Monday, April 24, 2017

Nth Degree: Fortnight #6 of the Burns

Milford Sound with rainbow

I was going to do some graphs and trends-after-12-weeks stuff this time around, but I've got a bunch of other things to cover and post. So I'll leave the maths for another fortnight when I find myself less interesting.

As for fortnight #6, here it is, by the numbers:
  • Total words for the fortnight: 7,395 words (cf 12k last fortnight)
  • 1st week: 3,955 / 2nd week: 3,440
  • 89.6% of these words were on the novel

Going to Fiordland for Easter took a chunk of time of out the end of week 1 and the start of week 2. 

The plateau that I mentioned last fortnight persisted longer than I'd hoped (not so much in terms of total words, but how far into the story I managed to proceed). I resorted to alternative means of generating content (see cut-up chapter below), and managed to get something or somewhere.

With recent opportunities (see below), I'm still trying to figure out how much I try and get my location scout moving through time, or if I need to pull back and get things planned out better...

Travels (with Tomtit)

Misty ol' day in the Sound

Waterfall with seals, Milford Sound

Lake Mistletoe
Lake Manapouri


So I’m still using the dinky little Arcoroc cup I found in the dinky little kitchenette and having to make too many trips to make tea during my day and maybe I will end up ordering something in another moment of weakness.
And so it came to pass.

It depicts scenes from Monty Python's Holy Grail in a Saturday morning cartoon mode, which is kinda sorta exactly what my novel will turn out like if I'm not careful.


Octagon Poetry Collective

Last week I went to a reading at Dog With Two Tails. The feature poets were Sue Wootton (above) and Victor Billot. There was also an open mic for the collective members - it was an incredibly well oiled machine, each poet getting briskly to the mic, reading a single poem (some with patter, some without, but never more than necessary) and blending back into the crowd.

After an intermission, the chair came to me and lightly twisted my arm, so I read a poem ('Transition', with a rambling preamble that did not do justice to the preceding efficiency). While I've published quite a few poems, sporadically, I think the last time I read one of my poems in public was in 2006 at the Museum of City and Sea in Wellington.

It was a fun night and Sue and Victor were great too.

Town Belt Traverse

After going 11 years between public poetry readings, the next gap was five days. And instead of reading one poem, I had two and a half hours to fill!

The event was the annual Town Belt Traverse, organised by the Dunedin Amenities Society. As the Burns Fellow, I was positioned at the 5th and final station in Prospect Park and asked to "recite some verse" (people who talk about reciting and/or verse tend to think of poetry as they might dinosaurs or unicycling).

These first arrivals were the hardout walkers who hadn't really mucked around at any of the other stops and weren't going to lower their heartrate for a spot of poetry. Fair enough.

After about half an hour the stream of people became a bit more steady and in less of a rush, and I found my groove. People we much more comfortable stopping to listen if I was already reading, so it helped to have some longer pieces. (I learnt quickly that starting a poem as someone past made them feel as if they'd triggered a security light). In addition to about 20 poems of my own, I read some others' (Emma Neale, Geoff COchrane, Alice Oswald), and two short stories that are bitsy and poetic ('30 Ways of Looking at Marumaru South' and 'Parents in Decline').

I was joined in the middle span by one of the PhD candidates from the English Department who read Owen Marshall's 'The Divided World' (great choice) and two of my own poems (a weird experience). Thanks Damien!

Despite some awkward moments, I really enjoyed it at times, and had some good chats with people in between pieces.

The long and blinding road

A selection of 40 or so fake quotes from my fake famous director
 in the process of being ordered and rationalised before
being incorporated into the novel
TBH there are times when working on a story or a novel when it can get scary. 

Scary because suddenly what you are working on becomes clear and there’s a bigger meaning to it, or a bigger question underlying the work, that you didn't quite know was there when you started and are confronted with the task of being the one to see this through. 

Am I really fit to be asking this question? 

Can I really write a novel that dramatizes this particularly big thing that I didn’t know I was even grappling with until ninety seconds ago?

In time the feeling fades. You mock yourself for your self-importance. That's the only way you can proceed, or at least that I can.

One does not sit down each day and produce work of genius. One might come upon it, in the course of one's work, and if one is careful not to look directly into its eyes, might encircle it, once, twice, thrice, each revolution claiming a little more of its power for your own...

Or not. Probably not.

Internet Explorer

I mentioned last fortnight that I was spending a lot of time looking at places in Italy on Google Street View. At the risk of turning this place into selfie-central, I bought this t-shirt to embrace the desk-bound nature of my research/creativity.


Things move quickly in these here parts. 

Next month, I'm off to Italy and, after fulfilling some non-novelistic duties, I'll have the chance to 'scout' locations in person.

