Politicks and Ladies (swear warning)

I’ve hesitated to write this post, because there’s an old-fashioned part of me that warns me never to speak about politics (or money or religion) in polite company. But I figure this isn’t polite company necessarily, and I do so want to say a few things.

I’m an ALP voter. I like their whole social justice, spend-money-on-education ethos, even if sometimes they are a bit dodgy about holding strong on those things. I hate the Coalition, like, with a passion. Rich people moaning, that’s what they are to me. (By the way, I’m not going to publish any comments from Coalition supporters, so don’t bother posting them. It’s my blog and I’ll do as I damn well please).

So then we had this election and WTF? W? T? F?

I know there was a lot of shit going down, but I have a horrible sinking feeling that gender played a big part in the WTF-ness that was Saturday’s election. First, when J-Gill took over, everyone was all like, “oh the union heavies put her in there”. Implication: women are always men’s pawns. Then, the media were all like, “this is what she’ll look like old!”, “this is what she looks like glamorous!”, “she has red hair!” Or, if they weren’t talking about her appearance, they were all like, “she’s going to move her boyfriend into the Lodge!”, “she’s setting a bad example for women on marriage!”, “she’s only got one piece of fruit in her fruit bowl!” I mean, FFS, people. F. F. S.

And then, because she knew she was already pushing shit uphill with a pointed stick cos she is a lady, she took such a conservative line on everything. Boat people? Really, Julia? Those 1500 or so poor, sad bastards that struggle into our country every year because they would rather spend weeks on a leaky stinking boat than stay where they live because shit is THAT BAD for them? And gay marriage? Really, Julia? As a defacto-living aetheist, like you give a shit about marriage-is-an-institution and God and whatever. I reckon she knew these were dumb, conservative things to say. But when you’re trying to get elected while in the possession of a vajayjay, I guess you try to appear as unthreatening as possible.

And then there’s Tony Abbott with his misogynist bullshit about virginity being a “gift” for the right guy. When do the ladies get their gift in the bedroom, Tones? Oh, by the way, I don’t want my gift from you. Unsexiest man EVER. (And yes, I can say that cos it’s MY FRICKIN BLOG).

And amongst it all “working families” “working families” “working families”. I work. I have a family. Is that me? Cos I don’t recognise myself in your anti-boat, anti-gay, let’s-just-wait-and-see-on-climate-change bumwank.

So now we’ve got what they deserved, a hung parliament. I kinda think WE deserved better. We deserved a viable alternative to the Tweedledee/Tweedledum BS that is the two-party lockdown. If God had meant for us to vote, he would’ve given us candidates.

My book is killing me

It continues to surprise me how much I can suck at this job after all these years. I’m blogging because this morning’s writing session was so frickin demoralising. Roughly speaking, everything I write of late goes like this:

Here is a setting. Look at this detail. There are people here. They say things to each other. Everybody thinks for a while. The sun sets.

Two Ducks. Swimming.

I am dyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyying. Shouldn’t this be easy by now? I’ve written 21 books. I don’t often let myself think about that fact. TWENTY-ONE of the suckers. Sure, some of them were short, but some were really long. Those 21 books represent just over 1.9 million words, all in the right order. So don’t be saying to me, “What would you tell your students in this situation?” because my students are usually working on their first or second books. Not their twenty-second. I have no advice for somebody writing their twenty-second book, except maybe, “Dude, if it’s not working by now, perhaps you should take up topiary.”

This book is too important to me. It’s not just that 22 is kind of a favourite number. My birthday is 22/12, my husband’s is 22/10 (and if you add the 12 and the 10 together, you get another 22). And the bingo call for 22 is two ducks swimming, and I really like ducks. And also, it’s just such a pretty, buttercup yellow number. But ducks and buttercups aside, this book is just special because it is and because I’ve fallen in love with the setting and the characters and now I’m in charge of them, I can do nothing with them except make them have tedious bouts of longing then occasionally shout at each other. I feel like a bad mother who realises she should relinquish her child to somebody more responsible. Somebody else come write this book for me! Robin Hobb could do a good job of it, or Guy Gavriel Kay, or Kate Elliott. Meanwhile, I’d best dig out my hedging shears and look for a hedge to turn into a giant panda.

