As you possibly already know, I’m the proud owner of two almost-grown children. My daughter is twenty and my son is seventeen. Although when I say “own” I mean this in a more figurative than literal sense. No one owns children, or at least they shouldn’t. I am also a tutor for high school English and have eight students between the ages of twelve and seventeen in and out of my house each week. And, it’s fair to say that I love teenagers.
Why do I mention this? Well, mostly because I’ve taken pause lately to think about the creation versus consumption conundrum. It’s an interesting thing to contemplate. For a start, it’s virtually impossible to create at the same time as it is to consume. And yet the latter can’t take place without the former. And story, a concept that is at least as old as the hills, is still in as much demand as ever. Thank goodness.
My exposure to teenagers also means I have a very good idea about what is taking up the time of many of them these day – and, for the most part, it doesn’t involve creation. Most of them are avid consumers of content, and most of that is online: gaming, binge-watching series after series through platforms such as Netflix and Lightbox, following YouTubers, a bit more gaming, maybe the odd e-book or two in between. Countless hours are devoted to these pursuits – and every hour that is devoted in this direction is an hour less that could be used to create things of their own.
I’m hoping this post won’t make me sound too much like a relic from the last century (although I technically am) but I have to say that I think this is a shame. After all, who knows where the creativity of youth will lead? To illustrate this, my husband and I attended an interview with Ian Rankin, bestselling Scottish crime novelist, at the recent Auckland Writers Festival – and a great interview it was too. He was asked about his origins as a writer and he talked about how, as a young man, he would write his own cartoons and that he made up his own rock band, complete with plans for fictional world tours and song lyrics. I love that. In fact I did a similar thing myself by writing a magazine – although I confess that I never went quite as far as inventing a rock band. Perhaps I missed a great opportunity there.
Such basic creation seems to me to be an apprenticeship of sorts. Nobody outside of maybe Mum or Dad is likely to see these creations without sniggering (and thus are most unlikely to ever be shown them) but they give the creative muscles a work-out and teach rudimentary skills about what it takes to produce something new and unique. Technology, for all its wondrousness, may be occupying our children’s time and giving them things to talk about with each other, but it may also be stealing away valuable time that could be employed in the pursuit of creation.
Of course this generation could be destined for things that relics like me can’t necessarily picture, but here’s hoping that future is as filled with creation as it can be. Like I say, I love teenagers, and know they have a lot to give – or at least they would do, if only they made the time. My only hope this that technology doesn’t turn out to be some sort of sinister Pied Piper, solving some problems only to cause a whole lot of others. Here’s hoping…
Today, April 23rd, is World Book Day. Perhaps, in the scheme of things, such a day is not so momentous. It could easily pass unmarked or join the plethora of other “days” assigned to celebrate everything from “Jelly Bean Day” to “Hug a Plumber Day”. (Yes, both real!)
The celebration of books should, in my view, rank somewhere above a love of jelly beans or even a love of plumbers (although I’m sure many of them are very lovable in their own right). Why? Well, just think what people get from books:
Non-fiction books are like time capsules, preserving a moment in time. Whether it be a biography or a history or a travel guide, a reference book or a how-to book, these volumes capture things about our past and present that will educate and inform the people of the future.
Novels can transport you to places you’re never likely to go, expand your world view and draw you into the lives of fictional people. You can learn about the social mores of days gone by, see yourself reflected in characters and ponder the way the world works. You can sit on the sidelines of crime-solving and international espionage without the slightest danger of getting hurt. You can explore strange new worlds, and be transported to another time, place or galaxy, all without leaving your armchair.
What’s not to love about all of that? And is there any feeling that compares to the satisfaction of getting to the end of a well-crafted story that draws you in so much that you stay up late just to see what happens? I think not.
For me reading has done all of that, and more. As a youngster I read voraciously and loved anything that sparked my imagination and that made me feel like I could be a part of something bigger, if only in my mind. Reading has given me a greater understanding of my fellow human beings, made me feel intense emotions and continued to entertain and inspire me to this day.
But probably greatest of all, reading fed the flames of my love of writing. And, in celebration, here’s my own contribution to the world of books. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
So thanks to all the great writers who’ve blessed my times of reading. Oh, and Happy World Book Day to you!