This is good news. Great news, even. Except, it does mean a lot of this next month is gonna be spent playing my own travel agent, trying to squeeze as much into my time on the ground, and preparing for the primary reason for my visit (education business). 

A welcome spanner in the works. 

Perhaps I need a new t-shirt?

Is it wrong that I really, really like Gore?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

We goin’ Sizzler: Fortnight #5 of the Burns


There is pleasure in the work

Words this fortnight: 12,320 (cf 8,702 the previous fortnight)
(Week 1 - 7,956; Week 2 - 4,364)

Still a case of the first week of the fortnight being the more productive (65 percent of the fortnightly tally this time) but not as pronounced as some previous fortnights.

Some blogging in week one distorts the figure, slightly. When looking just at what I added to THE LOCATION SCOUT, it's 5.4k vs 4k, figures I'll happily take for the next forty weeks, please and thank you.

I had two days of 2,000+ words twice this fortnight, one in each week (both Tuesdays). These were my first days over 2,000 (on just the novel) for the year.

I did strike a plateau with the manuscript around 18,000 words. It's the transition from the first act to the second, from what was known to what's much less fixed in my mind. So: a few days of casting around the internet, staring at Google Maps, watching YouTube videos, and then a bright idea in the shower and voila, someone has turned the word tap back on (just in time for another 2k Tuesday).

If there is no pleasure in the work
what chance have others of finding it?



There is pleasure in the work (x2)

The Dunedin Writers Festival programme is out and I'm appearing in two events:
It looks like it'll be a great few days in May, which is rapidly approaching.

In thinking about what I might do for the Found Poetry session, I've become VERY interested in Recurrent Neural Networks and their potential to generate text. I met with someone from the university's Computer Science faculty, who put me in touch with some of his colleagues. I'm working slowly towards a collaboration, though I'm not quite sure what the final product might be.

If there is no pleasure in the work, down tools

My location scout in THE LOCATION SCOUT has landed in Italy and is scouting locations I've never been to. It's an interesting experience, wedding imagination and Google Street View images. There's a chance I might be able to get to Italy before the book is finished, but I'm treating that as a nice bonus rather than a necessity. Believe it or not, the book's not really about location scouting!

So for now, the internet and I will suffice.

There is pleasure in the work (x2)

Me and my motley crew are off to Milford Sound and Te Anau for Easter. So expect next fortnight's update to be photo-rich and wordcount-poor.

There is pleasure in the work (fade out)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

March Consumption Diary




Nadia Reid at Port Chalmers Town Hall, 31 March

The second of two sold out shows in Reid's home town (don't get me started on how Dunedin's city boundary is insanely large, swallowing up towns like Port C and Mosgiel).

Wooden halls are notoriously difficult acoustically, especially with a full band,  but the sound was pretty good. There were moments in almost every song where it was clear Reid - her talent - has this trajectory that few artists have.

One thing I noticed live that I hadn't noticed after hours listening to both her albums at home: every second song seems feature lyrics about direction, in particular forward movement. Overall, her lyrical palette is restrained, which is probably a good thing. And most lyricists have tics that become apparent after two-dozen or so songs. Will be interesting to see how, and where, her lyrics evolve in the future.

I won't go over the comparisons that I've seen in other places, but seeing her leading the rockier numbers I was put in mind of Niko Case when she fronts for the New Pornographers. Which is most certainly a good thing.

My favourite song at the moment is 'Richard', which has a very Kurt Vile groove, but there was something about Reid's voice that reminded me of something older. Last night I thought it might be Shawn Colvin's 'Sonny Came Home'. Listening to that song now, I'm not sure if that's the one.


Just a phenomenal talent and a bloody good night.


Bandits by Elmore Leonard (novel, audiobook)

I find listening to a Leonard novel a useful reminder about the power of dialogue and the cancer that is disconnected exposition.

This one had some links to my work in progress (an ex-nun who kinda fell for St Francis of Asissi), but everything is connected, somehow. See Fortnight #4’s discussion of first draft solipsism.

The Man Who Could Fly: St Joseph of Copertino and the Mystery of Levitation by Michael Grosso (non-fiction)

This book is clearly connected, no neurotism required. And it only came out last year, so after I did my initial deep dive of research. But I can't imagine what writing my book would be like without reading this one.

That’s not to say it’s a good book. It’s really not. It’s often turgid, disjointed and uses logic selectively. And it took an age (2 months) to get through, despite being massively het up about the subject matter.

But it did give me something to argue against. And that, my friends, is a precious gift.

The Dreamer’s Dictionary – Stearn Robinson and Tom Corbett (non-fiction)

I was looking for a catalogue of common types of dreams (falling dreams, flying dreams, teeth falling out dreams) but this turned out to be a tool for those hoping to divine meaning from their dreams, as if they were tea leaves.

