Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I have just spent an hour revising and proofing a chapter that I have decided I need to cut, because it slows the story down. Oh well, such is life.

(It will go in the 'Deleted Scenes' section of my extended edition).

Oh no, not again!

Total word count: about 121,000
Today's word count: No idea. Probably around 2,000.
Cups of coffee: two filter, one espresso and a pot of Earl Grey tea
What's playing: The Vines, The Flaming Lips and The Be Good Tanyas

Well, I have exceeded what I thought was an over-generous estimate of how much I had left to write. Damn! So I have extended the little word counter again to prevent it from getting stressed out. Now it's sitting at 130,000. It can't be much more than that, surely? I am nearing the end. I had another productive morning in the cafe, despite the small and sticky child who was trying to climb onto my notes. Remember how I said the other day that I was happy with chapters one through twenty-nine, pretty much? Well I have managed to spend most of this week so far on chapters twenty-eight and twenty-nine, and they have changed beyond all recognition. Books are funny like that.

I feel the need for a list. Today I have:
1) Written an interesting couple of paragraphs about Mugabe (not sure where they're fitting in, but they're needed somewhere)
2) Written an important scene revisiting a character who disappeared earlier in the book
3) Split one chapter into two, which has infinitely improved the flow and structure of the book
4) Written a bunch of other stuff that is more difficult to put a good label on
5) Worried about a little sub-plot thread that is flapping around - not sure if I should kill it entirely or follow it through.

What I'm worried about (well, one of the things) is keeping the last chapters of the book from getting too bogged down in political stuff. It still needs to be a story about the narrator and her family, not a political commentary. Keeping the balance is one of the challenges I'm facing this week.

I'm wary of making any more pronouncements about my finishing date ... I want to give the ending the attention it needs. I am looking forward to giving my mind a break for a couple of weeks, but I don't want to rush this and I feel like I'm doing some good work. The plan for the rest of the day is to ... well, keep going, as usual, and also to send another batch of pages to my advisor. Tomorrow morning I'm visiting a friend - the priest who married us, and who also married my Mum and Dad twenty-two years ago in Zimbabwe - to return a very difficult book on theology that I only semi-understood. Just a piece of trivia there.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Just when you thought it was safe ...

I want this shirt.


I wonder if I could release a 'Director's Cut' version of the book as well as the polished-up, slimmed-down version? You know, kind of an extended edition with deleted scenes and bloopers. So many bloopers.

Some quotes I like at the moment

On writer's block:
"I don't believe in it. Plumbers don't get plumber's block and doctors don't get doctor's block; why should writers be the only profession that gives a special name to the difficulty of working, and then expect sympathy for it?" - Philip Pullman

"I believe humans get a lot done, not because we're smart, but because we have thumbs so we can make coffee." - Flash Rosenberg

"Every day is a gift, even if it sucks." - Sherry Hochman

Come to the dark side

Here's an interesting thing. I really don't read much while I'm writing a book. And if I do read, it tends to be either non-fiction or research materials, or something that I feel very drawn to which will in some way contribute to my own project. The two books I have been drawn to this week are Perfume by Patrick Suskind and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Both of which have particularly grisly murders in them. I'm drawn to the dark stuff at the moment because that's what I'm writing. And, weirdly, it's one of the things I most enjoy writing, even though it's horrible.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Well, the first draft is gradually nearing completion. I've been saying that a lot lately, haven't I? I'm definitely going to finish it this week, however, by fair means or foul. I really want the satisfaction of printing out all 250-or-so pages onto clean, white A4 sheets and seeing it in a solid, physical form. Then I can go back and get into all the nitty-gritty of rewriting and editing.

I got a lot of good work done in the cafe today. The waiters recognise me now. One of them asked me what I'm working on.
"A novel," I said, and instantly wanted to qualify my statement with things like "I've published one before", just so I didn't seem like one of those people who talk and talk about writing the Great New Zealand (or American, or English) Novel and never get further than the first page. I wanted to produce a copy of my published book (possibly with a letter of authenticity?), a list of credentials, references, writing samples to prove that I am a 'real' writer. Which is ridiculous, but shows how defensive I feel, and how much I want to be taken seriously.
Of course, all the waitress said was, "Cool. Is it nearly finished?"
"I hope so," I said.

