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Today’s mood

It’s Sunday and I’m working. My own fault, but it’s been one of those weeks where the work just keeps piling on.

I haven’t touched the novel for two weeks. Four weeks to annual leave, and I’m exhausted. 🙂

Hope the rest of you are having a good week.

Keep safe.

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Granny came out of the phone

The ring of steel around Melbourne is gone.

Here in Victoria COVID restrictions have eased a little and we can travel around the state. Sherylyn and I, who are both the only members of our family living in Melbourne, haven’t seen the rest of the family since the start of the year.

It’s been like that for a lot of people. Sherylyn was talking to a woman today, down from the country, who hasn’t seen her two young grandchildren all year. She’s kept in touch of course, video-calling them weekly, but this is the first time she’s been able to visit them personally in months.

What did these two young toddlers say?

“Look. Granny came out of the phone.”

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Time is flying

Lockdown has eased

Yay. Less restrictions. We can do more things. We’re no longer restricted to going out for just exercise, food, medicine and safety, and only for an hour a day. We can go further—25km rather than just five—and there’s no curfew. We can eat out, provided the groups within specified guidelines. The hairdressers are open.

My hairdresser booked me into my regular 11:30 Saturday slot as soon the announcement. Then she sent me a message to ask me if I wanted it. That’s service. She did that for all her regulars, so much so that even when I arrived on Saturday (the announcement was the Sunday prior), she was still turning people away as she was booked up for the next three weeks just with the regulars.

To be honest though, outside of a haircut, little has changed for me.

Tax deadline looms

31 October is the deadline for tax returns if you’re doing it yourself, and the tax financial year itself runs from 1 July to 30 June. We do our own tax (except the super fund, which we leave to the experts). Because so many of our receipts are electronic nowadays, one thing I do as part of the process is export my bank transactions to a spreadsheet and compare them against the receipts.

Given that COVID-19 has been around since the start of the year, and the first round of restrictions came into play in March, with more severe restrictions commencing from August, it’s been interesting to see the change in my spending over the last 12 months.

Mostly, it’s all about the food. I can’t believe how much I spend on food. Less eating out, obviously, and more takeaway. More expensive takeaway—many local businesses simply switched their menu from on-premise to takeaway but didn’t change their prices. (Takeaway is the Australian term for take-out.) What surprised me most, however, was how far back I started doing this. March and April, rather than August. Eight months, not three. I know this year has flown by but reading the patterns it feels as if time has been compressed. March to October is a blur, and it doesn’t feel like that long.

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Hairy carrots and other horrors — take 2

WordPress ate my post. It’s on Goodreads, which takes a feed of the posts, but it’s not on the site. I have checked. It has gone. Totally. Talk about gremlins. (So for those of you who follow on Goodreads, apologies for the repost.) This was originally published on 17 October 2020, it’s now the 24th. Let’s see if this one disappears, too.

We passed day 100 of our lockdown. The numbers are going down, which is great, and restrictions may be eased soon, but meantime we’re still stuck with going out for a maximum of two hours per day for exercise, and once to buy supplies—all within five kilometres of home. It’s not so bad, and buying local is good. We did mostly anyway, but we’re making an extra effort to support the food places that are open.

Like a lot of people, I’ll be happy once I can eat out again. Meantime, we’re doing a lot of cooking at home. Also experimenting with online grocery deliveries, as I’m finding that the supermarket fruit and veg is more than ordinary. I found a grocer who delivers (turns out they’re close to work, actually) and their food is good.

Our workplace also organised a fruit and vegetable box for those of us stuck in lockdown. This was from an online company who specialises in deliveries like this. The fruit and vegetables, when they arrived, were amazing. So fresh, so tasty. I promptly ordered another box for the following week.

All I can say is, box two was a disappointment. Not using them again.

With all these boxes of fruit and vegetables being delivered, I forgot I had a bag of carrots in the crisper. When I finally remembered they were there they’d started to grow. Fine white roots all over. I decided to peel them, roast them, and turn them into roast carrot soup.

I don’t know if you have ever peeled hairy carrots, but I found the texture quite creepy. So much so that I had to force myself to keep going. They’re peeled now, and in the oven roasting—although they’re not doing so well at that, they’re not softening at all. We’ll see how we go.

In other horror stories—I’ve talked about my COVID-hair before. It’s growing out, both colour and the length. Longer hair does not suit me. Come Halloween, if anyone came to the door (I don’t think they’ll be able to), I’ll be a perfect witch. I’ll scare anyone.