For example:
Halo. To see someone wearing a halo in your dreams indicates sad news; if you were wearing the halo, it predicts travel; if you dreamed of taking off a halo you can expect some kind of improvement in business or financial matters.

But I did like this, from the Introduction:
…as dreams allow one to go safely and quietly insane for a time each day, it is not, as heretofore believed, the sleep that is necessary for our well-being, but the dreams.

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (novel, audiobook)

So, I loved Wolf in White Van, and I loved the first half of Universal Harvester. I mean, that title seems at once the most bad-ass Sabbath-era metal album title (Darnielle has also written a 33 1/3 book on Sabbath’s Master of Reality) and totally prosaic and farmy (the book is set in rural Iowa).

I normally listen to audiobooks on 1.25x or 1.5x, but early on in Universal Harvester I wanted to savour the experience. At a little over six hours normal speed, I felt the book (read by the author) was slipping away too fast.

The way horror (think: horror movies) and grief (think: lost parents) intersect, it’s really powerful. The novel has this genre-fied hot rod engine that is ready to take the reader anywhere, but then Darnielle chooses to keep it idling. Actually, he parks the hot rod out back and completely forgets about it for a while, and then, on the last page, when we’re all a bit tired and strung out and only a handful of us have any hope left, he runs to the hot rod, jumps in and goes for a very brief blat. But by then, it’s too little too late for most of us.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (novel, audiobook)

I wanted something light and commercial and I got it here.

I’m totally not comfortable with the way this and many entertainments before it derive so much of the content from the comedy of the main character’s non-standard brain wiring (Don Tillman is somewhere on the ASD spectrum, but so are we all). At times it felt cheap, easy and/or untrue. Whenever Don’s wiring or the demands of the chick-lit genre come into conflict, the genre wins.

But still, I listened. Still, I lapped it up. Says something about my brain’s wiring I guess. Though I’m going to try hard to resist any urges to add any Helen Fielding to my Audible wishlist.

In My Father’s Den by Maurice Gee (novel, NZ, audiobook)

This was like the anti-Universal Harvester. I started listening to this novel on a day I worked from home (lawns to mow, washing to hang out, meals to cook) at 1.25x, but after a couple minutes felt comfortable cranking up to 1.5x. After an hour of biological time, I pumped it up to 1.75x and managed to finish the entire book in a day.

It’s been a number of years since I read Plumb, but I only read Rachel Barrowman’s biography of Gee last year. In My Father’s Den was like a mash-up of both of these (the autobiographical stuff about Henderson/Wellsford, the contrasting religiousness of Paul Prior’s parents) extruded through a classic crime novel (seventeen year old girl found dead in the scrub, half-scalped). But rather than conform to the crime genre, we get the story in a very NZ literary novel way: nothing procedural or quote-unquote pacy about this. The solution to the mystery is stumbled upon, rather quickly in the scheme of things, and resolved predictably enough (the climax does feature a tomahawk). While it might fail as a piece of genre fiction, it success as literature thanks in part to the momentum it borrows from genre. It doesn’t, unlike Darnielle’s book, park the crime story behind the shed and forget about it. It’s there, always, but Gee is able to buy enough time to give us the narrator’s entire life story, which, cunningly, allows the murderer’s motive to be neatly foregrounded without rousing the reader’s suspicion.

A Perfect Spy by John Le Carre (novel, audiobook)

Another genre piece, this time from the master of the spy novel. I found this the hardest to manage as an audiobook. The genre demands the accumulation of significant detail, frequent reversals and assumed personas, and I found it hard to keep it all straight in my head. It wasn’t that it was all moving too fast for me (I found some parts went on too long), but that I couldn’t flip back a chapter or two to check things, such is the inexorable progress of an audiobook when you’re cycling, or hanging out the washing, or doing the groceries.

Film & TV

(some of these I may have missed off my Jan/Feb list)

  • Do The Right Thing
  • Sex, Lies and Videotape
  • The Legend of Bagger Vance
  • Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (My wife asked me why I liked watching documentaries about bands, as if this was something weird. My dad used to tape music docos from the TV. The Beatles. Pink Floyd. Beach Boys. So I grew up around not just this music, but people talking about the music, the making of the music. I'm interested in how any art is made, but music will always be the thing that is most immediate for me as an audience member, and the thing most distant from me in terms of talent. And I don't even like Rush, much. Like * sacrilege alert*: Neal Peart is not a good lyricist. Gimme 'Working Man' over anything Peart ever penned. But then, I didn't listen to Rush when I was going through puberty, so...)
  • Grillo vs Grillo
  • Dave Chappelle Netlix specials (x2)
  • I Don’t Feel At Home in this World Anymore
  • Green Room
  • Demolition Man
  • 2 Guns
  • Entourage: The movie
  • Tootsie
  • The Dead Lands
  • Jackie Browne
  • Love (Season 2)