I am moderately happy with chapters one through twenty-nine, but chapters thirty to thirty five still need a lot of work. I think it is possible to finish this week, but I'm also conscious of keeping the pace of the book steady. Sometimes, when I'm excited about finishing a book, and all its events are getting more dramatic, I can rush towards the end and finish it a bit too abruptly. I really don't want to do that with this one, even in the first draft. You only have one chance to tell your story for the first time (can't remember who said that - think it may have been Timothy Hallinan), and I want the first telling to be good, even if I then go back and completely rehash it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


"A writer is someone who finishes." - Thomas Farber

Thursday, April 17, 2008


"Some people have a way with words, and others ... not have way." - Steve Martin

Cobwebs officially blown away

I spent the afternoon wandering around the city, and I do feel so much better for having had a break. Although I did have a comedy moment with the water fountain in Hagley Park - I usually press the button and stand back a little because the water pressure is unreliable, but today I didn't do that, and I got a strong jet of water squirted right up into my face. There was probably a camera hidden somewhere.

I visited the dyslexia exhibit on Worcester Street, which is one of my favourite places in town. I just love it. It's so beautiful, and so poignant.

The other triumph of the day was finding box sets of Joss Whedon's Firefly and the seventh season of Gilmore Girls for a good price. And after all this relaxation and retail therapy I'm ready to tackle the book again.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Quick update

Having another giving-birth-to-broken-glass day.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Some of my writing

I was in two minds about posting any of my writing ... all that worry about broadcasting stuff on the Internet. But I've been talking to you for so long about my book that I feel I should show you something of my work. This isn't an extract from the book - I'm keeping that under wraps - but it is a short story about Zimbabwe that I wrote a year or so ago that might give you an idea of what I've been talking about.

A Murder of Crows

As his face splits like a ripe fruit under my axe, I remember the drifts of rotten paw-paws that fell from the tree in our garden. They would hit the ground and burst softly and wetly, littering red seeds on the grass. The ants would climb into the sticky centre, some to die in the juices with their bodies glazed and smelling of sugar, some to carry it back to the anthill.

His head snaps to one side and a wound opens a red mouth in his forehead that grins slackly up at me. As he gives at the knees and sags to the ground, the red dust flies up into his face. I know he is dead when a fine dusty film covers his eyeball and he does not blink. I keep hitting anyway, just in case.


My head is unbalanced and strange. With every blink of my eyes I see something else through the red veil; things that happened long ago. I remember the killing of a crow, when I was still living with my father in the quarters behind the big house. The boss had big nut trees in the garden, three of them, and when the nuts were ready the crows would gather, wings clattering, to stab at the sweet kernel. Their strong beaks snapped open the brown husks, and white meat spilled out like brains from skulls. It was a cruel joke. When the nuts dropped to the ground they would look perfect and complete, but nudge them with a shoe and you exposed the wounds. My father hauled a rifle onto his shoulders, took careful aim and shot one of the crows. It folded in on itself and collapsed softly on the grass, in a mass of oily feathers. My father whistled between his teeth as he hung it up by one foot from a branch of the nut tree. It swivelled there for days in a buzzing halo of flies, and the crows did not attack the tree again.

“Only one way to deal with crows,” said my father. He looked up into the branches. “Shoot one, and the rest will stay away.”


I remember the cat from the big house dying when I returned from boarding school one holidays. It was a tortoiseshell. They had two cats; this one and a big sleek, black animal that hunted at night. This one was small, gentle and trusting. When my father took a break from gardening he would sit under a tree with his enamel mug of tea and peanut butter sandwich, and the cat would sit on his knee and eat the crumbs. She wandered out of the property, following the bigger cat, and a gang of boys found her. They broke her back with a stone. She lay in the hedge for almost two days before a gardener from a neighbouring house found her, and told the boss, who rushed her to the vet. He returned with a corpse. Her nose was still pink and smooth, and her fur was almost entirely clean. As the gardener, it was my father’s job to bury her in the garden, and I helped. I watched the grains of dirt pool and spill over her as we shovelled them in, filling up her nostrils, dirtying her white fur, settling in the corners of her eyes and between each splayed toe of her paw. My father did not have the white man’s sentimental way with animals, but he cried.


I remember the night my mother died, shortly before I finished my O’levels. She worked as a maid in the big house. She was happy there, I think. Her name was Sarudzai, but the boss and his family called her Sally. It was easier to pronounce. The boss spoke some Shona, but ‘Sally’ was easier to call out than ‘Sarudzai.’ They say that you should always gives cats and dogs names that end in ‘y’ for the same reason; the sound travels further. I called her Amai, mother.