Songstress Adele has just been on New Zealand shores. In truth, not all famous singers make it to our part of the world, put off perhaps by the logistics of coming so far for so small a country. If Adele’s visit is anything to go by, others probably shouldn’t be deterred. She held three concerts and performed to over 130,000 people, with tickets selling out for each concert within minutes of going on sale.
I’ve long been an Adele fan. I love her voice, her songs and the emotion she conveys. There’s something raw and honest about her lyrics. Of course some of her songs are far from uplifting - something she quite openly admits – but that might be why they get inside your soul in the way that they do.
I hoped to go to one of her concerts but missed out on tickets. My FOMO (fear of missing out) turned to IDMO (I’m definitely missing out) and I was quite surprised by my own level of disappointment. Every mention of Adele or her upcoming concerts gave me pangs of my regret. Oh, what might have been! What I didn’t know at the time was that my daughter had successfully got tickets for the two of us to see Adele’s first Auckland show for me for Christmas. When I got this most unexpected gift I literally got teary.
And so last week the big night finally came around. The balmy night, the expectant crowd and the prospect of finally seeing Adele all combined to make a quite delicious sense of anticipation. This anticipation grew even more when we entered the venue and experienced the buzz of shared expectation as the hordes descended.
And in the end we were far from disappointed. The concert was “wow” from beginning to end, made even more special by what Adele brings to her performance in terms of her own personality. She speaks in such a real and conversational way that you feel as though you’ve in some way connected with her, adding humour and honesty about some of her feelings and motivations behind her songs. It’s hard to believe that she’s terrified of the stage and contemplates giving up live performances.
Every so often a gift comes along that truly blesses. Adele's concert was just such a gift. And the tickets from my daughter to go to see the concert – priceless!
Most authors love to get great feedback about their books. There’s something so special about being told that the careful crafting and hours of creation have meant something to another person – especially when you consider that everything between the front cover and the back cover is completely fictitious.
I’ve had plenty of people tell me how much they’ve enjoyed my stories. Some ask when my next book is coming out (watch this space!) and can’t wait to read another. But most of all, people tell me about how much they enjoy the characters I’ve created and love how real they feel.
Just recently I received some feedback from a reader who had enjoyed my story, The Journey. She said she particularly liked the character of Cedric Olliver. If you haven’t read The Journey, it’s a story about a group of people who get together for a two-week walking tour through New Zealand wine country. The group walk during the day, and in the evening stay at some fabulous properties along the way, and are fed great food and get to taste great wine. And plenty of eventful things happen on the way.
I’ve got a real fondness for Cedric. He’s a real outsider on the trip, socially inept and unsure of himself. About the only thing he is sure of is his knowledge of useless facts. Cedric seems to have a photographic memory for trivia and uses what he knows in as many conversations as he can. As main character Lindsay observes, “The way in which Cedric managed to interweave all these relatively useless pieces of information could very well be some sort of undiscovered art form.”
In fact, during the course of the novel, Cedric trots out fifty pieces of trivia. In order to manage this from a writing point of view, I assembled a list of trivia and then, every time Cedric was in a scene, I’d get out my list and try to incorporate one of those facts into the story. Here are just a few of fun facts I managed to use:
Did you know that the electric chair was invented by a dentist?
Did you know that each year insects eat one third of the world’s food crop?
Did you know that an ant can lift fifty times its own weight and can pull thirty times its own weight?
If you want to read more about Cedric and his fun facts, check out The Journey. And perhaps you have your own fun fact to share. Just let me know. I so appreciate hearing from my readers.
In my last post I extended my good wishes to all for Christmas and New Year. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, January is waning and February looms on the horizon. It’s incredible how time seems to evaporate!
Our family had a quiet Christmas and we celebrated New Year with a friend who came to stay. We spent quite some time talking about 2016 – its highs and lows – as well as contemplating what 2017 what might bring.
No doubt our conversation was mirrored by hundreds of thousands of similar conversations the world over. Every year I marvel at the strange phenomenon that is New Year; our need to draw the line under the previous year and strike out fresh in the next. Some people set goals, some make resolutions but, above all, hope hangs tangibly in the air with the prospect of things being different or better. Sometimes we even hope we’ll be different or better.
The thing that strikes me most throughout this process is the fact that January 1st is really only the day after December 31st. You go to bed one night and wake up in the next day. We do this every day of year. Yet because of our modern calendar, customs, traditions and timekeeping this particular dawning of a new day takes on a whole new significance.
