Monday, November 28, 2005

a novel result

Monday night was the end of November.

Well, it was for me.

That was the night I got to see this on my laptop screen:

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Dear Novelist,

You did it.

Despite everything else going on in your busy life, you managed to pull off the creative coup of writing a 50,000-word novel in just one month.

When the going got tough, you got typing, and in four weeks, you built vast worlds and set them in motion. You created characters; quirky, interesting, passionate souls with lives and loves and ambitions as great as yours. You stuck it out through the notoriously difficult middle stretch, and pressed onward as 80% of your fellow writers dropped out around you.

And now look at you: A NaNoWriMo winner. And the owner of a brand-new, potential-filled manuscript. It's an amazing accomplishment, and we're proud to have had you writing with us this year.

It was a near thing though. I hadn't been aware that word-counting programmes can vary in their results, and I uploaded what I thought was my finished manuscript on Sunday. I was 1500 words short!

Thank heavens that I hadn't left it until the last day. This gave me another 48 hours to write some new scenes and fine-tune the chapters I'd already written.
Scorched by Darkness was completed and approved. Whew!

I didn't know if I could do it. I'd never written 50,000 words about anything. Until this month I'd never written 5,000 words in a day about anything. To
do creative writing at that speed was a big ask.

But at least I've answered the question "Could I do it? Could I write 150 pages in a month?"
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The man came round to mow the lawns this morning. Zelda the goose was disturbed by all this noise in the back yard and waddled across the patio to the back door. I thought she'd stay there where she felt more secure but she didn't stop there.
Hopping up onto the back step, she walked straight into the house. I called out to my sister, who was propped up in bed reading. She looked up just as the goose walked through the door of her bedroom. "Eeeek! Don't you dare poop on the carpet, Zelda."
I shooed her out and closed the door. I think perhaps she was motivated by memories of the box she lived in when she was a gosling. Maybe she thought it might be nice to curl up under the warmth of the reading lamp again.

Sunday was Julie's birthday. We met up with some friends at the newly refurbished Maypole Hotel in the northern suburbs. It was a very pleasant meal. Most of those present were past or present members of the Amnesiac team from the quiz nights at the New Sydney.

Joining us were American science fiction writer Steve Lazarowitz and his partner Dana. They were regular members of the Amnesiacs last year but back problems make it difficult for Steve to join us.

It was nice to see them again. After Julie's birthday present (a book on extraordinary chickens) had been passed around the table, he was inspired to reminisce about walking down Flatlands Avenue in Brooklyn with a chicken on his shoulder. (It's a long story.)


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Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Anti-Hero

Recently we received a letter from Bill Muehlenberg of the Australian Family Association, who spoke at our church recently.

This is what he had to say on the subject of "The Rise of the Anti-Hero"

Dear friends

After a few weeks of media quietude (but a lot of interstate travel), things have started to hot up again. Numerous Australian papers this morning carried my remarks about the drug carrier and underwear model, Michelle Leslie, and the very lucrative offers for her to tell her story to the media.

As a result, I have had a busy day. So far I have done four radio interviews, two TV interviews, and more newspaper interviews. Thus the story is getting some amount of attention. One main theme arises from this story.

The media and modern culture are helping to create the anti-hero. We are celebrating and turning into celebrities those who have been involved in immoral and/or illegal behaviours.

A parallel story has been that of Karen Ellis, convicted paedophile, who appeared on 60 Minutes last night. This woman had a sexual relationship with a Year Ten student, 20 years her junior. Ms Ellis claimed she is no paedophile, and seemed to be surprised over the uproar.

Of course giving attention to moral and social deviants is not new. Career criminal Mark "Chopper" Read had books, movies and other media runs about his life story. Instead of celebrating real heroes, we are showcasing anti-heroes, often with large financial pay outs.

Hopefully this will change somewhat with the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which would prevent someone like Ellis from cashing in on the reported $40,000 the Nine Network paid for her story.

But money or no money, why are we celebrating, promoting and glamorising pedophiles, drug users and other criminals? Why are we giving them their 15 minutes of fame and fortune on prime time TV and in the gossip magazines?

This is surely a sign of a culture that is losing its way. A few decades ago if someone were found guilty of such crimes and moral misdemeanours they would shrink away into the cracks of society, shunning any publicity. Today such people are paraded on talk shows and make a mint as a celebrities.

Shame and guilt worked well back then. But today we have abandoned guilt and shame and have embraced perversion and deviancy.

But we do not need to promote underwear models convicted of drug use, or teachers who sleep with their students. Yet as our society continues to lose our moral compass, and as greedy media outlets feed on such stories, things will undoubtedly only get worse. Unless of course good people stand up and be counted.

Since all of the media is abuzz with these two stories, can I encourage you to speak out, whether in talk-back radio, or letters to editors.

It is time to stop the cult of the anti-hero, and start promoting real heroes.

