Thursday, 15 December 2011

ChristChurch Cathedral added to CERA demolitions list

I can't say I didn't see it coming, but still it is sad to see that ChristChurch Cathedral has been added to the CERA demolitions list in the 'Partial Demolish' category. See the list here:

Still, I was half expecting it to be a full demolition, the way they had been procrastinating making an announcement, so the news is not all bad.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Christchurch now

At the moment, there is a central city walk open to the public of Christchurch. It starts at the Re:START project, the container mall, and heads up Colombo Street to Cathedral Square. On Sunday I decided I wanted to see for myself what the central city is like. It was not a pleasant experience, but I'm glad I went. Here are some photos I took on the walk.

The Re:START project.

It's not too bad for a mall made out of shipping containers. Of course, the shops are mostly high-end and too expensive for most. Trelise Cooper is there, for example. Because a city can't go without its high-end fashion.

Colombo Street. What was there, again? I can't remember.

Corner of Colombo and Hereford. Again, I can't remember what has gone. I think whatever it was, it was renovated not long before the earthquakes. I seem to remember scaffolding on this corner.

Looking East along Hereford.

Looking down High Street. The lovely old building on the corner is long gone. That building with the top stripped bare is the Grand Chancellor Hotel. If you look side-on, the top is as airy as a leaf skeleton now. It's barely recognisable.

Where the Regent Cinema used to be. There was also a nice sushi place on the street level, and some gaudy souvenir shops facing the square. I spent a lot of time at the cinema (it's where the International Film Festival films were played).

Needs no introduction.

Buildings yet to be attended to in the section of the City Mall East of Colombo.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Steampunk Capital of New Zealand, plus steampunk short story competition

SpecFicNZ and the authors of the Steampunk adventure Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel, Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, are together holding a competition for a spot in the supporting Ministry podcast, Tales from the Archives. The competition is open to all residents and citizens of New Zealand. This is really exciting, because the winner will not only get published, their name will be connected with a high-profile project, and of course all entrants can have fun playing in another writer's sandbox. The full details of the competition are here.

To get people in the mood for writing Steampunk, I thought I'd post a few pictures I took in Oamaru, the Steampunk Capital of New Zealand, at the end of October.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Happy to be rejected

Recently I worked up the courage to finally send a story to a paying 'zine rather than to a competition. Sending stories to competitions is not nearly so scary, because your submission will no doubt be one of hundreds, if not thousands, arriving at the same time. Also, you don't get 'rejected' from a competition: you just don't win.

I've been a bit worried about how I would handle rejections when I actually started submitting stories to publishers. I was afraid I would get upset and childish about it. But when I found my first rejection in my inbox a short while ago, I was surprisingly happy.

Why was I happy? Because I got a personalised rejection, with some advice on how the story could be improved, and an invitation to submit more work. I think that's pretty damn good for a first submission. I must be doing something right, after all!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Writing practice: something flowery

The other week I started using a site called to motivate me to write on a regular basis. The idea behind is simple: you have to write 750 words every day; you get points for every day you write; and the longer your streak is, the faster your points accumulate. Because you write your words directly into the website from your browser, you can write from most places. For example, you can write from work in your lunch break. I'm finding it to be a useful tool.

Of course, you have to think of something to write. Every day. Sometimes I draft emails or blog posts (I am writing this very text in my lunch break at work). Usually I work on my main WIP, the Novel. I've recently done a lot of worldbuilding in 750-odd word chunks.

Yesterday I needed a change of pace; I had been writing dry facts for days on end. And then I remembered what my wonderful gentleman caller bought me the other month: Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. Steering the Craft is a book about the art of writing. I had read chapter 1 previously and so yesterday I decided to do exercise 1 for my daily 750 words. The exercise was to write a piece intended to be read aloud.

What I wrote is more than a bit rough. It also reads like two separate pieces, because about the time I felt like I was running out of oomph I saw I was only at 300 words, so I changed tactic. The exercise challenged me to write from a different angle to the one I write from on default, and therefore what I ended up with was something quite different to my normal prose. I wrote an emotive, sentimental piece from the point of view of a frequent traveller in the world of my WIP. This traveller is monologuing lyrically about the island nation of Adarentia, where my story is set. Although a bit off-beat, I think this piece will be very useful for me when it comes time to create a sense of place within the story.


