Sunday, July 30, 2017

Mutton chops: Fortnight 13 of the Burns

My son warning me to turn back and work on my novel, or else, Pounawea
As the ancients used to say, productivity comes before a fall. 

History will record Fortnight 12 (14,262 words) as The Bubble and Fortnight 13 (...wait for it...) as The Crash (and not in the Ishigurovian sense).

Fortnight 13 total wordcount: 3,572 - sadly, that is not a typo.
* Week 1: 2,024 (all on the novel)
* Week 2: 1,548 (all towards blog posts)

The litany of excuses is long and contains petty mix-ups and pretty photos.

We had people staying with us (a family of four and then a family of three) every night except two this fortnight.

I took the second week off to spend time with visitors and take them to the Catlins. We did the Southern part of the Catlins in March and did the Northern part this time.

It was ace.

Floodwaters, East Taieri, (this is normally pasture)
on the drive south 

Purakaunui Falls


Tunnel Hill

Nugget Point, with nuggets
Roaring Bay
(we had a five minute window [=kids], but saw a yellow-eyed penguin
 from inside the hide on the left side of the bay)

Catlins Brewery Scotch Mist Manuka Smoked Ale (would recommend),
Kaka Point

I spoke at the Otago Institute's annual What's Hot event on 20 July at the Otago Museum.

I talked about the use of imperfect AI in poetry, which segued into my experiments with Recurrent Neural Networks which I blogged about in May.

But I went a bit broader, and more humorous, which took some prep. I even experimented with an Powerpoint-augmented poetry reading (and it wasn't as horrific as it sounds).

A fun event (other speakers covered what's hot in neuro-endocrinology, virtual reality and the medical humanities) and I've been asked to repeat my spiel to a class of undergrads later this semester.

I took part in the Meet the Fellows Event at the Art Gallery on 23 July.

This didn't take much prep, it just soaked up most of a Sunday. But I don't normally write much on Sundays and I had guests anyway, so this isn't really an excuse for pour wordcounts, more of a thing that happened this fortnight.

Also, an excuse to mention the latest WRONG NAME with which I've been saddled.

I've had Cliff Craig, Chris Craig, even Colin Craig. But Chris Curtis was bold new territory!

(I'm a little bummed we've skipped the phase where I'm confused with Cliff Curtis.)

I've started work on my paper for the Dan Davin Short Story Conference, which kicks off in Invercargill on 1 Sept. At the moment, it's mostly reading so many Kiwi short story collections that they begin to blur into each other - which is a deliberate ploy. More on this to follow, I'm sure.

I went to Wellington for two nights (landlord duties) in the first week of fortnight 13. The good news: EQC is paying out for minor damage from the Nov 2016 Kaikoura quake. And the current tenants are looking after the place well.

(But secretly: I might be over Wellington. It's expensive and most of the cool stuff you don't really get to enjoy when you have young kids. And you have to work there. Like, in an office and stuff!

It officially rains 50% more there than in Dunedin and don't get me started on the wind. One swallow doesn't make a summer and I'm not going to make any rash judgments two months into my only winter in Dunners, but it seems a pretty sweet deal to give up a 2 or 3 degree hit on the thermometer for all the other gains.

I mean, this is what it's been like the last two days:


Sick kids, again. They've been alright this last week, but slept poorly last night and all signs point to more fevers, ear infections, Dr appointments and writerly misery.

My internet connection at home has been seriously compromised this last week. It's had very little impact on my output, as the things above all but scuppered any writing time, but if it persists, it's gonna eff with my writing next week (calling ISP, staying home for technician, etc etc). Ugh.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Combustion engine: Fortnight 12 of The Burns

Double rainbow, Andy Bay
Wordcount for Fortnight #12: 14,262 words

  • 1st week: 8,214 (6 writing days)
  • 2nd week: 6,048 (3 full writing days, 2 abbreviated days thanks to sick kids)
  • 90% on the novel. The rest on this blog.

Sick kids suck, but all in all: Good numbers. As in:

  • the most productive fortnight so far (beating Fortnight #5 - 12,320 words)
  • 8,000 words in the 1st week is more than a number of fortnights so far. The most pleasing thing is that most of it was spent on the novel.

And the quality? Meh.

