Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pay yourself first

This is an excellent piece of advice that someone very wise (I'm looking at you, LOML) gave me a long time ago. I have never been very good with money. I blame this on several things, particularly on growing up in a country where the rate of inflation was so dramatic that supermarkets changed their prices several times a day, and you had to spend every cent of your paycheck as soon as you got it - before it devalued. Of course, I also like spending money on coffee, clothes and books, and that probably has something to do with my difficulties with saving as well.

LOML told me that I should think about myself as my own employee (in the business of Me, Inc), and pay myself before I pay anyone else. I find this a really helpful idea. It is a way of valuing yourself - of making your own welfare a priority before expending money (which represents an investment of your energy and time) on other people and other things.

I have been thinking about priorities lately, and I think the idea of paying yourself first applies to investing in your creative self as well. My writing time has been threatened lately - or, rather, I have let it become threatened - by errands, distractions and family demands. I find it easy to get caught up in all these things and put my writing, which should be the most important part of my day, at the bottom of the list. It is a form of disloyalty to my creative self.

This article on investment for beginners states that
"Once most people have given their word to someone, they are careful to keep their promise. They have no qualms, however, about lying to themselves. In order to be successful, you must honor your commitment. You cannot cut yourself any slack. As soon as you miss one "payment", odds are, you will miss another, then another, until you have stopped saving altogether. The secret to success in this game is not so much the amount of money you are investing, but the persistence with which you are doing it."
This describes perfectly the pattern I get into with my writing. Here's how I am trying to tackle it:

Saying no

It is easier, if you are a big purple people-pleaser like me, to say 'yes' to other people's demands - particularly when you work from home, as it can be hard to convince people that you actually are working rather than watching daytime television in your pyjamas. If you give in to those demands, it may feel like you're being a good friend/daughter/sister/employee/martyr, but I think it may secretly be another building block of self-sabotage and writing resistance. Of course, there are times when you need to drop everything to help someone or perform some urgent action - of course there are. But these times should be the exception rather than the rule.

Making my writing time non-negotiable

I would never be too busy to feed Mink, or take a shower, or sleep. These are non-negotiable parts of my day. And writing is just as important, if not more important (although a hungry Mink and someone sitting next to a non-showered Andrea might disagree). It should have the same set-in-stone status.

Taking the phone off the hook

If no one can contact you, they can't make demands on your time. We live in an age where we nearly always have the luxury of getting hold of people RIGHT NOW, whether by email or phone. It is easy to get addicted to this immediacy. There is nothing wrong, however, with replying to 99% of emails, phone calls and text messages a few hours later. In fact, there are advantages to letting your thoughts percolate for a while before firing them back. If someone gets annoyed because they have to wait until your lunch break before speaking to you, well, they have unrealistic expectations.

No more justifications

When someone asks me for a favour and I don't have the time, energy or inclination to do it, I usually launch into a lengthy and convoluted list of excuses which inevitably sound like I'm making them up on the spot (and sometimes I am). I do this because I'm scared to say "I can't, I'm working." I'm not sure exactly what I'm afraid of here. Perhaps that the favour-asker will say, "What are you working on? But you work from home! Your time is flexible! Can't you do that later?" Which is ridiculous - no one I know would say that. They would be quite satisfied with a short, polite answer.

I am going to try to pay myself first from now on, no matter how selfish it may seem - and say "no" when it needs to be said. No more short-changing my inner writer and creating a debt that I'll just have to pay back later. (And yes, I think I have exhausted this particular set of metaphors).

Do you find yourself putting your creative self last? Why do you think this is?

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Monday, September 21, 2009

A small rant

Sal's great post on 'Defending Dressing' a few days ago opened up a discussion regarding the assumption that an interest in fashion implies vanity or shallowness. It brought to mind two of my favourite quotes about fashion, which express my own views on the subject very well:

"You`re considered superficial and silly if you are interested in fashion, but I think you can be substantial and still be interested in frivolity." - Sofia Coppola

"Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." - Coco Chanel

I know that I am preaching to the choir here, for the most part, but I refuse to give in to the idea that if we want to be taken seriously, we should subdue, or at least pretend to subdue, our love of clothing and style.

I took issue with a recent comment (not on this blog) which implied that to have a style blog while writing about Zimbabwe was offensive: that by having this other interest and blogging about it, I was belittling the plight of Zimbabwe and its people and detracting from the impact of my novels and articles on the subject. As if people would look from the writing to the author, see that she was wearing a pretty dress and instantly disregard everything else. I understand, in a way. I do. I have an entire blog about the subject of vintage style, and clearly it is a big part of my life. I also blog about the writing process, and I am planning to expand this area, but I would hate to give up the vintage clothing aspect to my blog. I understand that someone might look at this and assume all sorts of things about my character. This comes with the territory. I do, however, want them to examine those assumptions and see if they are fair.