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Damn ghosts

I have encountered a bit of a problem with my writing. As you can see from my Works in Progress page I have recently been re-outlining my epic fantasy novel and ramping up towards writing the first draft (hopefully splicing in some of the text I wrote last time I started writing the book). But another idea I have had, Teathira Protectrix (tentative title), has been trying its best to take over my writing effort. No amount of exorcising seems to be able to quit this idea from my mind. I write at least a full page of notes to 'file for later' every day.

Why is this idea so persistent? I think there are a few factors. Firstly, the story has a title, if only a tentative one. My epic fantasy novel doesn't have one yet. Secondly, Teathira Protectrix is a YA idea, and a short one at that. The book (or the first one, rather: it is a multi-book idea) would probably come in under 40,000 words. Quickly hammering out a short novel before attempting the longer epic fantasy is appealing. Thirdly, there is not a lot of research I would have to do for Protectrix. The epic fantasy, however, needs some extensive world-building (only half of which is done) plus a fair wodge of research on random things like yamabushi, steamboats, and flintlock pistols. Oh, and M-theory. All in all, Protectrix just looks easier.

So what do you think? Should I be disciplined and keep on keeping on with the epic fantasy? After all, I would still be able to write Protectrix when the epic fantasy is done. Or should I give in to the 'Oooh, shiny' impulse and switch to the YA idea?


Okay, so I've made a decision. I'm going to continue re-outlining the epic fantasy novel. However, I will also continue to take my screeds of notes on Protectrix, and not feel guilty about how much time I spend doing so. When I have finished re-outlining the epic fantasy, I will evaluate how much work I have done on Protectrix. If I'm within spitting distance of starting a first draft, I'll use Protectrix as a break between outlining and writing the epic fantasy, so I have an early stage of 'seeing the story afresh'. If I'm still at the concept stage with Protectrix, then I will push on with the epic fantasy (and maybe even give it a name).

Right. Sounds like a plan, Stan.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Book review - Hellbent by Cherie Priest

Recently (well, OK, a week and a half ago) I finished reading Hellbent by Cherie Priest. Hellbent is the second book in Priest's 'Cheshire Red' series (the first book, Bloodshot, came out early this year).

I became a fan of Cherie Priest through her Steampunk books, which are so full of awesome that I was willing to give anything written by her a go, even if she started writing goddamn vampire urban fantasy. Which is exactly what she has done with the 'Cheshire Red' series. Bloodshot and Hellbent aren't her best books. But you know what? They really aren't all that bad, either. I quite like them, and as I'm so over vampires right now that is quite an accomplishment.

It sure helps that Priest's vampire, Raylene Pendle, is more like the vampires of old, i.e. not sparkly and really rather dangerous. It also helps that Raylene is a crook, not merely some dopey human's love interest. And another thing that helps? Her sidekick is an ex-Navy Seal Cuban drag queen. Yup. A large hulking man who moonlights as dancer 'Sister Rose' and then goes out after the moonlighting dressed in black, breaking into places, and beating shit up. What a character.

If this particular combination of elements sounds interesting, I'd definitely recommend checking the series out.

Hellbent is a book that made me ponder something interesting about writing styles. First, some background: I have a bad habit. A horrible, nasty habit. My lack of 'won't power' often makes me read the ends of books before I get to them. I know! What a stupid thing to do. You will not believe how many books I have spoiled for myself by doing this. Usually it happens when I realise that I really need to go to bed, like, right now. But I can't bear the thought that I am going to have to wait until the next day before I find out what happens next. So I glance forward a bit. Then a bit more. Before I know it, it is not only an hour past my bed time, but I have spoiled the end of the book. Again. What a dumb-arse.

Now, I did this very thing with Hellbent. And yet, for the first time in I don't know how long - years? ever? - it didn't matter. Yes, I knew what was going to happen at the end. But that didn't adversely affect my reading experience one single bit. Why not?