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The music suits

Lovely music — Hans Zimmer’s Time, from the soundtrack of Inception, as the background to the Italian mountains, by Bashir Abu Shakra.

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Dandelions in the ‘meadow’

Not our garden, unfortunately. We have a crop of sunny yellow dandelions which are spreading their seed all over the lawn. Sigh.

Spring has arrived in our part of the world. Last weekend it was 25 degrees Celsius (77F). Typical Melbourne, it went down to 10C (55F) this weekend, but that’s Melbourne for you.

Being at home and inside most of the time, it feels like we haven’t had winter. Which is rather funny because we cruised in December and January to New Zealand, wher the weather was cool, so it feels like we haven’t had any summer either.   The grass is high, uncut, and due to the amount of rain we’ve had, so very green. It looks like a meadow.

It’s lovely, especially when the morning sun shines on the damp grass.

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Covid-grey

Dyed hair
Sometimes I wish I had the courage to do something like this. Not that my hair would ever grow that long. It stops at my shoulders. As a child I refusd to cut my hair for ten years, I tried so hard to grow it. Nope. It only ever grew to my shoulders.

(Or COVID-Gray if you’re using US spelling.)

I have no plans to write a pandemic novel but I have this snippet of a story idea that keeps popping up at inopportune moments. 

It’s set 300-400 years in the future, and it’s a about an academic studying fashions of the early 21st century. In her time there is no grey hair—the anti-aging process that extends life to 130 healthy years also removed the tendency for hair to go grey.

She’s young, our academic, and they’ve had anti-aging for a hundred years now.  In her time grey is just another colour people dye their hair.

She’s studying the fashions.  Pre-third world war (world war in that many countries in the world were involved, but there were six, major powers fighting each other, with only small alliances, and lots of double-crossing each other.)  She comes across this hair fashion. A grey stripe down the middle of the head.  She has no context for dyed hair growing out, or lockdowns in a time of pandemic where services like hairdressers are unavailable.  Things like lockdowns are long gone in her time, where scientists can grow a personalised vaccine as soon as a virus appears. 

Our academic thinks grey hair is a fashion.

I don’t know if this is a valid story or not, and I’m not planning on writing it, but if it pops up in one of our books one day, you’ll know where it came from.

#

Oh, and another COVID-related observation.  Based on the number of overgrown nature strips in our area, lawn-mowing is big business around here.  Everyone’s lawns are running wild. 

Lawn-mowing services are another casualty of the lock-down.  They have not been allowed to work for two months now. I’m not sure which I’m looking forward to more. Getting a haircut, or having my lawn mown.

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Your readers will notice, even if you don’t

Siblings

I sometimes envy authors who plan out not only their novel but a whole series of novels and know exactly what will happen in each book. I love the serendipity of working on a novel that surprises and delights even me (us) as it changes and grows, but sometimes it would be nice to know in advance how the things I write in book one will impact book three.

Say something in book one and want to change it in book three? There’s nothing you can do, because it’s there, in writing, and your readers know it as a fact.

One common subject that trips serial authors up is family. If it’s convenient in book one to have a character who is alone in the galaxy because their whole family was killed in a mining accident on Ceres VII prior to book one starting, then you don’t normally have that family turn up in book three at that character’s graduation ceremony. You might be able to wangle it by casting doubt on the accident—especially if your protagonist wasn’t there to witness the accident but just heard about it—and if you are clever in books two and three.

What you can’t manage so well is the number of siblings. If a character says they have no siblings in book one, and a sister turns up in book three, she’d better be a surprise.

Some authors seem to get away with it. In a recent book I read the protagonist’s love interest said, “No, I’m not married,” in book one. In book two it turns out he’s been married for ten years, and still goes back to see his wife (even if he doesn’t sleep with her). Since he’d already claimed he wasn’t married that meant he had lied to the protagonist. Which, based on the type of character he was, was unlikely.

It changed my opinion of the character, and I spent the whole second book trying to get over that fact. I don’t think the author meant to do that.

Unintended consequences.

Sometimes, too, working your way around an inconvenience you wrote in an earlier story can make a future story stronger.

For example, there’s a whole new sub-plot for our only-child character mentioned above discovering he has a sibling he didn’t know about. Where did the sibling come from? Why didn’t our protagonist’s parents tell him about her? Is she really his sibling or just trying to get something from him?

Yes, sometimes, these little inconveniences you’ve written in aren’t inconveniences at all.

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A little common sense, please

The type of cottage you supposedly inherit when the lawyer knocks on your door and hands you the keys.