Many thanks
Bill Muehlenberg

Monday, November 14, 2005

write on

Still haven't had much time to update this, with November being the NaNoWriMo novel-writing month. I've never tried to write anything this long before [50,000 words] and when I got over the 10,000 word mark I eased off a little, meaning I got a long way behind in the second week.

Julie suggested maybe I should break the writing up into two sessions rather than try to do it all in one go in the evening. "You could get in an hour's writing while you're waiting for me to get up," she said -- though not in those exact words!

I tried it today and after a slow start (I haven't mastered typing during breakfast yet, and I took a while off to check the Sunday comics on-line) it wasn't too bad. I got 1600 words done and I was generally quite pleased with what I'd written. Maybe this is the way to go.

I've been downloading quite a few old-time-radio programmes from Otrfan and Otrcat websites this month but I haven't had time to listen to them all. And there's always good stuff cropping up on BBC7.

But I see in this month's Limelight magazine that ABC Radio National has discovered a whole new audience with the podcasting generation.

They put a toe in the water in May offering free downloads of eight of their programmes. In the first week 3700 shows were downloaded. By September there were 18 shows available and the weekly downloads had reached 155,000 a week.

People from all over the world are tuning in to Radio National, and Science Show host Robyn Williams is compiling a series of one-hour specials which will be made available to the podcasting audience. "So far we've just scratching the surface," he said.

It's one way to reach the younger audience who've grown up with FM radio and the internet and may not even know how to find the AM band on their radio.

The finale of the quiz show The Einstein Factor on television this Sunday pitted three champions against each other. One's special subject was Doctor Who, another was an expert on Ned Kelly, while the third chose the Australian novels of Nevil Shute.

The winner, unsurprisingly, was the Doctor Who fan. I half-expected that. When it comes to trivia and nit-picking, you can't beat Doctor Who and Star Trek fans. They stagger outsiders with the number of facts they remember about their favourite programmes.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Wow, the NaNoWriMo novel-writing contest is harder than I thought! Yes, I can write 1700 words in a day, but trying to write that amount every day is difficult and I'm already falling behind.

If I could manage to write 2000 words a day all this week I'd just about catch up. But that's a big "if".

It didn't help things that we had a busy weekend.

Saturday I had Kay and Chris visiting in the afternoon. I spent quite a while convincing Kay that she could get out of Jury Duty this month -- she'd been planning to get up at dawn and walk into the city to get there on time. I told her that I was sure she qualified for a medical exemption under the guidelines on the second page of the letter ("Second page? There's a second page?").

She was happier about the rest of the afternoon: an Arthur C. Clarke book she was seeking was unavailable, a local bookshop told her. Nonsense, I said, and brought up on my laptop. In about 15 minutes we had a copy ordered from an American specialist shop.

Sunday morning, after listening to a guest preacher from the Australian Family Association we attended a farewell luncheon for one of our congregation -- she's returning to Mongolia where she works as a missionary and medico. She's being transferred from the capital Ulaan Bator to a town with an even less pronounceable name.

Then it was out to the historic Theatre Royal to see a live show featuring Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor: The Goodies: still live on stage. There were also some filmed inserts featuring the third member of the trio Bill Oddie plus a couple of archive clips from their early work.

I was tickled to see that not only did they mention their work on the 1960s radio series I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again but they brought out an old-fashioned radio microphone and re-enacted a scene from the show, complete with sound effects.

From there, my sister Julie went on to see her friend Sippa who was at a dinner for a classic car club that was holding a rally in Hobart that weekend.

Monday morning I was a wreck. I was so tired that I didn't get out of bed till about two hours later than normal. It was a really hot and sunny afternoon too - the official maximum was only about 26º but the thermometer in my kitchen registered 30º (which is about 86 in the old Fahrenheit scale).

We fed Julie's animals then I took a nap for 20 minutes to give me the energy to go out to the monthly pub quiz night run by the Irish Association at the New Sydney Hotel.

For once we had a full team and our table was completely filled. Leah and her husband pulled their weight when it came to the question about identifying CD covers; I'm a dead loss when it comes to music of the last twenty years.

The scores seemed a little funny and Julie went round to look at the scoreboard. It turned out they'd added 19 to 7 and got 16! They also failed to double the points on the correct round for our bonus round.

But -- and this is a bit but -- in the end our team The Amnesiacs were successful in topping the board in the Gold category. "We win! We win!" "We are the champions...." "Hooray for us!"

The happiest member of the winning team, though, was Jan's little boy Jamie. Julie brought along a small cardboard box from her place and he went home with a young duckling to raise.

The saga of our e-mail problems: part the umpty-eleventh.

If you've been following the long painful story of the church office's problems with Outlook, you know I haven't done too well with downloading updates. The last lot seemed all right, but insisted that I needed XP Small Business disc. I couldn't locate this.

My boss, R1, had a look through all the CD-ROM stuff under the shelf and eventually discovered it misfiled in the Norton Systemworks box. So we inserted it and hit the install button.

