Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the States!

I have done nothing constructive all day, and have been in a very indecisive mood - wandering about aimlessly, picking things up and putting things down, going into a room and then forgetting why I went in there.

When I gave my speech about Zimbabwe to a high school class earlier this year, I began it by saying, "When I was crouching in a safe house on a Zimbabwean farm, hiding from Mugabe's militia, I never thought I would be here talking to you." I often think this. Sometimes I stop in the middle of my day and think "What am I doing here? How did I get here?" It's not that I don't like being here in New Zealand. I do. I'm very lucky. But some part of me does feel like my life split in half when I left Zimbabwe, that there's some other Andrea who is still living in Harare.

This quote from an interview with Peter Godwin (author of When a Crocodile Eats the Sun and Mukiwa) sums it up for me:

'Though a British audience may have a particular interest in Zimbabwe, there is also a profound foreignness to the tale Godwin tells. We live in a place where, as he puts, we have "clear sight lines to past and change seems to evolve in organic, bite-site, calibrated chunks". By contrast, Zimbabwe is a place where there is no continuity but instead a series of seismic and unpredictable shifts.

'The pace of change has left Godwin rootless. In such a context, his two memoirs represent his best stab at rootedness. "Writing," he says, "is the way I deal with things. Writing it down will make it safe... Otherwise what has happened is just too sad. It's just literally, terminally sad. And writing is all I've got."'

This expresses perfectly how I feel. In Zimbabwe, I never knew what was going to happen from one moment to the next. Here, I can plan for things. I know I will be alive next week, for example. I know that I will still be able to buy milk and bread at the supermarket. I know that my money will be worth roughly the same amount tomorrow, next week, next month. But in gaining security, I have lost something else. I feel like have lost my adventurous spirit, to some extent. I have always been a perfectionist, but now I feel like my routines and control are the only things standing between me and complete chaos. I am aware of how quickly things can fall apart, and I am always afraid that it will happen again. I don't want to be like this. I want to be more willing to take risks again.

It has taken me six years to be able to examine my experiences there. Six years! I can't believe it has been that long since we left. I spent so much time this year writing my book, and I have so much invested in it. I want so desperately for it to be published, and I'm so scared that it won't be. But that is something over which I have very little control at the moment - it's up to the UK agents who have it. And if they all reject it, I'll send it directly to publishers here in New Zealand. And if that doesn't work, I'll think of something else. Meanwhile, I'm working on a second book. That is all I can do, really. Keep calm and carry on, as the World War II poster says!

As far as my confusion about Zimbabwe and fear of the future goes, I guess that's something I am working through gradually. I can't expect everything to be 'fixed' at once (although my not-so-inner perfectionist disagrees).

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone who celebrates it. We have so much for which to be thankful. Among other things, I'm very thankful for all of you!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

50,000 words!

Which is 110 A4, single-spaced pages of writing. 110 pages that didn't exist two weeks ago. I am so exhausted. But happy. Good night, everyone!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Coming out of the closet

I am exhausted. I woke up this morning with sore eyes and aching limbs. Perhaps staying up late every night working is not a good idea. I took the morning off from work and spent a happy few hours organising things like the linen cupboard and my closet ... It is very tiny. LOML and I share, not that you can tell from that photo because LOML's clothes are bunched together in one corner keeping their distance from my clothes. I think they find them intimidating. Some of the dresses can be a bit stand-offish. The real snobs are the party and formal dresses, though, who demand a whole wardrobe to themselves and live in the spare room.

Anyway, I had a thorough clean-out of my clothes, and now have something like fifty items for the fashion swap I'm holding next weekend. It's amazing how many clothes I hang onto for no good reason - so many of them are from high school, or my under-grad days, or were inherited from friends or my Mum and never worn. I hope someone else will get a lot of joy out of them.

I sent out five more queries last night, and received three responses this morning - two requesting a partial and one requesting a full. Fingers crossed, again - and it's only two weeks until I can follow up on the earlier manuscripts, too. I had a dream last night in which I realised that the manuscript of my book consisted entirely of shopping lists, old receipts and excerpts from my teenage diary. I woke up in a blind panic, checked the manuscript and realised that it consisted of one word typed over and over. Then I actually woke up and realised that I had been dreaming again. That was a relief.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Five dollar dress

11 Nov 08
This is the pinafore dress I found on my thrifting trip yesterday. It was lurking at the back of a rack, but I have a supernatural ability to find plaid anywhere, and so I sniffed it out. Best of all, it was only five dollars! I am completely in love with it, particularly because it has pockets. Pockets! I also found the thin navy belt I'm wearing. All up, the dress, the belt and the tapestry bag cost me ten dollars. Thrifting is great.
$5 dress!
I have reached 35,000 words of the book - woo-hoo! - and have also done some work on the Essay of Doom. I'm going to have another trawl through the agent directories this afternoon, too, and see if I can find anyone else to query.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The morning after the night before

I am so tired today. We stayed up until midnight, when all the election results were in. It was a fantastic evening - we had a couple of friends round for a barbecue as we watched the votes trickle in, then cracked open the champagne and dipped strawberries in chocolate at the end of the night. Definitely worth some bags under the eyes today!

