Sunday, August 31, 2008


I have submitted my first five query letters by email. And now I feel a bit sick.

Oh, and the giveaway is still open for another week, so enter if you haven't already! Click on the giveaway button in the sidebar and it will take you straight to the appropriate page.

And also - apologies for all the edits, I keep remembering Important Things - I'm so sorry if you have posted a comment and it hasn't shown up here and I haven't replied. Sometimes my blogger account doesn't send them to me to be modified, so I only get them a week later when I think, "Hmm, better check if there's a comments backlog." Have just found a few now, so I do apologise, and I'll reply to them all today!

I have it!

I sprinted down to the thrift store five minutes before it opened, and, to my horror, saw that they had opened a few minutes early and a lady was already examining the dress. Of course, the shop is on the other side of the road, and it's one of the busiest roads in the city, so I had to wait for the little green man to start blinking before I could run across and burst dramatically into the store.

The lady who was looking at MY dress had turned away to look at something else, so I grabbed the nearest shop assistant and asked them to take it off the mannequin so I could try it on. I told them the whole incoherent story of how I had been dreaming about the dress all weekend, and they were very nice and did not back away and press the panic button as they would be entitled to do. I tried it on. It fit perfectly. I looked at the price tag. Twenty dollars! Really? Shop assistant confirmed it.

Twenty dollars!

I am thrilled.

If this is any indication of how the rest of September is going to be, well ... I can't wait.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Brief encounter

I am in love! Well, of course, I am already in love. With my husband. But now I am also in love with an inanimate object. And no it's not the coffee machine - that relationship is purely physical.

No, I am in love with a dress. I saw it in the window of my local charity shop as we drove by. A red polka dot dress with a full skirt and tulle petticoat. It is possibly the most beautiful dress I have ever seen.

And, of course, the charity shop is closed on Saturday afternoons, and on Sundays. Which means that I'm going to camp out and wait for them to open on Monday morning, then sprint in (elbowing elderly customers out of the way - Granny's going down!) and hope that the price tag doesn't have delusions of grandeur.

My heart is racing, my mouth is dry and I can barely wait till Red Polka Dot Dress and I see each other again. It must be love.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Something to look forward to

I am excited! LOML has taken some time off work, and we're going to Nelson in the first week of October to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I can't wait. I haven't been on holiday since our honeymoon, and I have hugely itchy feet (metaphorically). I want to see new places, experience new things, get out of this city. And it will be really nice to spend some extended time with LOML when neither of us is working or (hopefully) thinking about work.

Also, I get to pack! Packing is one of my favourite things to do. It combines my love of organisation with my love of clothes.

I've never been to Nelson - apparently it's the arts and crafts capital of New Zealand, and the thrift and vintage shopping is meant to be great. I don't suppose there's anyone out there from Nelson who can make some recommendations?

In search of lost time

Hmm, I've hit a bit of a wall in my structural edits. One of the problems I found with the book on the latest read-through was that the pace at which the narrator was growing up wasn't clear. The book starts when she's about five, and when it ends she is fifteen. The problem is that I think the reader isn't aware of exactly how much time is passing, and it can be quite jarring when they suddenly realise, 'oh, she's eleven now,' or whatever.

I think the best way to solve this, for my book, may be to break it up into parts and open each new part with the year. This actually might work well thematically, as well. I'm just worried about being cheesy ... I don't know, sometimes when books are broken up like that it seems a bit contrived. I guess it all depends on how you do it. And it can't be cheesier than opening a chapter with something like 'a year passed ... first spring, then summer, followed by autumn, and finally winter again.' Or something.

I'll try this new structure out and see how it reads.

Edited to add: I think this is going to work well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Writing a query letter

I'm home today working on the revisions, with that familiar gremlin sitting on my shoulder saying "This is bollocks, you're a terrible writer." I've grown almost fond of him. Almost. Although this may just be due to Stockholm Syndrome (a psychological condition in which captives sympathise with their kidnappers).

I have some fairly major changes to make, which I'm tackling this morning. I've given myself till Friday to finish this batch of revisions. This afternoon, however, is given over to starting work on that dreaded thing, the Query Letter. The golden ticket that will open the magical doors to that most mystical and elusive of creatures - a literary agent.

Query letters are hard. They have to be concise, compelling and punchy. They have to make the agent want to read your book. They are painful to write.

