrehearsed.

Don’t use big words you wouldn’t normally use.
And, if you do, don’t overuse them. 

Now I have to phone my mum and see if she still has a copy of Obstreperous.


What fancy words do you like? Or hate? Or find yourself overusing? 


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Here's Johnny...

The other night I looked out my kitchen shutters, and this is what I saw: 

It was Johnny Rotten. Obvious burglar is obvious. 

I stuck my head outside to say hello. I think he thought that if he didn't make eye contact with me, he remained invisible. This was not the case, and he probably realised the jig was up when I subjected him to a rant about breaking and entering, squatters' rights and rental agreements, and evolution. Which, by the way, must be a total lie. How can I have opposable thumbs and be constantly bested by a possum? Explain that, Darwin! 

Possums, obviously, are a very adaptable species, if not in the Darwinian sense of the word than at least in the general sense. Other native species, koalas for example, are not adaptable. If you build a suburb on koala habitat, that's it, it's all over for the koalas. But not the possum. You build a suburb where the possums live, and they'll move in with you. Literally. They will peel the tin back on your roof and move into your ceiling cavity. On hot days they'll descend into the wall cavities, and thump and rustle around while you're on the computer trying to get that chapter sorted out, and you can't concentrate because now the possums are having a screaming domestic, and you have to bang on the wall and shout: "Shut up! I'm trying to write! Why won't you just go outside and die!?!!?" 

I am speaking from experience here. Nightmarish, harried experience. 

Anyway, I decided that Johnny Rotten had to be moved from my kitchen shutters. If I can teach my dog to sit, and she remembers how to do it at least 30% of the time, and obeys at least 8%, then surely I can teach a possum that my house is out of bounds? 

I was quite nervous when I reached out to touch him. I mean, I know possums are kind of cute and I know I talk them up that way, but they're still also wild animals, with teeth and claws. Probably lice as well, and ticks. 

They're also kind of fuzzy and soft. At least, Johnny is. 

I grabbed an old towel. Not a lot of use as a shield, but at least something to staunch the bleeding if this went bad. I took a deep breath. 

I grabbed him. He didn't even struggle. 

I said soothing things in a low murmuring voice to him. He was a tight little ball of muscle, but he didn't try to scratch or bite. 

I carried him over to the wheelie bin and gave him a banana. He ate it, eyeing me suspiciously. 

We stared at each other in the gloom. I shook my head and snorted, and he gave it a moment just to prove he wasn't intimidated, then headed up into the passionfruit vine. 

I think we're friends now.


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