But I am looking forward to butchering these chapters when I'm done with the first draft (or get further into it) and know which bits are necessary evils and which are just plain evil. And if I keep writing 6000+ words a week, I'll be butchering sooner than you can say, 'Doog tish'.

Hail on the beach, St Clair

A word or five about 'outspiration'

If you Google 'outspiration' you get a bunch of outdoorsy types using it as a shorthand for 'outdoor inspiration'.

But I'm using it as the opposite of 'inspiration'. (Yeah, I concede it's kinda dumb, but it'll do for now).

And I'm not talking about 'discouragement' or 'demoralisation' or 'outcome' or any of the other 232 antonyms for 'inspiration' listed online.

I mean those things that MIGHT have inspired you, had they existed before you created your THING, but they didn't. Your thing came first, and the potential inspiration came second.
Outspiration (n)
When one of your ideas comes true before you finish your book (and no matter how much you say you came up with the idea first, readers will always experience your idea through the thing that really happened in their past)


In my Location Scout novel (in progress), I have a young filmmaker who is offered the chance to direct a big Hollywood film that is important to a Sci-Fi franchise, only to be removed from the project in the early days of principal photography.

Then in June, Phil Lord and Chris Miller were removed/fired from the Han Solo standalone Star Wars movie.

Directors (especially emerging ones with a clear aesthetic) being removed from big budget projects is not unheard of. I mean, the director of Rogue One was sidelined / removed right at the end of production of that film, so it's not even the first time it's even happened in the Disney-era of Star Wars (NB: I only learnt about this through articles about Lord and Miller getting shitcanned).

The important thing is to note is that my book won't come out until probably 2019 (touch wood), at which point the Lord/Miller firing will be old news and people might assume this was a source of inspiration. No. It was outspiration -- the only link between my book and their firing was maybe my negative vibes made their way to Kathleen Kennedy who woke up one morning and said, 'Yes, I should fire those guys!'

Sorry, Phil. Sorry Chris.


In the same novel-in-progress I also have a successful Hollywood director who has a passion project that he has been talking about for decades but hasn't been able to make yet. He's about 10 years younger than Martin Scorsese, but he's an Italian-American filmmaker from New York, so you're more than welcome to think Scorsese-esque thoughts when reading about my fictional filmmaker.

When I started working on the novel and building up ideas about this Italian-American director, it was 2015. I didn't know about Scorcese's forever-delayed film Silence. I only found out about it at the start of 2017 when it was snubbed for the Oscars and then came out in cinemas here (wherein I watched it).

I saw Silence when I'd written only about 10% of the first draft, so there could be ways it works itself into the text (I'm skeptical), but it most certainly didn't influence the fact that my book would have a Hollywood director finally getting to make his religiously-themed passion project. All of that was locked in before I knew about Silence.

What does it all mean?

I'm not saying I'm psychic. Or even that original. I build my plots around central ideas/problems and/or characters and overtime they gather other elements like a massive lint roller used to tidy a kid's bedroom, and then I start to write.

Aside: most often for me the lint roller is an idea - like a window dresser who raises his children to be living mannequins - that comes first; but sometimes it's a character - like the annoying best friend in The Location Scout who I knew instantly and then things like being a e-sports shoutcaster and former shut-in stuck to him.

The things that stick to the lint roller tend to be unoriginal things (a director getting fired from a big budget movie), and therefore likely to happen again in the real world either while writing the book or after publication. The challenge it to make your book original in the way you piece everything together (much the same way as you use words and punctuation to make fresh and exciting sentences... unless you're blogging).

There are a hundred other things in my part-finished first draft that could 'come true' before I finish. If all hundred happen, even then, I'm not fucked (though some of the magic will certainly be called into question). If they all happen to a small group of people, and their story gets told in a semi-narrative way... well, then I'm fucked.

But what are the chances of that??

Sunday, July 9, 2017

June Consumption Diary


Here are some of my favourite tracks from my June listening.

NB: A lot of the later entries come from a Spotify playlist called Meet the Beatlesque, which I came across at the bottom of ELO’s discography.

Also: I was considering doing a ‘best albums of 2017 so far’ as part of this month’s consumption diary, but the coverage of books and film below got kinda long so I’ll keep my powder dry on that one.