Nathan Bransford, a literary agent based in San Francisco, has posted a basic Mads-Libs-type formula for query letters on his always excellent website. It goes like this:

"Dear [Agent name],

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in [genre], and because you [personalized tidbit about agent].

[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].

[title] is a [word count] work of [genre]. I am the author of [author's credits (optional)], and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,
[your name]"

So, for example:

Dear Grumpy McShortandfat,

I chose to submit to you because of your wonderful taste in cat crime, and because you have a cat. I think. Or used to.

Furball is a hard-bitten, hard-biting inner city cat cop living in the back alleys of Chicago. But when a well-known mouse crime syndicate kidnaps his burlesque-dancer girlfriend, Furball must go back to his own long-supressed criminal roots and track down the mouse mafia's Big Cheese in order to save his lady and, ultimately, his city.

'Mousetrap' is a 80,000-word work of cat crime fiction. I am the author of several very well-crafted letters to the editor, and this is my first novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best wishes,

Catlover O'Restrainingorder.

I will leave you with some pictures of my cat wrapped up in a blanket.

Oh, and don't forget to enter the giveaway if you haven't already! The post is below, or there's a button on the sidebar that will take you directly back to the giveaway page.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Am back from meeting with Rachael King (Hi, Rachael!) at university, and ostensibly working. This means I am:

1) Making coffee
2) Annoying the cat
3) Following random links on the Internet
4) Picking at a bit of thread on my cardigan
5) Daydreaming
6) Panicking mildly
7) Staring at the goldfish swimming around and around and around

Some actual work may or may not start soon. After the coffee.

I'm a bit nervous about starting the final revisions (well, I say 'final', but what I really mean is 'last ones before I submit it'. Inevitably there will be more). Every time I spend a little while away from the book there is a reluctance to get back in. You know when you go swimming in the summer, and the water is lovely and cool and you don't want to get out, but when you do get out the sun is so warm and you dry out so beautifully that you don't want to get back in again? It's a little like that.

The Christchurch Writers' Festival is coming up, which I have never attended for some reason, and I am excited about it. Today Rachael mentioned a talk in which she is participating called "Not Another Bloody Blog!", where the panel discusses how you can "sort egotistical wittering from the truly interesting and intellectually challenging." It should be a good talk - even though I think my own blog falls squarely into the egotistical wittering category. Those of you who live in Christchurch - take a look at the website! I'd love some friends to drag along to the various events. Let me know if you're interested.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I do not feel very creative today

I would like to cook
Something new and exciting,
Fresh tastes and flavours;

But all I can do
Is reheat stale leftovers
From the day before.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Studio shoot!

I don't know if you remember, but a while ago LOML and I spent a day in a photography studio. He wanted to play with some different portrait techniques. Well, LOML has given me permission (thanks, LOML!) to post a couple of the photos he took.

LOML's official photography site is here. Oh yes, and you can click to embiggen - they are scarily huge!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why my life is like a cupboard

Whenever I look at my lists of New Year's Resolutions (and just plain resolutions) from the past several years, there is a common theme. Be More Organised And Disciplined. And Relax More. The two are a bit contradictory.

I know from what friends have said that I come across as an organised and disciplined person. But inside I don't feel organised and disciplined. I feel like I never really have a handle on life, and my organisation is a way of keeping the inevitable chaos at bay. It's as if my life is a crowded cupboard where the contents are straining against the door, and the slightest touch of the handle will cause them to spring out. I feel like I have to struggle to stay in control of everything, all the time (which is possibly one reason why I have my door-and-appliance-checking compulsions).

I think this need I have for everything to be organised and under control stems in part from growing up in Zimbabwe. My mum has this too. We lived in such chaos there, and everything seemed to impermanent - I was aware that our 'normal' lives could crumble at any moment. There was craziness happening all around us. Everything was so unpredictable. I almost used to crave boredom. I envied people the luxury of being bored. I couldn't be bored, because I didn't feel safe enough to (if that makes sense). When you are painfully aware that 'anything can happen to anyone, at any time' (to quote Arundhati Roy), you can't be complacent.

We tried to combat this feeling by taking charge of the things we had some power over. Like cleaning the house. Performing our little rituals for safety at night (locking the doors and windows, bolting the doors and windows, locking the rape gate, setting the burglar alarm). Hoarding groceries that we might not have been able to get the following week, like sugar and bread. Hoarding petrol. It was an endless battle to keep on top of it all, as much as we could. We were piling up little sandbags of organisation and security against the flood that we knew was coming, sooner or later.