Most books (or most English language books, at least) build up towards the climax. The destination is the goal, if you will. I found that Hellbent is a book that doesn't follow this trend, or at least not for me. Hellbent is more of an 'enjoy the journey' kind of book. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I'd rather just say it is a Thing that I noticed, and it is interesting. Also, I sure like that I now have an example to refer to of a book that 'stops to smell the roses'.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Book review - Goliath

What can I possibly say about Scott Westerfeld's Goliath that would do the book justice? For starters, there are many people out in the wilds of the interwebs talking about this book at the moment, no doubt many of them far more eloquently than I. Secondly, what could I say that wouldn't contain spoilers for books 1 and 2 in the series, Leviathan and Behemoth?

Briefly, the 'Leviathan' series is a YA trilogy loosely classified within the steampunk genre, although I'd say it's influences are far broader than that. It is set in an alternate reality version of World War I, where the two main factions vying for control of Europe are the Clankers (Germany, Austro-Hungarian Empire, etc.) whose technology is based on machines and diesel engines, and the Darwinists (British Empire, Russia, etc.) whose technology is based on genetically engineered creatures. By machines I mean 'giant walking robot tanks' and by genetically engineered creatures I mean 'flying sky-whale dirigibles'. Um. Wow.

The story follows two protagonists: Deryn Sharp, a scottish girl masquerading as a boy so she can serve aboard the Leviathan (the aforementioned sky-whale); and Aleksandar of Hohenberg, the young son of Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian Duke whose assassination sparked World War I both in our world and in the world of the books. Alek and Deryn meet aboard the Leviathan, and proceed to tumble headlong through the events of World War I, as those events fall farther and farther away from our own history. If you want to learn more about the series, visit this page at Westerfeld's website.

Now that I've finished the trilogy (and gasped all my gasps, and squeed all my squees) the thing I'd like to talk about is a certain aspect of Scott Westerfeld's writing that struck me, particularly in Goliath. I haven't read any of Westerfeld's previous work, so I don't know if this is something he does all the time, or if it is particular to this series.

Throughout the series, the story switches back and forth between Deryn and Alek's viewpoints. Also, these two characters at various times have all sorts of secrets or pieces of information they are keeping from one another. Yet when we are reading a chapter from, say, Deryn's point of view, we the reader can tell when Alek is thinking about something Deryn doesn't know, and we know what he is thinking. Without Deryn finding out what that thing is. Without Westerfeld putting his voice into the story and telling us. Without bashing our heads with the information. If you have read the book or are meaning to read it, look closely at chapter 10 to see what I mean. We know exactly what Alek is thinking, even though Deryn clearly has no clue.

This knowledge is woven in softly, deftly, and we the reader feel like we just know it intuitively. Of course that is not the case; Westerfeld is doing it on purpose. I'd sure like to know how he does it. I would be thrilled if I could somehow add that trick to my writing toolbox.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Mini-reviews of some kiwi-authored books

This post is part of the SpecFicNZ blogging week.

As I mentioned in my last post, this year I joined SpecFicNZ, the national association for speculative fiction writers. (Speculative fiction is a catch-all term for the three ‘what if’ genres of fiction: science fiction, fantasy and horror.) Since joining the association I’ve found that there are writers in and from New Zealand getting their non-YA spec fic novels published after all.

Brief aside here. I never thought that there weren’t people writing spec fic in New Zealand, and I never thought that people here would be bad at writing it either. That would be a stupid assumption, because spec fic from overseas sells well here, and people tend to write what they like to read. It’s just that I learned a few things while I was studying for a Diploma in Publishing back in 2008. First, publishers in New Zealand in general don’t want to publish genre fiction. I had the opportunity to ask some publishers about this, and they told me matter-of-factly that genre fiction doesn’t sell in NZ (untrue) and that genre fiction never has the same literary merit as literary fiction (also untrue). Secondly, I was told by many speakers while on the course that, apart from a very, very few exceptions, overseas publishers do not publish books by New Zealand authors. I don’t know why I took this as gospel when I knew that what they were saying about genre fiction was bull crap, but I did. I therefore assumed that there weren’t published books for adults of the type I like to read written by New Zealand authors. Well, it turns out there are, because although my first point is true, the second is not, and people are getting their books published overseas.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Through SpecFicNZ I became aware of spec fic books out there in the wild written by New Zealand authors. This year I’ve had a go at reading some. Below are some mini reviews of kiwi-authored books I have read recently. Please keep in mind, although I have pointed out any issues I had with these books, I enjoyed reading each and every one of them. Any negatives were more than outweighed by the overwelming positives. 