On the day she died, my mother scrubbed me until I shone. She pulled a comb through my pelt of hair, ignoring my screams and holding me firmly under her arm until they subsided. My mother often held me in that death-grip; usually when I had done something wrong and was in for a clout. I was used to Amai’s meaty arm, smelling of salt and the Vaseline Intensive Care she used to moisturise, but I was not used to having a bar of soap scouring every visible inch of skin. She knew she was dying, and she wanted to leave everything clean. She had swept the red dust in the yard, leaning on the broom after every few steps, and polished the tiles on the floor until they gave back a looking-glass world, an upside-down house. Now it was my turn. She had not scrubbed me clean like this since I was a little boy, but even now that I was taller than her by a head, she could pin me under her arm and go to work on me. She made me put on the suit I wore for church on Sundays. My father and I sat in our uncomfortable suits in the stifling heat; sat by her bed as she struggled for breath. We had a small electric fan that moved the heavy air sluggishly, but it was still as thick, meaty and damp as a lick from a dog’s tongue. I felt my own breath move in time with hers.

It was a strange night, spent sitting in funeral clothes while the spirits prowled around our house. I was a sceptic, no believer in the old tales of witchdoctors and tokoloshe or even in the Christianity that my parents practised, but even I could hear the difference in the night sounds. There was the usual distant barking of dogs, cries of night birds and the creaks and snaps of small animals in the bushes, but there were heavier footsteps and great slow breaths that circled us in our tiny square of electric light, waiting for my mother to join them. At about three in the morning, she succumbed to the disease in her lungs with a mad rattle of breath and a great sighing that spread like ripples in water out over the garden, maybe over to the big house itself. When she had gone, the world was rinsed clean, and the night air felt cold and pin-sharp when I stepped outside to try to find the spirits.

An orange tamarind moon rose, pockmarked and swollen. The darkness was thick and velvety, filled with the dust of moths’ wings and a vast skyful of tiny winking eyes. No spirits here, and no mother either.


He stopped moving long ago, but I have caved in his chest and done other things that I cannot articulate, even in my mind. I stop my hacking with the axe and lean against the wall, panting. I have a mad urge to keep going until nothing is left, to cut into tinier and tinier pieces. I am no good at this killing. I thought it would take one blow, just one, cleanly, but I did not plan for his struggling, crawling about, and trying to talk to me through the bubbling blood in his mouth.

‘Tendai,’ he said, his mouth shapeless like a child’s before it begins to cry.

Tendai. My name.

I did not plan for his recognising me. I did not plan for his knowing my name.

He is no longer a person, but a mess of dog food on the cleanly swept dust outside the khaya, the servant’s quarters. His insides tendril out like the splayed curls of ivy that creep along the wall. My vision is intense, humming and white, too bright for me to see clearly. Perhaps it is the sun reflecting off the white walls and the red earth. The red earth. Sodden and trampled now. I cannot hear, and I can hardly stand. My thoughts are moving in the same strange, disjointed way, click-clack like an old projector, flickering in my head. He cannot blink now, with that dust drying on his dead eye. The crow swings gently from the tree in a breeze I cannot feel.


The boss was there on my first day of school. A pair of tanned legs rose unimaginably high from battered veltskoens, shoes made of hide. He bent down with a sound like the air crumpling, and the sun caught every one of the tiny golden hairs on his face. I had never seen such patchwork skin, made of red and brown and white and orange, and his eyelashes were so pale that they made his eyes look naked. He was huge and rough-voiced and laughed loudly and had a beard like the pictures of God. I was terrified. He owned our house, he paid my school fees; my father would stand with head slightly bent, nodding, as he issued orders. He was exactly like God, and not just because of the beard. Imagine having the shining presence of the Almighty, not comfortably ferreted away in the rafters of your church, but actually living within fifty metres of your house, booming and laughing and shining the light of His presence at all times of the day. God walked among us, issuing orders and dispensing justice.

He was a good man. There were far worse bosses; I know, I have heard the stories. He was just, and generous, and he spoke to my father as if he were a person as well as a gardener. He loved his dogs and cats and children. If in a particularly good mood, he would lift me onto his shoulders, as he did with his own son, and I would look down at his bristling blonde head and naked pink ears, and feel like Jesus.