My whole life has been defined by my experiences in Zimbabwe, as have the lives of many of my family and friends, and all the other people, black and white, who lived and are living in Zimbabwe. We experienced a lot of tragedy; the country's as a whole and our own, personal tragedies that were caused by it. I think it will take an entire career's worth of writing to explore, express and try to understand the years I spent there. However. While this necessarily occupies a large part of my life, I also have hobbies that I enjoy. Among them are blogging, vintage clothing and style. I spend my days working on my novels, by myself, at home. This blog is an escape for me: an opportunity to indulge in other things I enjoy, and an opportunity to be part of a supportive and friendly community with similar interests.

Would people have the same negative reaction if I had a cooking blog, or a parenting blog, or a travel blog? Why is a style blog different? If I want to write about serious topics, am I therefore not allowed to have an interest in clothing? Or, if I want to have an interest in clothing, am I therefore banned from writing about serious topics? Why should they be mutually exclusive? Of course there are more important things in life than clothing, and we all know that. I know that. But one cannot be serious all the time. It is our hobbies and small pleasures in life that keep us sane.

This is just my story, of course. There are many other vintage and fashion bloggers out there who enjoy the same hobbies and, to a woman (or man), they are intelligent, strong, creative people with interests outside of their blog, successful careers, and lots of ambition and drive. I object to the assumption that an interest in fashion and clothing means that one is unintelligent or shallow. It is an art form like any other and a valid outlet for creativity, and I do not see anything wrong with that.

Linda Grant, whose book 'The Clothes on Their Backs' was shortlisted for the 2008 Booker, is a personal heroine of mine in this area: she has a blog, The Thoughtful Dresser, where she discusses clothing and its importance to identity, creativity and daily life. One of the quotes on her sidebar really resonated with me:

"The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities and his right to these peculiarities." - Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate.

Allow us our right to modest peculiarities.

I would love to know your thoughts on this. Do you meet with criticism or judgement for having an interest in fashion, or a fashion blog? How do you deal with it?


I think gentlemen are divided on the question of whether they prefer them, and whether they have more fun is entirely up for debate, but I have joined their ranks! And I love it.
22 Sept 09
These shorts are from Tara Starlet, and I love them too. I have been looking for a pair of high-waisted pin-up shorts for summer for ages, and I have decided to get over my complex about my legs and just wear and enjoy them.

My husband and I are going out for dinner tonight - it's really just an excuse to make the most of my salon-styled hair before it becomes Andrea-styled and therefore less polished - and I am wearing one of my favourite little party dresses. It has an enormous bow and a button, and it is fun, and without fail I drop food on the white bit, but it is worth it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hermit day

Happy Monday, everyone! I love Mondays - I always start the week with renewed vim and vigour that fade slowly until, by Friday, I am a little puddle on the floor. Today, however, the vim and vigour are at maximum strength!

The central chapters of this book are my nemeses. I have been circling them warily for a couple of weeks now, retreating a few steps when they snap and growl, but it's time to brandish my tiny lion-tamer's chair above my head and face them head-on. In this case, my tiny lion-tamer's chair represents my determination to write the damn things, even if it means creating a Shitty First Draft. As one of my writing gurus, Timothy Hallinan, says, "The enemy is not the bad page. It is the empty page." So. The evil chapters are Chapters Ten to Eighteen, and they are in varying stages of completion and coherence. By the end of this week (she announces in ringing tones), they will be DONE. They might not be GOOD, but they will be DONE (and I can always make them GOOD later). Nine chapters in five days is possible, I think, especially if I become a hermit. And I like being a hermit, as long as someone slides coffee and food through the door periodically.

Today's job is to complete Chapters Ten and Eleven. Wish me luck.

P.S. Chapter Ten is now completed!
P.P.S. Finished Chapter Eleven as well. Woo-hoo!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Resting on your laurels (see what I did there?)

Just a quick post in-between weekend chores! Well, all right. Not so much chores as lying-in-and-having-breakfast-in-bed. But there have been some chores in there too.

The blouse I'm wearing was a swap gift from the lovely Laurel, a fellow Kiwi blogger whom I met a couple of weeks ago for a coffee. We were planning to meet in a cafe, but we had both decided to come in earlier and visit a favourite vintage store, and so we bumped into each other at a rail of fifties dresses! It was so lovely to meet Laurel, and I know we'll be having a thrifting day the next time she's down in Christchurch. Check out her Etsy store, BettyBlueVintage: there are some gorgeous things there! I particularly like this swing dress, but my budget for the fortnight is well and truly blown. I've spent it on a beautiful fifties chiffon dress which I'm planning to wear to a dinner party tonight, and a black satin dress with a full skirt which I bought for no reason at all, except that I have never owned a Little Black Dress and now I have one.

P.S. Apologies for the dreadful pun. I am sorry.

(But not sorry enough to change it).

Thursday, September 17, 2009


It is Friday! I cannot tell you how excited I am about this. It has been a rather crazy and stressful week, full of dealings with the Inland Revenue and the university and general panic about Life, but it will end in an evening of takeaways and wine with two of our closest friends (who have recently got engaged and are planning a Disney-princess-themed wedding).