I'm making good progress with the novel, as well. Just over 29,000 words at the moment, and I'm going to hit 30,000 by tonight. I'm aiming to finish the 50,000 words required for Nanowrimo by this Thursday night, and then I can slacken the pace a bit to write the rest of what will probably be a 100,000-word draft - that will be a relief.

So tired. We're going to mum's this evening for dinner, which would be relaxing except that I have to cook. I'm not sure how this was decided. I'm pretty sure I wasn't in the room when this decision was made. But that's all right. And I also have the fun job of trying to get a urine sample from Mink tonight before I take him to the vet tomorrow. Urine sample from a cat? Does that sound marginally insane and tricky to anyone else?

Anyway, enough of my rambling. I hope you all had a wonderful weekend, and that all my fellow Aotearoa-dwelling mammals had a fantastic election night!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Election day!

We went and voted in the New Zealand elections this morning. I love voting. It's so wonderful to live in a country where your vote actually counts and no one (hopefully) is going to fiddle the ballots. Oh, and there's not a guard with an AK47 hovering threateningly around the booth. All good things, and a nice change for my family.

Our elections this year were overshadowed by the US elections, of course, and neither of our candidates are anywhere near as inspiring as Obama, but it is still a very exciting day. We are having some friends over tonight for a barbecue to hear the results, although New Zealand's MMP system means that we may not know who our government is for several days (or even weeks).

The lovely Kater of All This Happiness tagged me many moons ago - I'm sorry it took so long to get around to this, but here it is! The answers are very random, I tried to put down the first things that came to mind.

Six random things about me:

I have had five different surnames in the course of my life.
I love birds. When we lived in Zimbabwe we had (as well as a dog and two cats) an African Grey parrot; two cockatiels; pigeons; an aviary of budgies and lovebirds; chickens; bantams; guinea fowl; and a peacock.
When I was small, I had an imaginary friend called Tumbles the Tiger.
I used to tell kids at primary school that I was a secret agent doing an undercover investigation at the school, and that my pencil-case was a two-way radio that went directly to my superiors.
I may have mentioned this before, but I collect antique books. I'll have to do a post on them one day.
I had an impressive poncho collection when in high school in Zimbabwe, and I wore one almost every day. I still have a few of them!

Six random things I like:

Aeroplane food
Being barefoot
The smell of furniture polish
Finding someone's name carved in a wooden bench

Six random things I don't like:

North-west winds
People using criteria as a singular noun
Mall music
Unexpected guests

I'm not going to tag anyone because I have taken so long to get around to this that I'm not sure who hasn't yet completed it. Thanks for the tag Kater, it was great fun!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

25,000 words!

I'm halfway through Nanowrimo and probably a quarter of the way through the book ... or even less, possibly. But it's a great feeling! I celebrated with a beer and macaroni and cheese, because that's just the sort of classy lady I am.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

20,000 words!

I'm on a roll this week. It is freakish.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Remember, remember the fifth of November ...

... But for a different reason this time. In New Zealand, 5 November is the day we will hear what will hopefully be good news for America and for the world. Good luck to all of you living in the States!

I'm wearing some of my thrifted loot from yesterday - it's rainy and horrible outside, which gave me the opportunity to wear this mustard sweater. It's one of my favourite colours, and so comfy. I'm braving the rain this morning to go to the opening of Two Squirrels with a friend (hi, Kelly!). It's a new vintage boutique opening on Cashel Street, owned by the same couple who run Tete a Tete Vintage. I'm really excited about seeing their new place. And since I hit 15,00 words last night, I'm allowed to buy something! Hurrah. This rewards system is working out well so far.

The novel is coming along really well. I have 16,000 words so far, and the first five chapters mapped out. I'm usually the kind of writer who writes an enormous first draft then goes back to trim it, but in this case I can see I'm going to write a slimmed-down first draft and go back to develop and embiggen (ha!).

Good luck again to everyone in the States - we're thinking of you, here on the other side of the world.

15,000 words


Monday, November 3, 2008

To business!

I'm so enjoying writing this book. The idea for the story was actually triggered by this post, where I talked about the Shona perception of the soul after death. I found a wonderful reference this morning - Karanga Indigenous Religion in Zimbabwe by Tabona Shoko. It's a fantastic read, and has some really useful information on traditional Shona beliefs. I took Shona lessons while I lived in Zimbabwe, and used to be fairly fluent, but I have lost almost all of it now. I also studied Hebrew for six years, and I've forgotten most of that, too. Where does all that information go? I wonder if it's still in my mind somewhere, and would resurface if I started learning those languages again? Anyway, it's great to have my remnants of Shona knowledge backed up by useful textbooks like this one.