There was so much death, in the years after I left school. Mugabe had come to power in the year of my birth, and the stink of death and sickness was strong in my nostrils by the time I was twenty. As well as the bodies buried in the liberation struggle, there were the new corpses; dead from the nameless illness that we never mentioned, dead from starvation, killed by the government, killed by criminals. The road to the airport was lined with dead and dying animals. They were pets, that fleeing families had thrown out of the car because they could not find homes for them at such short notice. My tiny stock of deaths caused and witnessed was insignificant in comparison. From the ants I had crushed to the death of my mother, none was big enough to appease the blood that the spirits demanded. It seemed that the country was hungry for it.

The priests prayed every week for God’s intervention, as I sat there in my father’s old suit. We all knew it was useless, because there was something older than God here. Mugabe was no longer the cause. Something else had taken hold of him and was grinding the country into a mess of broken bone and blood. This Christianity, merely two thousand years old, could not compete; whatever was hunting us was ancient and powerful. I could feel it snarling inside my own head. It watched me with the dusty eyes of the dead crow, revolving slowly, but in my imagination there was a gleam of intelligence behind that dead eye. Kill one and the others will keep away. Kill one and the others will go. Kill one. It was seductive, especially to a twenty-year-old boy at a loss for something to do with his muscle and hot blood. Perhaps I could have avoided it all if I had just found myself a nice girlfriend, or a proper job.

I joined the “war veterans”, who had never fought in any war but took the title of their ancestors. I joined up as formally as if I was joining a real army.
‘Maiwe,’ said the red-black man leaning against the doorway. ‘They are sending us the skinny ones, yes?’
‘I want to join you.’ I was conscious of my shirt, wet under the armpits and greying at the hem, too loose on my toast rack frame.
‘We get the ones from the villages who want money and land, and the ones from town who want parties and beer. Do you drink?’
‘Then welcome.’ He let me pass. Inside was a table piled with rifles of all sizes and descriptions. Some were gleaming metal, some rusted or crusted with dirt. I could choose whichever one I wanted. I had never fired a gun before. I weighed one against my shoulder, lips pursed, trying to seem cool and knowledgeable. It was cumbersome and uncomfortable, a dead weight.


Kill one and the others will go.

My mother was dead, and my father living grey-haired in his old village. The khaya was deserted.

I had come back to see it one more time.

I had a gun now, and a swagger. I was bigger, and had a scratchy beard that grew inwards and caused me agony; but it was a beard, like God had, and I would never shave it off. I had been away for five years.

The boss came up behind me. Older, grey, carrying a watering can. No gardener now. He had shaved off his beard and left only a moustache, and his chin looked weak and soft. His eyes were watery and red-rimmed, his invisible lashes blinking in the bright light. I smelt a stink of fear cloud out from him when he saw me. His chin trembled, weakly, like a dribbling old man. I am tall and oiled and reek of black sweat. I am a man with a beard and a gun, and he is old.
‘Tendai,’ he says suddenly.
It is my turn, in my gun-carrying, black-man glory, to tremble. He recognises me. How can he recognise me?
‘Tendai,’ and now he is relieved. He puts down the watering can and holds out his hand. ‘How are you doing, boy? I haven’t seen you in years.’
His accent is thick and guttural, that old Rhodesian accent that we hate. I can’t say anything. How can he remember me as I was?

How does he remember my name?

The old axe for chopping wood was propped against the wall.


The blood soaks into the earth, which is already stained by the juice from rotten pawpaws that fell from the tree. There is a stink of ripeness and decay. The colours are more vivid, the air is lush with heat and that sweet stink, the buzzing of the insects is louder. The world seems obscenely full of life. Ants are already crawling onto his body, filling his nostrils. I can see them eating away at him, and I imagine the insects that will slowly crumble him to dust, the maggots that will clean up all the juices and leave him dry. And finally, the sharp beaks of the crows.

Okay, actually getting back to work now.


I can't wait till this is finished. I can't stop crying, writing about all this stuff. This climactic scene is particularly horrible, which is why I thought tackling it now might help - sort of like getting over a fear of heights by sky-diving. I'm getting really frustrated with myself these days, bursting into tears over any little thing. I suppose there's a lot of emotion from Zimbabwe that I didn't deal with when we left because I was too busy trying to build a new life here, and it's all coming out now. It works for the book when I can keep it under control, but not when it starts spilling out in all directions, as it is doing now.

This article is the latest thing to set me off.

Might as well ...

I have decided to deal with my fatigue and broken-window writing by tackling one of the toughest and most crucial scenes in the closing chapters of the book. Wish me luck!