Ghost Lights by Lydia Millet (novel, audiobook)

I’d been thinking a lot about Millet’s 2005 novel, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, even though it was over a decade since I’d read it. So I chose this (it was one of two Millet options on Audible) and I loved it so much, even though I could compile a bunch of qualms about its length or structure or ending (all basically the same qualm).

It isn’t anywhere near as ambitious as OPaRH (oh, I never new the initials spelled that), so it’s less memorable, but also less flawed (at least until the last fifty or so pages).

But yeah, serve me up some more Millet, please!

Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? by Robert Bartlett (non-fiction)

I’d read about this book at the start of the year and its title had stuck with me. It summed up pretty well one of the main questions in the novel I’m working on (like, how come 400 years ago a guy could levitate 300+ times and convinced the Inquisition he was legit and not committing witchcraft and there was enough proof to be beatified and canonised after his death... and yet we don’t seem to have the capacity to believe in levitation today – so who’s wrong: the people 400 years ago, or us? Or is there a third way?)

Anyway, this book is about the cult of saints within Catholicism, from the early Christian Martyrs through to the Reformation. So the "dead people" didn’t just do great things when there were alive (heal the sick, scrutinize hearts, friggin’ fly) but they can also do great things after death (i.e. answer prayers – help you pass exams or land a plane with both engines on the fritz). I admit I skimmed this prayer stuff (I can only ask myself / you all to re-examine one materialist bias at a time).

[In June, I also read a bunch of other stuff about San Giuseppe da Copertino (most of it in Italian) – things I picked up on my travels in Italy – but I won’t list every pamphlet]

The Neapolitan Quarter by Elena Ferrante (4 novels, audiobooks)

I listened to My Brilliant Friend in May. Actually, I read the first couple of chapters of the physical book in March or April. My wife was reading it, and I wanted to see if I should make time for Ferrante, but she (my wife, not Ferrante) but she reads so slowly.  I would still be waiting to get the book. So I borrowed the audiobook through my local library online service.

Did it hook me? Well, I finished all four books (none of them are particularly short - the audiobooks are 12.5hrs, 19hrs, 16.5hrs & 18.5hrs long respectively; 10 hours is kind of standard for a novel) in just over two months. But *in hushed tones* I listened to these books at 1.75x normal speed. This really helped me stick with them and meant I could listen to them (and a bunch of other books) over May and June (and a little bit of July).

While hooning up Autostrade 14 in Italy, I listened to just over half of The Story of a New Name (book 2), and wasn’t sure I’d get around to finishing it. It really got bogged down with the trip to Ishcia, where it was pretty obvious what was going to happen with Nino and Lila (and Bruno and Pinuccia) but it took sooo long. Maybe this impression was compounded by the straightness of the road I was driving?? But still: those few weeks on Ischia take up more real estate on the page than any other similar span of time. I don’t doubt the importance to the overall story, but were they the most important? And it's not like the narrator, Elena Greco, didn't plough through some SIGNIFICANT LIFE EVENTS in savagely sparing fashion (often these were the most enjoyable sequences).

Anyway, I did end up listening to the last 10 hours of Book 2 in two or three days once I got back to Dunedin because the loan period was about to expire -- I was still not really hooked -- but I went straight into Book 3 (Those who leave and those who stay). Its shameful to say, but I enjoyed this book the most because it’s about Elena’s burgeoning career as a writer.

I took a break between Books 3 and 4 and read/listened to two or three different kinds of books. Ferrante’s quartet is powered by this kind of violent charge that’s both repellant and intoxicating and I felt I needed space. It’s easy to see how the repellence of masculine violence and oppression of females can be pleasing to read (At last, someone gets to stick it to the [Italian] man); but there’s a lot of girl-on-girl pscho-emotional carnage, which is more unique. The pleasure derived from this can be a bit like rubbernecking (Oh my god, female friendship is the worst! Amirite guys? Guys?) but it’s only one of many painful pleasures being exacted upon the reader at any one time.

I can’t decide if the quartet is the result of incredible ambition or incredible restraint. Is it complexly simple or simply complex?

Beyond the prologue at the start of book one, and the way the narrator concertinas time in fairly standard ways, there’d been very little prolepsis / foreshadowing. But two-thirds of the way into the final book (The Story of the Lost Child) there’s a new section (the chapter numbers restart at one) and we go all the way into the present in a few pages, then rewind back to pretty much where the previous section left off. Interesting, but I'm still trying to figure WHY it was done like that.