An uneasy traveller

I have a love hate relationship with travel. On the one hand, I love seeing new things and soaking up new places. I love the way travelling makes you think and feel differently, if only for a little while. But I also hate travelling. I hate the organisation, the packing, the remembering of a billion little things and knowing I’ll inevitably forget something, the rushing to airports worrying about traffic and the sitting around waiting for delayed flights. I’m writing this from the departure lounge of Melbourne airport (I’ve been down here for a medievalism conference), waiting for a delayed flight, and contemplating the preparations for my trip to the UK in a couple of days. I do believe it’s my particular curse to experience excitement as a form of dread. As my friend Charlotte said, it’s like the blue wire gets hooked up to the red wire.

Thing is, I haven’t done a research trip since 2001, when I went to Germany, Norway, and Russia to research for my Europa suite (ie. The Autumn Castle, Giants of the Frost, Rosa and the Veil of Gold). Then I had children, and they kind of cramp your travel style unless you’re super-bold (which I am not). But my mad love for Anglo-Saxon stuff has a hold on me, and we’re off to see Sutton Hoo with our very own eyes. Kids love ancient burial grounds that look like big empty fields! Honest! They’re mad keen for them! And they’ll totally love that Santa won’t come to Oxford and will leave their presents at home instead. Kids and delayed gratification are practically synonymous!

But I need this fuel for my creative fire (sorry, should have issued a wankery alert before that sentence). I’m both dying to be in England and also dying from the anxiety of going to England. Either way I die, so I may as well go and take this damned book seriously.

Postscript, or, Some Journalists can’t be Trusted*

Those of you who recall my angry, swear-filled post on PIRs may remember that I was interviewed for The Australian that week, then the interview wasn’t used. Interesting, then, to see this piece in The Weekend Australian by the very same journalist:

But one of the most depressing moments in the past few weeks was supplied by an agent who, when approached to contact one of her authors (a woman whose three novels have done so well she has international status), said she did not think it was appropriate for the author to comment. The author was too young even to understand what was going on (she’s 30-odd), according to the agent; besides, she was in the middle of writing a book, so was probably unable to think about anything else. Pathetic.

That “pathetic” agent was somebody very close to me, and this journalist whom I won’t name (let’s call her Ms Sorensen… no, that gives too much away; let’s call her Rosemary S) has only told half the truth. Yes, The Agent did turn down her request to contact The Author, but that’s what agents do: they know where their authors are at, what other demands are being made of them, how close their deadlines are, and they decide what’s best for them. For the record, my understanding is that The Agent didn’t say The Author was too young; rather, she said that The Author hadn’t been in the industry very long. (Also, basic fact check issue: The Author has only published 2 books, not 3).

The other thing that Rosemary S hasn’t said is that The Agent–who is a passionate advocate of Australian books–gave her the number of another author who might be able to help: somebody she had already had a number of long and detailed conversations with about PIRs, and whom The Agent thought might be able to offer useful commentary.That author was me, dear reader, and we all know how that turned out.

As an aside, Rosemary S was somebody with whom I’ve had a friendly professional relationship over the years. We’ve had a few drinks together in the past, she’s slung a bit of work my way, etc. So this is all the more dismaying to me. The two people of whom she wrote are very much in my inner circle, a favourite aunty and a sister-figure, if you will. Am I taking this personally? Well, yes, I am; there is simply no other way for me to take it.

Now, I’m not going to call anyone a fucking liar or even an unprofessional hack. That would be harsh. But I am going to look a bit closer at this word “pathetic”. Tossed off like that in a column, it only has its common meaning: limp, weak, not good enough. In fact, the word means, according to the OED, “exciting pity, sympathy, or sadness”. I certainly feel sad for a professional relationship lost; I certainly feel sympathy for the two good women so unfairly maligned in Rosemary S’s bitter dummy-spit; and, yes, I feel more pity than scorn for the journalist. The whole situation is pathetic, isn’t it?

* of course, some journalists are very nice 🙂

I am going to finish this damn book

I have 20 000 words left to write (hit 100K yesterday morning at 6.25am), and I am damn well going to finish the book this week even if it kills me. And it might. I have a virus and have lost my voice (this is irritating, as I can’t rouse at my children and they are incredibly naughty most of the time) and I have a big pile of marking to do at work.