It brings me to the realisation that we as people need new beginnings. We need to draw that line and put the past behind us. We need new vistas full of promise and empty of errors. We need to set a new course, regroup and refocus. And, again above all, we need the hope that come from what might be rather than what is.
Alexander Pope wrote these rather profound words in An Essay on Man:
Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
I’m far from immune from this process. I have plenty of plans for 2017 both in my writing and personal life and just as much hope for their fulfillment (and more) as the next person. One day I would even like to write a novel based around this idea of new beginnings, I think. And, although January has already had its share of ups and downs, hope really does spring eternal for me too. Let me know your thoughts. What do you hope for this year?
As I write this it is Christmas Eve eve – the day before the day before! Not long now until families gather, gifts are exchanged and the feasting begins. For some people it is a time of joy and excitement, for others a reminder of what they lack or have lost. For other people it’s a rare opportunity to stop and relax and for yet others a chance to reflect on the reason for the season.
I’ve always been quite partial to Christmas. I’m not sure quite what it is: the sense of anticipation? …the associated traditions? …the joy you see from children? I’m also a gift-giver so thoroughly enjoy the process of buying, wrapping and bestowing gifts on those I love. And perhaps that is the essence of Christmas – the giving rather than receiving, the sharing and the caring.
Whatever your circumstances, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you a blessed and Merry Christmas, and hope that you get to enjoy a special day. And, as Christmas passes and thoughts inevitably move to the New Year to come, I would also like to wish you all the very best for 2017.
And, with one last note, in the spirit of giving I have a couple of special promotions coming up on my e-books. Maybury Place will be free for three days from December 25th to December 27th and The Bell Curve available for $0.99 from January 1st to January 6th.
Best wishes for the festive season…and see you on the other side!
It’s been a busy few months for me, hence the lack of an October post. Over the past two months I have been immersed in all sorts of writing projects. Amongst other things, I have written some articles on the subject of writing, completed a wide range of business writing for a commercial client, edited a screenplay, engaged to mentor two lovely ladies wanting to pen their own novels, edited a children’s book and attended a book fair. As writing can be a lonely business, it’s been great to collaborate on so many projects with other people, and to be able to materially help them on the way.
Over the last two months I’ve also had the opportunity to reconnect with a number of people from the past through the wonders of Facebook. In 1987/1988 I attended Capernwray Bible School in the north of England. I met my husband at Capernwray and made some friendships that have endured all this time. However, as you’d naturally expect, I didn’t keep in touch with every person who attended with us over that period. For a start, this was a time before mass electronic communication and so there weren’t platforms like Facebook to facilitate ongoing contact. But, when one of my former students recently tagged me in a photo taken at the time, this opened up the chance to rekindle some old connections.
In many ways, this reconnection has been like going through a time machine. I have in my mind the image of these people nigh on thirty years ago. Most students were only in their late teens and early twenties so to suddenly see them transformed three decades down the track has been quite a revelation. Most of these lovely people seem to have not only survived but thrived, with spouses and children and careers and passions and interests. It was funny too, to look at my own photo and reflect on the hopes and dreams I’d cherished as a 20-year old and to see where I’d come during the ensuing decades.
And if that wasn’t enough of a trip down memory lane, I also had the opportunity to briefly meet Nichelle Nicols, who played Uhura in the original 1960s Star Trek series. My friends all know me as a not-so-closet fan of science fiction so the chance to meet her wasn’t one to be passed up lightly. Of course she isn’t as young as she used to be either, but at nearly 84 she’s an inspiration, still travelling the world and patiently meeting fans, in spite of her own health troubles. She seems to me to be the embodiment of Spock’s famous line, “Live long and prosper.”
So as I climb out of my time machine this seems a fitting place to end this post, with me extending to you that very same sentiments, wherever you are in the world: Live long and prosper - and enjoy reading some books on the way!
I met a friend and fellow author for coffee over the weekend. We don’t see each other as much as we would like and always have a lot to catch up on when we do. When we first met one another, quite a few years ago now, our conversations were all about writing and publishing. Now that we are firm friends we talk much more about life, our families and the regular and irregular happenings in our everyday lives.
During the course of our most recent conversation we started to talk about interpersonal relationships both in and out of the workplace and the things we’d observed about how people treat one another. Life being life - and people being people - we had quite a bit to say on this subject. :)
I told my friend that I’ve been ruminating lately on the subject of kindness. It seems to me that it’s a very under-appreciated and under-estimated virtue. Kindness fixes so many things. You can’t be critical while being kind. You can’t be angry while being kind. You can’t shout kindness or fake true kindness. And think about all the positive things it does. Kindness includes, uplifts, encourages and affirms.