The long, slow climb to the end ...


Writing is like drawing blood from a stone this week - or, as I read in a blog post by Timothy Hallinan, "like giving birth to a broken window". The words are coming out, but they're coming out in tiny, painful pieces that make me wince. And I don't want to take a break from it. I feel I need to write through this rather than putting it to one side, because I'm nearly at the end and I don't want to lose any momentum.

This difficult writing period has also meant that I don't want to do anything. Nada. Rien. Don't want to see anyone, don't want to talk to anyone, don't want to go anywhere, don't want to put on makeup or get milk from the supermarket, just want to sit here glaring at the screen until I scare my book into submission. And chewing my nails. And drinking lots of coffee. I want to be a caffeine-addicted nail-less hermit.

Having said that, I'm about to take a deep breath and dive back into the story for a while. See if I can breathe some life into it and get something done.

At some point I've got to hit a downhill patch, right? I'm hoping that once I get over this hill I'll be skippety-hoppety-ing towards the end.


"The best thing is to write anything, anything at all that comes into your head until gradually there is a calm and creative day." - Stephen Spender

Monday, April 14, 2008


My dad kept scrapbooks of Zimbabwean newspaper clippings for as long as I remember. It used to be annoying at the time, because our papers were always full of holes before anyone had a chance to read them, but I'm grateful now - he's lent them to me to use as a resource and reference for my book.

The ones I'm using are from 1999 to 2002. Here are some shots I took of particular pages. It's interesting to look back and see how hardly anything has changed since the last election.

Post-election violence

I don't want to write about it. I don't know what to say. But I think these pictures speak for themselves. They are from Zimbabwe activist and news website Sokwanele's photostream, and are of some of the victims of Mugabe's post-election reprisal attacks committed under the name 'Operation Mavhoterapapi' ('Where you put your X').

The struggle to the end ...

This Week Four pep talk from Deanna Raybourn during last year's Nanowrimo perfectly expresses how I'm feeling at the moment ...
"Welcome, writers, to the place I call Very Nearly the End.

By now, NaNoWriMo has taught you that writing is not for the faint of heart. You must be stalwart and brave, like pioneers of old, unafraid of uncharted lands or crossing vast frontiers. It was exciting at first, wasn’t it? Preparing for the journey, stocking supplies, counting down the days until the start of the great undertaking. That enthusiasm would have carried you through the first weeks, and even the pitfalls along the way might have seemed like thrilling opportunities for adventure. But now you have come to the bleak no-man’s land just before the last great push to the end. It is barren and empty and it seems as if no one has ever passed this way. Except for every other writer who has come before you. This place lurks along the journey of each book for all of us. Here we hate our characters, our plot is mundane, and our prose is as flat and unlo vely as the landscape. Be watchful; it’s dangerous, this place. I have heard of writers who lacked courage and who turned back to safety, never to return. They simply stopped being writers because they could not find their way across this nothingness. That is not an option for me, and I don’t believe it is an option for you. You have come too far, weary travelers! And there is a way across, I promise.

The solution has two parts. The first is to be a little selfish. At this point in the book, a writer is a bit like an invalid emerging from a life-threatening illness. We are fragile and wan, and people will remark that we have grown thin and pale. We startle easily and we tire quickly. This is when we have to be kind to ourselves. If there is someone who can cook for us and bring us cups of tea and rub our feet, excellent. If there are children to be attended to, they ought to be settled onto the sofa next to us&m dash;or better yet, the bed—and told to read something soothing to us. Phone calls and e-mails and chores that can be neglected, ought to be. A few hours of cosseting are often just the thing to restore us. If that fails, we must employ more drastic measures. We must get right away and leave the book behind. Some writers take up big-game hunting, others like to sail or climb mountains. I shop for shoes, the higher the heel the better. (Fiction is more easily subdued when one is well-shod.) You might try a massage or a pick-up basketball game, anything to change your perspective. When you return with flushed cheeks and bright eyes, you will be ready to work again.