There’s also an epilogue, which pushes us even closer to the present day and ends with an image/event with ambiguous significance. Like: I listened to the last five minutes three times and I’m still not sure what to think except: No Clean Answers.

Final point/crackpot theory: 

I'm really glad the idea of Lila (a computer wiz) hacking Elena's computer and rewriting some of the tale (which was hinted at early) was roundly dismissed by the narrator at the end. But it did make me wonder if the whole quartet of books was Lila's project, writing in Elena's voice, as a kind of revenge for Elena ripping of the Blue Fairy and turning Tina's disappearance into a book. Having freshly finished the books, I haven't gone back and read much writing about them, but I'm sure there's another four books worth of stuff on the question of authorship within the novels (let alone the 400-books worth of dross on the elusive author herself... All I can say is, if anyone had read all four books and still wants to track down the real Elena Ferrante, they're beyond dense).

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other clinical tales by Oliver Sachs (non-fiction, audiobook)

A bunch of case histories, all limited by the fact Sachs was the Dr involved in the treatment (often not the primary physician, sometimes only seeing a patient once). Even the title tale involves only two meetings and Sachs never hears from the man again. In my edition, Sachs ends almost every chapter with a postscript, often saying how many other cases he’s come across since first publishing the chapter/book, and sometimes saying the patient is still as they were 10 years ago.

Despite these limitations/frustrations, it’s fascinating stuff. I went to a talk a week after finishing the book and one of Sach’s case studies was mentioned, and I felt very in the know! 


In the air (return flights)

Get Out – Was looking forward to this. And it was good. But I kinda wished the baddies were more real (like Deliverance; not inbred hicks, but not totally overblown splatter-film villains). I mean, Philando Castille. Donald Trump. The world’s scary enough without resorting to Dr Frankensteins.

Lego Batman – Okay, so wake me when there’s a left-field superhero movie that doesn’t slip into the sinkhole of the standard superhero movie plot in the 2nd Act.

John Wick: Chapter Two - Hurrah! I haven't seen Chapter One yet. I didn't feel like I missed much in the sequel and I still want to watch the first one. Probably the mark of a great action film sequel, eh?

The Red Turtle – A shipwreck flick from Studio Ghibli? Yes please! It was great. I struggled a little with the shift from realism to fantasy (and back?) but every frame was stunning and helped carry me along. Great stuff.

Pork Pie – Not as raucous or unhinged as the original. And the raucousness and unhingedness were about the only thing going for the original (apart from the game of spotting notable landmarks and observing changes in the intervening decades).
West World – the original 70s movie – So hokey, so loose, so dumb. Amazed Michael Crichton was trusted to pen anything else; glad he didn’t direct Jurassic Park!

The Art of Scandinavia (1 episode) – I managed to catch the episodes about Denmark and Sweden on Prime (or Choice TV?) when they screened during the weekend (in March or April?), by pure chance. And fluked it again because the 1st episode (Norway) was the only one available on the in-flight entertainment. I loved Andrew Graham-Dixon’s docos when I was in high school and he doesn’t a) appear to have aged in the intervening 18 years b) varied his style one iota. Having rediscovered AGD, I’m afraid of stumbling across something online about how facile he is (which I kinda always suspected), or that he eats babies. Can’t I just have this portal back to the youth I misspent on art history and it’s all perfect and innocent and no one gets hurt? Please?

Bob’s Burgers (2 eps) – shouty, shouty comfort food.

Taboo (2 eps) – So much is packed into the pilot. So little happens in the second episode. Abandoned.

Back home

Better Call Saul (remaining episodes of season 3) – the only episode that fell flat was the finale. Everything else: man. I mean, it’s basically created a new genre: the scam show. It’s like they’ve taken one of those real life forensic shows from one of the channels with very high numbers on Sky (you know, where they try hard to distance the work from CSI shenanigans) and a legal drama where, with one extended exception (Chuck vs Kim & Jimmy) you don’t ever get to see the court room, and a police procedural, except you don’t follow the detectives but the people they don’t know they can’t catch. At the end of every episode, I’m like: that should have been sooo boring. But I was riveted. Riveted. And now I feel a little bereft. Come back Jimmy!