Yet as a word, kindness is not very strong. If someone is labelled as kind it doesn’t seem a great epithet. It’s almost as bad as being called nice. What a shame that such a brilliant virtue doesn’t have a more powerful name – and yet if it did, would it indeed be so sweet?
In my humble opinion the world needs more kindness, more kind-wielders, if you will. It needs people willing to inject and distribute kindness wherever they go. Perhaps, without using the word kindness, Maya Angelou summed up this kindness-in-action philosophy when she said,
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did, but people will never
forget how you made them feel.”
I’m all for making kindness less a random act and more of a way of life.
Care to join me?
We’re having some local body elections in Auckland in a few weeks, a time to elect a new mayor and select those on the governing bodies that run our fair city. As part of this process we were sent a form to check our voter registration details to ensure our eligibility and ability to vote come the time. One line of information collected is a person’s occupation. For years I’ve been listed by the title of mother (or a variation of this), a title I deliberately chose as it reflected where most of my time and energy had been invested. It’s a worthy and important occupation that has been somewhat downgraded in status over recent years, but one to which I’ve been more than happy to be aligned.
Now, however, my children are growing up. Even my child with special needs doesn’t require as much intensive time as he once did. Instead, my focus has shifted to writing novels. I decided the time for change had come. My new job title thus seemed intuitive: novelist. I duly filled in the form and posted it off with a feeling that I had set a figurative stake in the ground. From now on, in answer to the question, “What do you do?” I would come back with the reply, “I’m a novelist.”
No sooner had I dispatched this little and insignificant form than things began to change. I’ve been giving tuition in English this year and over the last few months have gone from have two students to one to four…and shortly I will have five. A friend asked me to help her with a work project, looking at the communication strategy of the business she works for, and this has led to all sorts of writing. Over the last few weeks I’ve edited manuals, written website content, drafted new marketing material and even written some interview scripts for video. What happened to being a novelist?
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying some of the new challenges that have come my way, even if they are temporarily halting my selected career as a novelist. It’s meant that the book I have in production at the moment will have to wait just a bit longer. But along the way it occurred to me that there’s something more important than having what we do locked down. I also realised I’d already summed up this sentiment in my novel The Tender Conflict. Here’s what the character, Mark, says:
“It’s never about what we do that matters but who we are. People say the secret to success in life is money or prestige or fame, or the number of children we have. But one way or another most of that stuff evaporates. The bottom line is that we’re human beings, not human doings. It’s how we go about being and not what we spend our time doing that counts.”
Ultimately it’s who we are that matters more than what we do. Perhaps next time I get asked, “What do you do?” my answer should be, “I live…and try to make the most of each precious day.”
I started off my monthly blog series back last November with a photo of the character, Larry Donner, in the 1987 movie Throw Momma from the Train. The character of Larry was wonderfully played by comedian Billy Crystal, a man famous not only as an actor and comedian, but also as nine-time host of the Academy Awards.
A few days ago my husband and I were fortunate to attend one of his live shows here in Auckland – the first time Billy’s ever performed in New Zealand. The format of the evening, done in interview style, was a retrospective of Billy’s life and work, recounting his rise to fame and special times with some of his celebrity friends. It was a fabulous evening, rich with interesting anecdotes and the quick and brilliant wit of a very funny man.
At the same time I’ve also been watching some online tutorials about writing and the current one I’m watching is about the subject of humour. The tutor, filling in for a guest of the regular lecturer, quotes Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame). Adams has developed what he calls “The Humor Diversification Rule” which basically says that there are six dimensions of humour:
His observation is that you have to use at least two of these dimensions for people to recognise the humour in what has been said. As a writer it is always fascinating to learn new techniques and to be introduced to concepts you’d never heard of before. I’d never thought to deeply ponder why some things are funny (and some people enjoy them more than others) and why some things are not.
Wherever the truth behind it lies, I do know one thing: I’m extremely grateful for humour. It can not only amuse but diffuse, getting rid of tension and stress and often putting our light and momentary troubles into their proper perspective. In biblical parlance, “A merry heart does good like a medicine.”
So thanks, Billy, for a great evening!