I am losing time.  Seriously, one minute I’m writing the blog for mid-August, when I go to write the next blog—I think—a week later, I find three weeks have passed.

Life in lockdown is a blur of work, exercise (still doing Ringfit), and sleep, even on the weekends.  The days are running together, with little to no writing done.  Many days I don’t even go outside.

I don’t check my personal mail often.  It’s mostly spam at present, and I’m sitting at the same computer all day every day.  When I’m done I just want to get away there.  Hence, if you send us an email, it may take longer than normal to answer.  It’s not intentional.

I have made some time for reading—usually at night when I drop into bed, exhausted, and can’t sleep.  Which of course means I’m exhausted the next day, too, but that’s another matter.  And hey, if someone has come up with a solution for laying down in bed and reading with glasses on, I want to know about it. Falling asleep reading is a luxury I can no longer afford if I want to keep my glasses in good shape.

Amazon had a three-month no-pay option on Kindle Unlimited, so I took that up.  I have found some good books there, some bad books, and many in between. 

Somewhere along the line I hit a patch of, “Hey girl, you’ve inherited property and powers from a relation you’ve never heard of before, here’s the key,” urban cosies. I like wish fulfilment books as much as anyone, along with inherited powers, but please, please, make the protagonist work for those powers.  It’s not super-believable when your former non-powered, no-idea I had powers heroine is suddenly able to overcome bad guys who’ve been evil for hundreds of years.

(It reminds me a lot of Ringfit, actually. The computer exercise game I’m playing. You’re up against a super-buff supposedly-bad dragon who exercises all day every day, and you still manage to beat him. I think not. One hit from him and you’d be dead, even if he knocked you accidentally.  Truly.  There is no way a newbie like me could beat him in reality.  But I digress.)

Not only that, in age of scammers and identity theft, authors please don’t write stories where the protagonist takes someone’s word without verification.  Not without setting up a plausible background for it, anyway.

Five of the stories I read and discarded (nowadays I only read as far as I want to) started with the protagonist losing everything—job, home, boyfriend and/or family.  (Very convenient if you’re about to up sticks and cross the world.)  The doorbell rings.  The visitor turns out to be a lawyer, with the protagonist’s unknown [insert relative here]’s will, and the keys to the relative’s house.

Let me tell you dear author, I would think that person at the door is a scammer. I would shut the door in his face (it’s always a him) so fast he won’t finish talking.  If you come to my home and tell me you are a lawyer, I won’t believe you.  A legitimate lawyer would contact me by letter or phone first, set up an appointment, and I would go into his office to talk to him.  Only then, maybe, would I start to believe.

And if I was the lawyer, I certainly wouldn’t hand over the keys to the house and the bank deeds to a total stranger two minutes after knocking on the door, without verifying who they are.

I probably come across as hypocritical here, because I’ve said before, over and over, that I don’t expect my historical fantasies to be abide by ‘how we thought it was back then’, but I find it harder to suspend belief when it’s current time and my own country (two of these books were set in Australia.)

I’d like my protagonists to have a modicum of common sense.

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The things we take for granted

Trailer for As Good As It Gets

I’d heard about the movie As Good as it Gets long before I ever saw it. Back then it was often cited in screenwriting classes as a good example of screenwriting. I don’t know if it still is. When I finally did see it, I enjoyed it. It’s a film about an obsessive-compulsive romance author (Melvin) who falls in love with Carol, a waitress at the café he goes to every day. He’s the type who has to sit at the same table every day, too, right down to glaring unpleasantly if someone is in his seat, until they move.

Carol has an ill son, and she spends a lot of time looking after the boy.

Even thought I enjoyed the movie, one thing I never understood was why she didn’t take him to a doctor and get him tested.

I mean, I knew in a subliminal way, that it was expensive going to the doctor or to a hospital in the US, and that health insurance is tied to many people’s jobs, but knowing that and realising the consequences can be two different things.

It wasn’t until the introduction of Obamacare—and its attempted dismantling by the current US government—and then the onset of COVID-19, when we started to hear lots and lots of stories about the impact lack of medical care has on US citizens, that I finally got it.

We take for granted that those of us who live in Western cultures have similar lifestyles. And we do, mostly. But we assume everything is the same when it’s not. Here in Australia Carol’s son would have undergone a battery of tests by now, and given she was on a low wage, it most likely wouldn’t have cost her much.

We judge others by our experiences, particularly when they seem to be exactly like us.

In many ways, this can be more of a problem than someone in a completely alien situation. The things we take for granted are often the things we understand the least.