That is when you move on to the second half of the cure: you must sit down and be quiet. It sounds like an admonishment, but believe me, it isn’t. Think of it as a gentle reminder instead. I know, writing every day is challenging. But it is also incred ibly easy. When you write every day, you are always in the story. There is never a period of reconnecting with your characters, of trying to remember what mood you were attempting to create the last time you worked. And by working every day, you engage your subconscious in a way that simply isn’t possible when you keep a more whimsical schedule. There is no need to summon the muse because there is no time for the fickle little strumpet to go anywhere. I become so immersed in my story that I seldom write more than an hour a day, but I am typing the entire time, with no breaks to think or to wonder where the story is headed. I write flat out because the other 23 hours I have been thinking about the book while going about the rest of my life. (That includes the time I’m asleep. I seldom wake up without thinking of the scene I’m preparing to write. When I sit down to work, I’m essentially taking dictation from myse lf.)

Now, for being quiet. This is by far the more difficult of the two, but I have learned through painful experience this one, incontrovertible truth, and I am going to put it in italics so you will know I mean it: you only have one chance to tell your story for the very first time. One chance. Do you want the first time you tell it, when it is imbued with all of the passion and enthusiasm and verve you possess, to be when you’re chatting up the UPS guy? Or your mother? Or your cat? Trust me, you don’t. You want that first time to be on paper, so it’s there forever, recorded in all its juicy, rich, living color. When you have already described your brilliant twist or your genius plot device or your protagonist’s crippling character flaw, you have killed some of your own thrill, whether you realize it or not. Yes, it’s an ego rush of the very best kind to watch someone’s eyes widen when you tell your tale, but the thrill is very short-lived, and when you go to put that twist on paper, it is just a little bit stale. The more times you tell it, the duller it becomes. Like a bottle of opened champagne, the fizz has faded, but when all of that wonderful effervescence is bottled up, seething and bubbling, you have one choice: work or explode. That last delicious burst of creativity is what will see you through to the end.

So, be kind to yourselves. Be quiet and be seated, and be ready for the heady rush of completion because you are almost there!

Deanna Raybourn"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Busy busy

Wow, such a busy day, but a productive one too.

I'm so glad this cold has finally gone away. I went for an hour-long walk in the city park this morning, and it energised me for the whole day. Mum dropped by unexpectedly with pain au chocolat, and we made a trip to a vintage store I haven't visited yet, where I found two amazing things I'll photograph and show you tomorrow. I've managed to organise my life a little more today too, and write 2,000 words ... the end of the book is in sight. I can't wait to finish the first draft, because I'm getting to the stage where I'm sick of looking at it and really need a break.

Good morning!

I had great intentions for the weekend, but didn't get any work done - so this week will have to be pretty intense. Luckily, though, the flu seems to have finally disappeared, so I can get back into my normal routine.

Hopefully will have interesting results to report later!

Friday, April 11, 2008


Have pulled a bit of a late-nighter.

Total word count: 105,000
Today's word count: 2,000. Woo-hoo!
Cups of coffee: three
What's playing: at the moment, an episode of America's Next Top Model

I've completed four of the 'still to write' jobs from my post-it wall today. I'm glad I managed to get back on track, I was getting worried about the amount of fresh material I was producing.

So sleepy now. Good night.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Thank God, I managed to write 1,000 words this morning. I was starting to feel all panicky because I have achieved so little today. I have been in slow motion since waking up ... wandered aimlessly for ages, then had a bath, looked at the clock and saw it was eleven already. Now at least I can have my lunch break with a clear conscience.

Total word count: about 104,000
Today's word count: 1,000
Cups of coffee: two
What's playing: In-Grid and Bic Runga

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Short and sweet

Well, I spent this morning rearranging the book on screen so it reflected the structure I created with the post-its. Sounds simple, doesn't it? But somehow it ate up most of the day. I didn't get round to much fresh writing, but I did manage a couple of hundred words. Better than nothing. And now I've finished with this burst of structuring, so I can concentrate on writing from tomorrow onwards.

I got an email today from the college through which I did my post-grad diploma in publishing. They've asked me if I want them to organise me a two-week internship ... and I'm not sure. I think I would rather concentrate on my novel. I mean, I don't want to work in publishing, I want to publish my work. But then I also don't want to turn down an opportunity. I'm not sure. Am going to sleep on it.

And (fanfare): I have decided on a title! I'm not announcing it to the world yet, but I love it and I'm looking forward to seeing it on a hopefully stunning cover. One day.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Here is the completed (for now) Wall o' Post-its! Six hours of work, and I have a wall covered in paper that makes me look like a serial killer or John Nash from A Beautiful Mind. But it has been worth it. I have so much more direction and clarity now.