Some people compare writing a novel to giving birth. I usually roll my eyes when this happens, especially when men say it, because unless you’re squeezing a hardcover out your left nostril the comparison is flawed. But this close to the end of the process, there is the same kind of awful momentum, the same irresistible compulsion to get something outside yourself that has been growing within for a long time. I have lost the world; there is only the story. My family talk to me and all I hear is “bwah bwah bwah” like the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons. My brain is finding the ends of threads and pulling them together, tying them, untying them, retying them different ways. I shouldn’t be allowed to drive.

I’m in a scary place for other reasons, too. Five years ago, after I wrote Rosa and the Veil of Gold, I took a sabbatical from writing adult fantasy because I felt I’d said all I had to say in that genre. So I’ve been busy doing young adult books, and children’s books, and Kimberley Freeman books. But now I’m being called. No other way to describe it. I’m not a mystical new-agey pan-flutey person in any way at all. But I am being called, and I’ve got a story waiting just at the edge of my consciousness. I can feel it, but I’m terrified to write it. What if I can’t anymore? What if it’s not a grand idea and just a piece of silly nonsense with shouty characters? What if none of it matters to anyone ever in the history of anything?

I guess I’ll just write it anyway.

The pains of surgery

No, no, I’m fine. Recovered from my illness with a new determination not to drink any Coke Zero and generally to live healthier. And, after a long time away, returned to my story. To my 23 000 words. Only to find that a good percentage of those words were the wrong ones.

I can thank my magnificent literary agent for pointing out the bleeding obvious to me; that the first six chapters were bristling with extra scenes, ideas, and characters. I finished the phone call to her psyched up to do the cutting, rewrite the new, better, tighter, more engaging scenes, and return to the new writing with focus and vigour. But having just cut 7000 words from the MS, I feel rather despondent. It’s demoralising to see that word count at the bottom corner of the screen fall below 20 000– and well below 20 000, at that– when my imagination had prepared me to be at 40 000 or so this week. I have a research trip to Tasmania booked in a few weeks, and wanted to be vastly more advanced in the MS by then. It’s the literary equivalent of walking miles in the hot sun to the store, only to find you’ve left your purse at home. Except more exhausting. And there’s more of a longing for alcohol. And a tad more self-loathing.

So, once more into the breach, my friends. Onward to the new and improved 20 000 mark, and so on and so on. As Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

Managing illness: epic fail

One thing I am very, very, very bad at is being sick. When sickness comes to my door, I tend to deny it for a while. Then I acknowledge it grudgingly. Then I go to bed and spend hours on end being really angry about it. Finally, I admit that I’m sick and get teary and tense, thinking about (a) how much I’m scarring my children by not being with them and also by being some Victorian figure of a pale, sickly mother (‘kiss Mamma’s withered cheek, my darling, and perhaps we shall meet again if it is God’s will!”), and (b) how much I have to do that isn’t getting done. I have been ill this week and so I haven’t written a word. This particular illness, or the medicine I’m taking for it, has made me vague and confused, so I haven’t even really been able to think about my book. I have a chapter outline that hasn’t been developed beyond what I’ve already written, and only an incomplete sense of where I’m going to go next. Of course, any extended time away from the story makes it that much harder to get back in. And I was going so well! I was past 20 000 words, which is usually a bit of a milestone for me.

I’m always pressing upon my students the need for contingency plans. Life does intervene in the writing process, of course it does. But I realise that I have no such plans for myself. I am such an unforgiving taskmaster. My boss totally sucks!

Writing is so fucking hard

Honestly, why do I put myself through this over and over again? I have notes, I have a desk, I have child-free time. But all I want to do is drink tea and eat those blueberry muffins I made with Astrid this morning. The stupid thing is that actual writing is not as exhausting as sitting here psyching myself up to write. Actual writing is fun, challenging in its complexities at times, and at other times almost easy. But the getting started feels as though I’m dragging my sorry arse up a steep hill. I am sooo tired of that steep hill, which shall henceforth be known as Mount Doom. I have been in the foothills of Mount Doom numerous times–at least 20–and I would’ve thought by now that it would get easier. It doesn’t. And there’s no Sam here to help me carry my ring (ie. my arse; it wasn’t some turgid metaphor for the burden of my art {pronoucned “ahrt”}). I am so over this job. I am so going out to retrain in podiatry or something.

Right after I eat a muffin.