The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe

I actually read The Heir of Night before I joined SpecFicNZ. I first learned about the book from the Christchurch Writers’ Festival pamphlet (the festival never went ahead because of a pesky earthquake you might have heard of).

The Heir of Night is the first book in an epic fantasy series. It takes some standard tropes of the genre (a half-forgotten foe about to return after a long time, young people forced to leave their homeland and ‘find themselves’, a magical object-finding quest) and combines them in such a way that it feels just enough different from what has gone before. There is something deliciously sci-fi-esque about the origin of the world the book is set in, which is always a plus for me (I love fantasy/sci fi combos). I’m not too sure yet (this is only the first book of four) but I think it looks like there is going to be something left-of-centre about the foes, a plot twist perhaps. I’m looking forward to it.

The best things about this book for me were the two main characters, Malian and Kalan. While some of the other characters were still a little bit flat, these two were very engaging and I cared a lot about what was happening to them. I’m looking forward to book 2, The Gathering of the Lost.

Tymon’s Flight and Samiha’s Song by Mary Victoria

These are books 1 and 2 in Mary Victoria’s 'Chronicles of the Tree' trilogy. They are set in an incredibly original world - a ginormous tree with a canopy the size of a continent! The people living in this tree do not even know that such a thing as ground exists. Fascinating stuff. The cultures of the various people who live in the tree are also quite different to standard epic fantasy fare - there’s not much that feels Western European in these books. Rather, the various societies feel more like Eastern Orthodox or Islamic. What a refreshing change.

Tymon’s Flight is essentially a coming of age story. It gripped me from page one and didn’t let me go until the end. Off the top of my head, I’d say that Tymon’s Flight has been my quickest read this year. (As an aside, I am on to my second copy of Tymon’s Flight. I lent the book to a friend, and in the 6.3M earthquake on 13 June his bookshelf fell over and crushed the book. So now I have a new copy.)

Samiha’s Song is quite a different book in tone. Now that the protagonists have come of age, it is time for them to enter the adult world properly, and be exposed to all the hardship and injustice that can entail. It was a harrowing read, and I took a long time to get through it. But what happened in the book was the right thing to have happened at that point, and in the end I did find it a satisfying read. I think I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Tymon’s Flight, just in a very different way.

There were a few things about Mary Victoria’s writing that got on my wick a wee bit. She used too many said bookisms, and descriptions of how things were said were too often given after the line of speech they described. These occasionally jolted me out of the flow of the story. Also, her villains were a bit too ‘Mwa ha ha, I am evil!’ and their lesser associates generally had something unpleasant about their appearance, such as greasy hair or an unchecked weight problem. This made the villain POV chapters a bit cartoon-like. But this is Mary Victoria’s first published series (and goodness knows my writing has more flaws than that). I’m sure her writing will mature over time. I’m looking forward to the last book in the series, Oracle’s Fire, which comes out next month.

Geist and Spectyr by Philippa Ballantine

Geist and Spectyr are books 1 and 2 in Philippa Ballantine’s epic fantasy series. They are set in a world plagued by various ghosts and spirits that break through from another dimension and cause all sorts of paranormal mayhem, such as possessions and hauntings. There is a religious order that has given up the belief in gods (wow, what an idea) called the Order. The Deacons of the Order now devote their time and energy to exorcising these spirits. The book follows two Deacons, Sorcha Farris, a gruff cigar-smoking, alcohol-drinking beautiful redheaded woman in her mid to late thirties, and Merrick Chambers, a very young and green-behind-the-ears man who has just been made a full Deacon. The third main character is Raed, the ex-Emperor’s son in exile, who happens to be possessed by the spirit of a very large, very dangerous lion-shaped creature from the other dimension.