The corner of the painting you can see is this one that I did a couple of months ago:

The study is a mess at the moment. My mum has borrowed our spare bed, and we stored a lot of things under it (suitcases, paintings), which are now all over the floor.

My brain is swimming in post-its

I am seeing light at the end of the post-it tunnel. I definitely feel like today has been invaluable - I have a much stronger sense of direction now, and a huge stack of notes to work up. It has been hard, though. I have referred to my diaries from 2000 on to get some of the details of the riots and farm invasions, and it has brought back a lot of memories. Blah blah ... I suppose I am always saying this. The fact is, this book is bound to bring back memories, pleasant as well as unpleasant, because the whole book is based on my memories. Enough complaining, back to work. I only have half an hour to finish up.

Going, going ....

This cartoon from Cox and Forkum speaks for itself, I think.

More post-it fun

I have a special section on the wall called 'Still to write' where I'm sticking all the notes I have about scenes that I need, or scenes that need more work. That section is threatening to completely take over the wall. I am feeling a little daunted.

More coffee needed.


Well, the whole book so far is now post-itted (good word, yes?), and up on the wall. Now I need to shuffle the later scenes into some kind of cohesion, then replicate that on the page. Here we go.

Actually, will have some coffee first.

Lunch break

Am currently sitting cross-legged on the carpet staring at my wall of post-its while eating a bowl of pasta. At the top, the post-its are orderly and coherent. Towards the bottom they are tangled and confused. This is a pretty accurate representation of how the book is at the moment. But the whole point of this post-it fun is to organise the structure of the book, so clarification is in sight.

Way back when

Just found this old picture of me, my sister and my oldest cousin. I'm the one with the enormous glasses. They discovered I needed glasses because I kept walking into things.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The word counter

I know you have been waiting with bated breath, and finally the suspense can end. My word counter on the sidebar does not explode messily when I go over the target, as Luuk suspected, nor does it extend beyond its limits in defiance. No, it in fact does nothing at all. The number changes, but the little thermometer sits where it is and cheerily asserts that I have completed 100% of my work (Big Fat Lie). I think I might change the target to 120,000 just so I have something to show progress - I think I may end up being around there when I actually finish the book, which is going to happen in the next three weeks (she asserts hopefully).

Yet more election stuff

It's a complete mess. And so am I. The situation back home has taken a turn for the worse again, as Mugabe is now demanding a recount (how can there be a recount when the original results haven't even been released?) and his so-called 'War Veterans' (the militia that invaded the white-owned farms from 2000 on) have marched through the streets of Harare in an attempt to intimidate the opposition. Mugabe has also arrested foreign journalists and placed a police guard at the doors to the High Court, stopping the MDC from getting in to get a court order for the release of the results. Worst of all, Mugabe has placed factions of 'War Vets' across the country, and they are waiting for a green light to attack opposition supporters and white farmers. Morgan Tsvangirai says Mugabe is 'preparing for war', and it certainly looks that way. Whenever I see Mugabe on television I start shaking, I'm so angry. Although that's not new, I've been doing that for years.

We were all so hopeful that it might be resolved peacefully.

I had a dream on Saturday night that we moved back to Zimbabwe. I remember thinking in the dream that there couldn't be a worse time to move back, but whatever, we went. I got to show my husband the place where I grew up for the first time ... I took him to Mukuvudzi Woodlands, a game park in Harare, and he got to see giraffes and elephants in the flesh for the first time (in the dream. In real life, he has been to zoos and so wouldn't be quite as excited). We moved back into the house my stepdad's father built, and it hadn't changed at all - all the furniture and knickknacks were there. The beds were made, the floors were swept, it was like nothing had changed. My cat, Archie, who we had to leave behind when we left, was sitting outside the house and ran to me when he heard my voice.

It was just awful, waking up. I'm very happy here, but leaving a country is like losing someone you love. I'm going a bit nuts this past couple of weeks, because of the election, and I think this stupid flu that I haven't shaken might be partly because of the Zimbabwe situation.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Thursday, April 3, 2008

This is what I'm doing today ...

... Getting perspective on the plot structure by writing the scenes out on post-its and sticking them to the wall. I've colour-coded the post-its to correspond to the main themes of the book, and this has been really useful. It's great to see at a glance the balance of the themes. Some are more powerful at the beginning of the book, some come into play towards the end as the narrator grows up and starts to be more aware of the complexity of her world. And that's reflected in my Fabulous Wall of Post-It Glory.