Okja – So this totally fell flat for me. Like, afterwards, I looked on twitter (it had only been on Netflix for 24 hrs so there was a lot of people talking about it) and everyone was going on about how they’d never eat meat again, but I think that’s an easy thing to tweet, especially when everyone else in your timeline has been saying they’re looking forward to this movie dropping… But gosh, it was such a sloshing slop bucket of tones. The timeline was hard to follow (the opening felt like it was in the future, then it flashed forward 10 years to the present day…). The premise was hard to swallow (that people’d buy the story of a superpig being found and 10 more superpiglets bred and raised for 10 years in 10 natural environments when a) they look nothing like pigs b) after 10 years the 2nd generation of superpigs reach maturity and to celebrate here’s a whole bunch of meat products from superpigs… eh? Like, if I was going to stop eating bacon, gimme Babe or Charlotte’s Web or a decent longread article. But not this.

Shimmer Lake, 30 Minutes of LessThe Trip to Italy, Win It All

Friday, July 7, 2017

Light the fuse: Fortnight 11 of the Burns

Moeraki Boulders
A week late again, so this refers to the fortnight 19 June-2 July.

Total words: 7,875

  • Novel 5,416, Blog 2232, Other 227
  • 1st week 4595 (including a Saturday(!) and several 5am starts)
  • 2nd week 3280 (lower as I spent Thurs and Fri that week on structure/re-story boarding scene in the novel and writing NOTHING)

The main distraction in fortnight 11 was the NBA Draft. My interest in the NBA was at a low ebb during the season, thanks to the Sacramento Kings still sucking (it's 15 years since their glory days!!) and then trading their best (but admittedly problematic) player for what looked like peanuts. But one of those peanuts was a 1st round draft pick, and some luck in the lottery meant they had the 5th and 10th picks in a pretty good draft class. So I got sucked back in, big time.

Draft day, 23 June
(I actually wrote 1,010 words in the morning)
(I didn't like any of their picks on draft day
  • Fox was the consensus #5 pick but I think his iffy jumper and slight frame will mean he never reaches stardom and Dennis Smith Jr and Jonathan Isaac would have been better picks long term.
  • Trading #10 for #15 and #20 was fine in principle. I mean, Zach Collins is overrated, and I'd have been angry if they took him had they kept the pick, but Malik Monk or Donavon Mitchell will both be productive players. But, leading up to the 15th pick, I though maybe it'd work out well.
  • But Justin Jackson at #15? I just don't see him being a starter, ever. You can only draft the people that fall to you (so no Monk or Mitchell or DSJ), but I'd have taken a flier on OG Anunboy, or gone big with John Collins and picked up a wing with #20 (Ferguson, Ojeleye)
  • Then they took Harry Giles at #20, which is fine in the context of how many okay but not great bigs they have, so you might as well swing for the fences, but I don't like his chances of ever regaining the confidence in his legs to get back to his high school form, let alone be a plus baller as a grown man. OG, Ferguson, Ojeleye (who they passed on again at #31), Juwan Evans (ditto), Caleb Swanigan, and Wesley Iwundu were all higher on my big board.
  • At #31, they took Frank Mason, who's you're prototype college star, pro failure (at least we didn't take him with a lottery pick *cough* Jimmer * cough*). Juwan Evans was much more upside. But they were clearly going for character guys, and it looks like Mason might be the 15th man on the roster, so maybe it'll all work out.
That all sounds quite negative. I'll probably wrong on half of these guys (no screenshots, please!_, which means 50% of their picks pan out, which is an okay haul in the end. So I give their draft a B, because it could have been better, but it could still be great.)

And this week they've killed it in free agency bringing in one decent player in his prime (George Hill) and too stars in the twilight of their careers (Zach Randolph, Vince Carter) who know the coach's system and can teach the young guys how to be pros for 15+ seasons. 

So yeah, I know anyone who reads this blog for stuff about writing or photos of the South Island didn't read all of that, but I had fun writing it.

Anyway. PHOTOS!

Andersons Bay inlet on a frosty morning

Looking the other way

Marne St, flooded in king tide
Otago Harbour, killing it

Reason #751 to love Dunedin: Bacon Buttie Station!
Glenfalloch selfie with son.
I don't often write in cafes, but when I do...