The result was that the update registered as installed but Outlook, instead of being just unreliable, now stopped working completely . The good news was that I discovered that we could still send and receive new mail via Outlook Express even if we couldn't access our old messages.

For the moment, I'll settle for that.


Robert Reed's short story "Finished" is the first science fiction story I've read in many years that made me want to sit down on the spot and write a fan letter to the author.

The concept, which many writers would have spun out into a full-length novel instead of 13 pages, postulates a world in which there are three stages of life: the living, the dead and the Finished. The third state of being is a unique sort of immortality in which the person cannot change either physically or emotionally -- effectively a high-tech zombie.

This remarkable story appeared in the September 2005 Asimov's Science Fiction, which is issue #356.

Fans of Dionne Warwick will problem want to visit the BBC Radio 2 website and listen to this week's Friday Night is Music Night which is a special episode devoted to her singing. Some great stuff here, folks.

The nation's most famous horse race the Melbourne Cup was run last week. For once the horse I picked came to the front as they neared the winning post, thundered forward into the pack at the lead.... and finished fourth. More like my usual result.

You wouldn't have been surprised if you'd been watching me accompany Julie into the betting shop. I blundered around and obviously had no idea what I was doing or where I should be. But that's an occupation hazard for punters during Melbourne Cup week.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Complete New Yorker

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Just received in the mail last week was a book-and-disc set that I've been eagerly awaiting.

The Complete New Yorker.

Yes, complete. Every word and picture from 4,000 issues of the famous weekly magazine. Every cartoon, every article, even every advertisement.

It comes in a folder that contains a book of highlights and eight DVD discs containing the entire run of the magazine to date.

As I unpacked the parcel, my sister called from the next room "Is everything all right?"

"Yes. Why?"

"That sharp intake of breath usually means there's something wrong."

"No, I'm just ... so happy."

The feeling of euphoria I was experiencing would have been difficult to put into words. In my hands I held something akin to the holy grail of magazine reading. As a teenager I had been a regular reader of The New Yorker and the sadly-missed British weekly Punch from the time I had been old enough to range freely through bookstores and libraries.

It had always been mildly irritating that I had been able to locate only two of the three volumes that collected the short stories from The New Yorker. Now that mattered not at all. Here in my hand I held all the stories that had ever appeared there. Every story, every review, every humour piece ... James Thurber, E.B. White, Dorothy Parker, Garrison Keillor, John O'Hara.... all of them were here.

I almost trembled at the thought of all that reading contained on the discs I now owned. (This was probably the only book in the world that I would have paid $65 postage for!)

The only thing that gave me a qualm -- will I live long enough to read through them all from start to finish. Should I start with my favourite authors and read them first or begin at the start and try and make it through to the present day?

But that decision can be made later. For the present, I feel a warm glow just from looking at the cover of the book on the other side of the room.

Had a glance at a couple of pundits on the Net who had reservations about the set - one expressed concerns about the legal implications of magazines being allowed to sell their collected works, while another moaned about the technical aspects of the set. Yes, maybe so, but I'm still glad it exists.

It's just a shame that with November being National Novel Writing Month I won't have the time to devote to reading that I normally have. Roll on December 1st!

Daylight Saving started on the mainland this week. Tasmania usually puts its clocks forward three weeks ahead of the other states, which is a bit of a nuisance for travellers.

Even staying home it can be a problem. Three weeks is just long enough to get used to national radio programmes and some television shows being an hour later. Then the following week we're suddenly back in line with everyone else again.

The history behind this is that Tasmania adopted Daylight Saving before any of the other states, partly as a reaction to a power shortage caused by a very dry year. When the other states took up the idea, they adopted a shorter period of time.

In fact the further north you go the less enthusiasm there is for Daylight Saving. When you hit the Queensland border, they would prefer less sunshine, not more, and steadfastly refuse to have any truck with the idea at all.

The poultry population at my house has changed slightly. One died and a couple were big enough to go back to my sister's place. Another chick was brought over because of an injured leg.

Julie has been trying to fix his leg, binding it up with tape so that he doesn't flail around helplessly and hurt himself further. I don't know how much use this is -- the last chick with this problem lingered on for a couple of months until it finally died.

Sometimes I surprise myself.

Since I discovered how to record radio programmes directly onto my computer I've been using that to time-shift some of my favourite shows for later listening. This morning we were listening to Sunday night's The Coodabeen Champions and Greg Champion played two songs about Phar Lap and the Melbourne Cup that he'd just recorded.

Julie said she really liked the two songs. Was there any way she could get copies to keep on her computer. I considered.

"Well, I've never actually done it, but I know it can be done. Give me ten minutes."

So I used the Audacity program to open the MP3 file, found the two songs and cut and pasted them into a fresh Audacity file.

Then I saved them as MP3s and transferred them onto the flash drive to hand over to Julie.

It was amusing to think how surprised I would have been a couple of years ago if I could have seen myself doing this!