Edited to add: I should add that this is how far I've got so far. About a third of the way through. I have two-thirds of the book still to post-it. Can that be a verb?

Edited again to add: Aargh, typo in the title. I'm sorry. I'm going a bit mad today.

In a funk

I am in a really weird place this week, with the election and being ill. The election especially. My whole family has been on edge all week watching what's happening back home in Zimbabwe. Even though the news has been positive, it still brings back a lot of memories and a lot of emotion. Doesn't help that I'm still trawling through those difficult final chapters.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


My lack of presence today is because I finally caved in to cabin fever and just left the house! My writing felt stale this morning, I felt tired, and the walls were closing in on me ... so I took to the streets to breathe some fresh air and get some new visuals. I wandered about in the Arts Centre with the tourists, gave people some directions (as always happens when I wander in town), and visited my Mum at her work.

Although I didn't write more than a couple of hundred words today, I did have a productive talk with my Mum, who gave me a lot of material to use for those final few chapters. I also bought three packs of coloured post-its which are going to help with my evil but brilliant plan to clear up my plotting tomorrow ... I'll share it with you then. I'm pretty excited about it. I think it solves my visual problem of yesterday.

Another update

For some reason Blogger has been publishing my posts in reverse order, which is odd. Hopefully it won't do that this time.

I have reached 100,000 words - hurrah! And, more importantly, I have written the very last page of the book. This is great. I know the finishing point I am heading for now.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Well, I've written about 2,500 words today and I'm trying to get to 100,000 by the end of the day. It is definitely achievable - we'll see. I have a to-do list of scenes and chapters to work on that is fairly overwhelming, and I have the whole crucial end of the book to work out too. I would really like to have a finished first draft that I am happy with by the end of April. That's my goal at the moment, now that I know it is going to run over the projected hundred thousand words (although I'm going to cut it down to 80 - 100,000 in the editing process!).

That's me until the end of April, then. Head down, focused and working hard. Goodbye life! No, not really. But to some extent.

I am a very visual person, and I'm finding that quite difficult while working on this book. One of the reasons I liked working on magazines and travel guides was that you had a visual product fairly quickly - the designer laid up the pages and I dropped the text in, and I could see vaguely how it was going to look. With the magazine, especially, I had a finished product every month that I could point to and say 'that's it'. With this book, I haven't even printed anything out yet, so there's nothing concrete to latch on to. I wonder if there is a more visual way of working that would spice things up for me a bit (metaphorically)? I get so tired of looking at black text on a white screen all day. Even though I have a vivid, colourful style of writing, on the page it's still just black on white.

Anyone have any bright ideas? I know it's a weird question. Actually, one thing I've heard of an author doing is making a mock-up of his cover to pin to an inspiration board, so he has a 'finished product' to focus on when he looks up. Hmmm ...

Okay, back to getting that final 500 words.

Sigh ...

This image of a Zimbabwean woman proudly displaying the ink-stained finger that shows she has voted is from Reuters/Howard Burditt.

The MDC leader has just announced that he is NOT in talks with Mugabe to negotiate a transition of power. So we're still waiting to see what the government is really plotting behind closed doors.

Update - hurrah!

Well, today I seem to be mostly back to normal, which is wonderful. The novelty of being sick was really wearing off. I'm very lucky to be working from home on my own project, as I could afford to take the time off to really rest, stay warm and look after myself. People working outside the home don't have that luxury, and I'm grateful. As I always am. Actually, every day I wake up one of my first thoughts is "Hooray, I'm writing full-time and I don't have to go to that horrible office anymore".

Total word count: 98,000
Today's word count: 1,500
Cups of coffee: two! I'm back to drinking coffee again, but after swearing off it for a few days I think it might be a good idea to cut down to just two or three cups a day. I've certainly felt calmer. Still, anything's better than my coffee habit at aforesaid hideous office job - twelve cups a day.
What's playing: Eva Cassidy, Cat Power and Moby

Back to work.

And yet more ...

I woke up this morning to hear the news telling me that Mugabe appears to be preparing to step down from power. Which sounds too good to be true, but if it is, well, that would be fantastic. Fingers crossed, and I'm waiting for more news.

Normal service will resume shortly

I'm ashamed to say I didn't do any work today - lazed around watching episodes of Project Runway instead - but I'm feeling almost back to normal now, so hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to put a proper day's work in.

And here is a sign I spotted at a hairdresser's down the road a few weeks ago. It is completely irrelevant, but it made me laugh.
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