I think I also have a fledgling title, which is unusual for me this early on. Usually my books are called something terribly original like 'Book3' or 'Other_Book' until they're almost finished. And then it takes me forever to settle on a title. I guess the limitations of Nanowrimo have really kicked my brain into gear.

I wrote another 2,000 words this morning, and now I had better work on the less exciting but far more urgent Masters essay. If I make good progress by later this afternoon, I'm going to go back to the book. It would be fantastic to hit 15,000 by tonight. I have a little chart in the kitchen where I tick off each 5,000-word increment as I reach it, and then get a reward. I'm well-trained that way.

As my reward for reaching 10,000 words last night, I made a trip to a thrift store this afternoon and garnered some loot. The ladies in the thrift store know me now, which is nice, because they point out new arrivals that they think I would like. They directed me to the two polka-dot items - I'm so predictable.

Here's a great quote from Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird (an indispensable book for writers, I think), which describes exactly how I feel about this novel at the moment: "And it feels so great to finally dive into the water; maybe you splash around and flail for a while, but at least you're in. Then you start doing whatever stroke you can remember how to do, and you get this scared feeling inside you - of how hard it is and how far there is to go - but still you're in, and you're afloat, and you're moving."


I have reached 10,000 words. Phew. Time for bed.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sometimes titles are hard

Nanowrimo progress!

Today's word count: 2,000
Total word count: 8700. It would be fantastic to reach 10,000 words this early on - if I have time this evening, I'm going to try and put in another couple of hours' work and get to that milestone.

I am filled with new-book glow. This may change, of course, as I'm about to start work on the Essay of Doom again. But I have my Monday afternoon housework to cheer me up! (I know I'm strange).
A bit of a subject change, but this week I am in the process of joining a group called Woman2womaN which was co-founded by a very inspiring lady, Shupayi Mpunga. I first met her when I was doing some work for a local magazine, writing an article on Zimbabwe (this was the year when the Zimbabwe cricket team was meant to visit New Zealand, and there was a lot of controversy involved). Shupayi founded an organisation called the Friends of Zimbabwe Foundation with two friends. The Woman2womaN Network is a part of this organisation, and they also do a lot of fundraising for the Harare Children's Home where Shupayi grew up.

Woman2womaN establishes contact with the women of Zimbabwe and offers friendship and hope in many different ways. In June, for example, the group fund-raised and bought groceries in South Africa to send to the women. This month they put out an appeal for donations of underwear and sanitary towels for women in prison. They are also making quilts for the orphanage in Zimbabwe. They respond to issues as they come. What I love about the organisation is that it is practical and personal - as Shupayi says, "We aren't trying to save Zimbabwe, we're just doing our bit person to person." To me, that is the absolute best way to make a real change. I become frustrated with people who have grand plans to 'make a difference' one day, but who aren't doing anything practical right now.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sunny Sunday

Thanks for all your comments on our Halloween costumes - I'm glad they were effective! Although I'm a little frightened to realise how much I look like Sarah Palin.

My in-laws are coming for dinner tonight. I had originally planned to cook something very complicated that involved stuffing meat with something and wrapping it in something else, but then came to my senses and realised it's disastrous to cook something difficult when they come over because I invariably screw it up. So we're having marinaded chicken, new potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and peas instead (meat and five veg ... we always teased my grandmother for cooking that. And now my genes have come back to haunt me), all of which are very difficult to screw up. And a bought dessert, because I lack the mental and emotional capacity to prepare dinner and dessert together.

I got so much work done on my Nanowrimo novel today, as you'll see from my snazzy word-count-o-meter. I'm really excited about it (which is typical for the first week; in the second one usually hits a wall). It's set in Zimbabwe again, although back when it was Rhodesia, this time, and it's wonderful to return to that landscape. I missed it after finishing my Masters novel. Zimbabwe is the only place I know from the inside out, and sometimes I think that means it's the only place about which I can write honestly. Even after six years in New Zealand, I feel like I only know it from the outside in, like a friend with whom you get along but have never really talked to in-depth.

I live half in New Zealand, half in Zimbabwe, even though I haven't been in Zim for six years. In a weird way I feel like the 'real' Andrea is still living there - as if I split in two when I left, and the me living in New Zealand is an aberrant, alternate-universe version. As if my real life is being lived by someone else, somewhere else. It's a strange feeling. I still wake up in the morning sometimes and can't remember where I am.

Anyway. I feel certain that this is what I'm meant to be working on at the moment. And that's a good feeling.

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