This has carried over into our lives in New Zealand. For a while, when we first arrived here, I felt nervous and jumpy all the time. It was leftover adrenaline from Zimbabwe, which had no concrete thing to focus on. Over time, this faded. But I still have a need to organise, file, hoard, obsessively prepare. I don't ever feel like I'm doing enough.

I don't think I'll ever shake some of my old habits, like: clutching my handbag tightly when I walk in public; locking the car doors while I'm driving; getting jumpy and nervous when my petrol tank is less than half-full; obsessively checking the house doors are locked; feeling nervous going out at night, even when it's to a friend's house in a safe neighbourhood.

I still want to be as organised and disciplined as I possibly can, but I don't want to feel guilty about it when I let things slide a little. I want to be content with some chaos in my life, because it's not possible to be completely in control of everything all the time, and trying to achieve the impossible is only going to make me feel discouraged.

And I still want to learn to relax.

Working on it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Butterflies and other developments

I have permanent butterflies in my stomach these days. I think I am going to have to name them. There is one called Stanley who tends to look on the dark side of things - he says, "It may all seem like good news, but what about ..." and then proceeds to list all the problems. And there's one called Oswald who jumps about going "Ohmygosh ohmygosh," is a bit over-excitable, and refuses to see any potential drawbacks in a situation. He's just too damn excited.

All that rambling basically means that I am feeling nervous and excited about the book. All the time.

I emailed my advisor this morning, asking if I can start approaching publishers before the book is officially submitted and marked. His email response was titled "Yesyesyes" and went on to say "the sooner the better." He gave me the email address of the writer-in-residence at the university, who has a UK agent, and I sent her a message asking if I could make a meeting time to chat about the publishing process. In a best-case scenario, I may even be able to get a referral to her agent ... but whatever happens, it will be so nice having someone to hold my hand (metaphorically, of course) through the scary finding-an-agent process. I freaked myself out this morning by looking through agent websites and reading all the statistics - how few authors actually get accepted, and after how many hundreds of attempts. Sometimes the Internet is more of a hindrance than a help (same thing applies when you're sick and look up your symptoms - bad idea).

I also emailed another writer friend today - she has published two novels in NZ so far - and asked about the agent thing. She also recommended getting an agent in the UK. So I think the magic 8-ball of opinion is pointing towards England as the best place for publication.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lists and such

Right, LOML's back, and I feel like I can relax and get stuck into my work again. Here's the plan:

1) Finish secret-project-that-I-don't-want-to-jinx by Friday. And email my advisor asking if I can start approaching publishers before the novel has been officially marked for the MFA.
2) Next week, finish the final revisions of the novel. LOML gave me a couple of great points to think about after his reading - I'm lucky to be married to someone who is a very good unofficial editor/proofreader. And I still haven't addressed the last points my advisor made. So that will keep me busy for the whole week. Also, I need to hand in aforesaid secret project by that Friday.
3) In the first week of September, I'm going to seriously tackle the supplementary essay.

And then I will be DONE with the Masters, and I will have a big party and get very drunk. No, actually I'll save the big party for when I get a publisher.

(Maybe we could have two parties?)

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Sick cats - 1
Trips to the after-hours emergency vet last night at midnight - 1
Puddles of cat urine in the car - 2
People before us in the queue at the emergency vet - 1
Minutes spent waiting for the emergency vet - 45
Cats with a urine infection - 1
Catheters inserted into cat - 1
Yawns - 1,000,000
Worries about cat - 1,000,000
Cats kept at the vet's overnight - 1
Hours of sleep last night - 4
Cats picked up from the vet's this morning - 1
Vet's bill - ouch, but ...
Healthy and happy cats - 1

(Interesting outfits Andrea is wearing - 0)

Breaking news! (sort of)

The 2008 results of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are out! It's a competition for the worst first lines of imaginary novels, and it's hilarious.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Slightly tarnished gold

Hello everyone! Sorry for disappearing over the weekend. It has been a strange couple of days, for various reasons that I'll talk about later (once they've sifted through my brain a little more).

I have been following two things this weekend: the Olympics, and the power-sharing talks between Mugabe and the opposition leader, Tsvangirai. While I'm thrilled that new Zealand is doing so well in the Olympics, it touches my heart more to see Kirsty Coventry winning gold for Zimbabwe in the swimming. I went to school with her - she was a couple of years older than me. I wonder how it must feel, representing such a beautiful country that is in such a terrible way at the moment? Bittersweet, I should think. That's how I feel, anyway.