I received my publication schedule today - very exciting! So far it looks like the release date is going to be March 2011. There is a bit of a quiet period at the moment, and then things heat up in March next year with editorial revisions and the cover design. After that, it's pretty much a rollercoaster ride to the publication date. I also received the author questionnaire today, in which you put such things as your biographical details and any media 'ins' you may have (I have few to none). I'm aiming to finish the current book by the end of October, to leave me free and easy to take part in Nanowrimo again in November. Of course, that's assuming that I don't go completely crazy while finishing this book and start eating my meat raw and sleeping in trees.

Anyway, today is continuing the crazy and stressful pattern of the previous four days, so I had better hold my nose and plunge back in. Have a wonderful Friday, and I'll see you on the weekend!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dungaree, dungerah

16 Sept 09
16 Sept 09
Dungarees! I'm so excited about them. I pretty much lived in them as a kid, and now I have my very own grown-up pair, perfect for chores, dog-walking and the like. Although today all I've done in them is curl up in an armchair and make notes on a book of Rhodesian history.

The book I'm working on at the moment is set in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the 1960s and 70s, and has a lot to do with the liberation war (also known as the Second Chimurenga or the Bush War). It requires a lot of research: interviews as well as reading. A lot of my family members lived in Rhodesia during that time, which is helpful, and both my grandfathers have been mentioned in the history books I've been reading. I've even found a photo of my stepfather in one of them (he fought in the war). I was never interested in Zimbabwean history while I lived there, which I know seems strange - it was just too commonplace. To me, Zimbabwe was 'ordinary' and everywhere else was exotic. Since leaving, however, I have been obsessive about it. I suppose I'm trying to understand my heritage ... and to make sense of things that I never questioned as a child but which have been very much called into question in the past few years.

Thank you as always for all your comments - I'm gradually replying to them all!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Feature on The English Muse

Hello! I just wanted to point you in the direction of a lovely post Maggie of Flux Capacitor wrote about me in one of her guest spots at English Muse. Thank you, Maggie!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In the gardens

13 Sept 09
LOML and I had a little photo-shoot in the Botanic Gardens this afternoon, as it was a beautiful spring day!

All the photos were taken by my husband, which is why they are so good and not my usual camera-balanced-on-the-windowsill horrors. It has been a lovely weekend - back to work tomorrow.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Dragon Tattoo design

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Spring chicken

I was a little over-optimistic about the weather today - it is still very chilly, despite being Spring (officially). I'm wearing a brooch given to me by my great-grandmother when we left - her husband gave it to her when they were courting. It's lovely to wear something that has so much meaning. LOML took some gorgeous photos of her on the morning we left (complete with perfectly-painted red nails), so hopefully I'll be able to share my stylish great-grandmother with you soon!

I'm in a horrible place with the book at the moment; a two-steps-forward-one-step-back sort of place. I hope I manage to tunnel my way out of it this week, because it's haunting my dreams. Last night I dreamed that I had finished the book (and for some reason it was printed and bound, as well). I flicked through the pages to savour the feeling of accomplishment, and the letters started to fall off the page like little scrabble tiles. I tried to hold them in, but they ended up on the floor in an enormous jumble, and I had to piece the whole thing together again. I think I'm suffering from post-holiday blues - catching up with everything is proving a bit overwhelming. I'm sure it will all be back to normal soon.

Yesterday LOML and I went up into the Port Hills with a couple of friends. The view over Christchurch is just beautiful from up there; nothing better for clearing the head and getting some perspective on things!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

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Spider 3D Tattoo

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

In the swing of things

It is so nice to be home. I'm absolutely thrilled. I arrived to flowers on the table and a bottle of champagne in the fridge (from my lovely Mum), and a package of books from my editor - among them The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt, which has me enthralled! I started work again today - it feels good to be back in a routine, even though I'm slightly overwhelmed by the amount I have to do if I'm to deliver the new manuscript by the end of October. I'm mired in the Great Swampy Middle of the book at the moment, being attacked by metaphorical Rodents of Unusual Size.

My agent forwarded me a message from a television production company that had been offered the film rights to my book. It was a no, but such a nice one:

"You were right about NGOZI – it really is a fast read and a hugely engrossing one at that! I really enjoyed the book so thanks very much for sending it over. I can definitely see the potential that you do in it. I loved the small details about life in Zimbabwe - how the wings of flying ants fall off and pile up in the corners of the house, the static electricity in the air during the stormy season, and the subtle social and racial codes Elise’s relationships negotiate – and how the book maintains a sense of atmospheric foreboding throughout as it mixes reportage, magical realism, coming-of-age, and splintered identities all at once."

I can't tell you how wonderful it is to hear this kind of feedback ("is she really talking about my book?"). I know the odds of selling the film rights are slim, but I'm still ridiculously excited that people in the industry are reading and considering it. It's really quite mind-boggling to think that six months ago I had no agent and no publisher. I still can't quite believe that it's all happening after these years of hard work and harder rejections, but I'm so grateful that it is.

P.S. Thank you for being so understanding about my patchy replies to comments while I was overseas. Now that I'm home, I'm going to get back into the routine of replying to all of them - they are all very much appreciated!

3D Ghost

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