The story line? Lots of stuff happens. In quick succession. There’s maulings, explosions, conspiracies, frantic sex, oh, and maulings. Did I mention the lion is dangerous?

Over all, I found Geist to be a bit too frenetic in its pace, but Spectyr wasn’t so bad in that regard. I felt like I could keep up, at least. Sorcha and Merrick are great characters to follow; so much fun. Raed, not so much. So far, he’s a bit of a cardboard cut-out. He just didn’t seem to have much of a purpose other than transporting the lion around in his head and being Sorcha’s release valve. But something happened at the end of Spectyr than makes me think that is not going to be the case in the 3rd book, Wrayth. He has been given a purpose. And I think that plot line is going to be interesting. I just wish it had started sooner.

Again, despite having a few issues with the books, I really enjoyed them. It’s a great world and I’m looking forward to Wrayth and Harbinger.

Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

OK, so, I’m going to add a disclaimer here: I love steampunk. If you’re not so keen on it, you might not agree with my opinion of this book. What is my opinion, you ask? This book ROCKS! Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Like The Heir of Night, the authors have used a lot of cliches. In fact, they’ve used a ton. But I just don’t care because it was so very much fun to read.

The story is set in a steampunk London. The heroes are agents in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, a British Empire-wide clandestine organisation that investigates things the government and Crown are not willing to openly admit exist. Such as ghosts, secret societies and dangerously magical objects. Y’know. Cool stuff. Agent Wellington Thornhill Books is the archivist for the Ministry. His typical work environment is in the basement of the Ministry headquarters, in the archives, amongst the stacks. Agent Eliza D Braun, ex-pat kiwi, is a field agent with a close loving relationship with explosives. And guns. And in general anything that goes boom. When Eliza’s conduct gets her in a spot of hot water with the boss, she gets demoted. To assistant archivist. Needless to say, she’s not too happy with the arrangement, at least not until she finds the room full of unsolved case files. All those mysteries, waiting to be explored . . . irritated posh toff (but handsome) archivist in tow.

I understand that the authors were asked to add a lot of extra material after they had turned in the manuscript. Unfortunately, this shows in some areas where there are odd artifacts of this process. This is not the authors’ fault - their editor should have tidied the manuscript up better. I’ll give you an example: In one chapter, Books is getting dressed while thinking. He looks over his shoulder at his old service uniform hanging in his wardrobe. Then, on the next page it is established that he has broken into someone else’s house to get changed in order to lose any tails he had picked up. Um, then why were his clothes in the wardrobe? It makes no sense. Oh well.

All in all, the patchy editing is my only complaint. I enjoyed this book so much, and you won’t believe how much I want the next one, Of Cogs and Corsets. Goddamn, I want a Tardis.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Redux and welcome and things

I used to keep a blog, a long time ago when I lived in Japan. I would post lots of pictures, and natter on about life in Japan and all the surprises it would entail. I published the blog primarily so that my family and friends would know what I was up to without me having to email each and every one of them. I think other people read my blog too, but I'm not sure how frequently because I had no stats tracking at the time.

But then I returned to New Zealand, and no longer felt like blogging my daily life. I haven't blogged since 2007.

Well, this week is the SpecFicNZ blogging week and I'm now all inspired to start up a new blog. I've imported some of my posts about Japan from my old blog, because they make interesting viewing. I weeded out some of the more boring posts, such as when I burbled on about vegetables I had bought or how cool (?) my Sony Walkman MP3 player was.

What am I intending to write about at this new blog? Recently I've been having a serious crack at writing fiction. I've been working hard on honing my skills. I have also joined SpecFicNZ, the national association for creators, writers and editors of speculative fiction in and from New Zealand. I've even been elected to the SpecFicNZ Committee. I can therefore reasonably predict that writing will be a frequent topic.

As for what else I will be blogging about, I'm really not sure. Guess I will have to write and find out.