Hopefully the power-sharing talks will come to something. Sadly, cynicism has been proved right so many times before.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Conundrums and the like

Bah! I am not at my most productive and dynamic these days. I'm waiting for LOML to come back before I make the final changes to the book - he took a copy with him to the States, so he may have some thoughts that could improve it. I have made a start on the supplementary essay that I need to hand in to the marking panel with the novel. The blog has been invaluable! I recorded a lot of the process here, so I can go back through the archives and pick out important points for the essay.

I told someone the other day that I was about ready to submit the novel for marking. Their response was, "Great! So after that are you going to get a job?"
I can understand why that's a natural question, but at the same time it really bothers me. As if writing this book is something that will end when I hand it in, a blip in my career. Which it isn't. Once the book has been handed in for the MFA, my next goal is to find a publisher. I am ... tentatively confident. And once I do get a publisher, I really need to step up work on my next book. I have one on the go that I plan to finish over Nanowrimo, but my next major project is one that requires a lot of research.
Anyway, my response to this question is usually, "I already have a job." At the moment, I'm a full-time writer. But I do need to earn some money.

LOML has been really wonderful supporting me this year - it was he who suggested giving up my part-time job at the bookstore so that I could fully concentrate on the book - but I can't (and don't want to) be completely financially dependent on him for long. I want to contribute. Inevitably it is going to be a while before this book pays me anything (and the royalties from the book I published in Zimbabwe are so infinitesimal that they can be completely discounted), so I need to earn money somehow. I don't want to work as a journalist again, and there are no major publishing companies based in Christchurch. I don't want to work in retail again, either, it's just too depressing.

My freelance work has never been my sole source of income - it has always been a sideline that brings in a little extra money. I think, though, that once I've finished with the book and am starting to look for a publisher, I'm going to expand my little company. Set up a proper website. Do some advertising. After all, that's what I'm officially qualified as - a writer and editor.

Forgive my ramblings, this post was a bit stream-of-consciousness ... I'm trying to work through some of the tangles in my head.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Yellow makes me happy

It has been a tough couple of days. Not due to anything external, because everything is good, really, but just in my own head. My obsessive-compulsive tendencies have got worse since LOML left. I was working really hard to overcome them, so it's depressing to slide back into old habits. I have a ritual of checking appliances and doors before bed and before I leave the house that I can repeat up to ten times. It's getting to the point where it's actually having an impact on the way I live - making me late for appointments or making me stay up way too late.

Anyway, on the good side of things, I found a pair of yellow high heels today. As my sister and I walked into the shoe shop, I told her, "I've been looking for yellow heels for ages, but I don't think I'm going to find any." And five minutes later, in the Last Pairs section, we find a pair of yellow heels that were exactly what I had pictured, and on sale. The universe obviously heard me!

(Not to be picky, but it would be nice if the universe had made them just a smidgen wider across the toes. But hey, I'm not going to complain. Much.)

Edited to add: the compulsive door-checking and so on is a hang-over from life in Zimbabwe, where we lived in houses that resembled prisons, and were constantly at risk. Logically, I know that it is much safer here. Unfortunately, though, my emotions refuse to listen to logic! Silly things.


I must confess, I
am tired of being human.
tired of the stirring

of prehistoric
fronds, urges like flaccid tides
sluggishly oozing.

tired of income tax
supermarkets, superman
too many people

so I resolve finally…

to stop pulling on
you with my slack green fronds
of instinct. Homo

Sapiens my ass…
more sap, amber and sticky,
fills nostrils of dead flies.

and so I retreat
eat a hole in an apple
and curl up inside

in that crisp clean white-
ness, crystal walls with the scent
of water sifting …

I must confess, I
am tired of being human
so tired of thinking.

Friday, August 8, 2008


It snowed overnight, and I woke up to a sparkly white world. Which quickly disintegrated into slush, sadly, just as I got my camera out. How sad.

I am exhausted this morning. I find it hard to sleep while LOML's away at the best of times, but last night one of our neighbours was having a party that seemed to start at about 1am and go till dawn. Actually, this in itself wasn't too disturbing - they were laughing and talking and occasionally shouting something, but I could have slept through it. What was REALLY irritating was the man hanging out of his window yelling "Shut up! I'm going to call the cops!" every twenty minutes. He had a very loud voice. And, of course, when he yelled, they yelled back. So I am a little bleary-eyed and caffeine-hungry today.

I do, however, have grand plans to clean out my wardrobe today and get everything ready for the fashion swap tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Well, I heard back from my advisor today. He's finished reading the book. And what he says is great, but at the same time a little scary. He thinks I'm ready to submit the book to the marking panel, after I've written the supplementary essay. I really didn't think I would be finished with my Masters this soon ... it's a bit of a mental adjustment.

The supplementary essay has to be around 5,000 words long, and has to describe how the project came about, what my experience of it was, how it all came together and so on and so forth. Luckily I have this blog to refer to! I think it documented the process pretty well.

This also means that I'll be able to start submitting the book to publishers very soon. At the end of his email, my advisor said, "you've written a pretty damn' good piece of work here, one that in my view will find a publisher worth having. It reads relentlessly, and ends very well." And I'm thrilled about that. My aim through this whole process has been to find a publisher who can distribute the book internationally. But I'm scared! It seems silly to be scared. I think it is because I feel like I'm on the brink of all these exciting developments, and part of me wants to climb under a duvet and hide from it all. I guess there's nothing wrong with hiding under the duvet and feeling overwhelmed for one night, so long as I suck it up and get going in the morning.

As a consequence

As a consequence
Of your absence
There are no birds in my skies
Plants don’t photosynthesise
I can’t drink tea
Or watch TV
You’ve cut off my electricity.

As a consequence
Of your absence
I can’t speak English anymore
The doorbell’s vanished from my door
The radio spits static
Like a semi-automatic
And the cat won’t sit on my knee.

As a consequence
Of your absence
Religion seems a punishment
And prayer an empty blandishment
God isn’t a romantic
The traffic’s got more frantic
And I'm an extra in my own movie.

Monday, August 4, 2008

First signs of spring!

Blue sky!

The first snowdrops!

Something indefinable ...

it’s something indefinable
it’s a lack of peopling in my world
it’s an underpopulation;
it’s the truth of an oyster un-pearled
being merely a crustacean.

it’s something inescapable
it’s a vagrant purposeless
it’s a beggar without shoes
it’s a clown circus-less
and it’s the expulsion of the Jews.

it’s something unpredictable
it’s a faint indigestion
it’s a there’s-something-missing
it’s an unanswered question
and an unasked dismissing.

it’s something indefinable
it’s all-on-my-own-liness
it’s rag-and-bone-liness
it’s no-calls-on-the-phone-liness.
it’s no-place-like home-liness.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Some things never change

You know, I've been thinking lately about how personal style evolves over the years. I thought my style had changed a lot ... but then I looked at these old photos of my sister and me when we were little.

I would love to have this dress and those shoes again! And the grey tights. Actually, I like this whole outfit. Apart from the Christmas stocking, perhaps.

This is me and my sister at her third birthday. Obviously the day wasn't going so well. I like my pink dress, but check out my sister's awesome sailor outfit! From the blue socks to the bow at the collar, she's rocking it. I have feeling this would be a real hit on wardrobe_remix. Good going, sis.

Check out this striped shirt with the denim skirt and patterned suspenders. I would wear this again in a heartbeat.

I think this rainbow skirt would be great for summer ...

Look at these stylish ladies. I would totally wear all of these dresses.

(Of course, all these outfits were chosen by my Mum - good job, Mum! You trained us well.)

Saturday, August 2, 2008


The moon is a coffee cup
glowing fatly, spilling a sweet, sticky sky
lapped up
by the tiny sharp-edged tongues of stars.

Spiced with caffeine,
thoughts fall like dandruff on black shoulders,
like a skyful of stars in a magician's top hat.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Thank you!

Sorry for the lack of updates today - I've been spending some time with my soon-to-be-stateside husband enjoying the unaccustomed sunshine!

I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone reading this blog. I really appreciate your kind comments and support while I'm working on my book. Writing is a lonely process, and I spend a lot of time on my own staring at a screen. Having friends in the blogosphere makes it a lot easier, and I've really enjoyed getting to know you all through your comments and through your own blogs. Thank you also to those people who read and don't leave comments - it's nice just knowing you're there :). If you ever feel like dropping a comment and saying hi, I'd love to meet you (metaphorically speaking, of course).

So, thanks! And I hope you're all having a lovely weekend.


First day I skated
I realised that walking
On water is a miracle
Made possible by first
letting go of the wall.
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