The horror: an infodump

Image: AndriiKoval Adobe Stock Images

I have just written a five-page infodump. 

What’s worse, it’s an, “As you know, Bob,” type dump, where the protagonist lays out information he knows to other characters, one of whom knows it as well as he does, the other of whom is a ten-year-old child.  The information is way too technical for a kid of that age, by the way, but he’s asking super-intelligent questions.

Yes, well.

It was fun to write, and it clarified a lot of issues I had with a particular process, and the information will end up in the final story.  You won’t see it as that massive infodump, however.  Over the next few drafts I’m going to take little pieces of information from it, and ease them a paragraph at a time into the story so that the reader knows all those facts—ideally before they become important to the story.

Outside of these minor technical issues, the writing is going well. 😊


Spring writing

Freesias. Image: Laurentiu Lordache. Adobe Stock images

It is a glorious early-spring day. The kind of day that makes you feel alive.

We came home after three weeks away. The sun is shining, the sky is blue. I’m warm and loving being outside. The first of the freesias and other bulbs are out. Everything smells scented. It’s perfect writing weather, and the writing is going well.

(There is, alas, pollen as well. A certain housemate has been sneezing and snuffling for the last week.)

Freesias are one of my favourite scented flowers. Naturally, one of the first things we did was pick a freesia and put it in a vase.

Another scented but lesser-known flower I love is brown boronia. Flowering brown boronia is amazing. For such an inconspicuous little shrub the scent it puts out is heavenly.

It’s a hard plant to grow, or at least we’ve found so, so what we often do is buy a pot early in the season and enjoy it as long as we can.

Sadly, the pot never lasts past a season.

Brown boronia. Image by Andrew, Adobe Stock Images.

A bag of holding

If this fantasy character had a bag of holding he wouldn’t need to carry all those bags. Much more comfortable. Image by Charles, from Adobe Stock Images.

We’re travelling at the moment, driving up the east coast of Australia. We started in Melbourne on a cold ten degree Celsius day. Now we’re at the Queensland border and it’s a lovely sunny twenty-six degrees.

It’s always hard to pack for weather extremes. Not that this is really extreme, but one is jumper weather, the other is t-shirt weather, and winter gear always takes up more room than summer. Luckily we’ve got the car.

I want a bag of holding to hold all my clothes. That is, a bag that holds more on the outside than on the inside, and that doesn’t weigh much at all. Good bags of holding can be as small as a ring, or larger, like a backpack. They can hold anything from a large box of goods to a room full, or more.

Wouldn’t it be amazing for travelling overseas. (Although, I do believe that authorities can look with suspicion on travellers carrying too little luggage. Maybe a light suitcase for any overseas trips. 😊)


Oh, mama

Image: Anela R/ Adobe stock images.

The current story we are writing is set in the southern hemisphere. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just turned out that way as the novel progressed. That’s fine by me. I know all about living south of the equator and as a result it’s easier to write some of the world-building components.

Today I was writing about the weather, and one of the characters says to another, “That wind is straight from the south. I think it’ll snow.”

That’s going to jar some of our northern-hemisphere readers out of the story. After all, for those of you who live north of the equator, I expect that a south wind is a hot wind, much like our north wind is here. If we haven’t done our world-building well enough some readers will say, “This author has no idea,” and become a little less involved in the story.

No matter how hard an author tries, things the reader is unfamiliar with always have the potential to drag a reader out of the story.

One of these, for me, is the word ‘mom’.

Here in Australia our general form of address is Mum and Dad, so when I come across Mom there’s always this jarring moment where reality intrudes and takes me out of the book and plonks me right back into twenty-first century North America. I’m sure, likewise, Americans (and some Canadians) have a similar reaction to ‘mum’.

That’s why, in our stories, unless we’re trying for a particularly Australian tone (here’s looking at you, Danny and Gibbo) we’ll often try for different terms for parents. In this current book it’s Ma and Da, but you have to be careful with what you use. Ma and Da give the book what I’d call an almost peasant feel. Which works in this case because the story has a rural setting, but Ma and Pa aren’t exactly elegant, are they. What do rich people call their parents? Mother and Father? Mama and Papa? The problem is that naming parents is something everyone (or almost everyone) does. As a result it comes with a lot of preconceived stereotypes. Calling someone ‘mother’ conveys a different relationship that calling them Mom or Mum. A more formal one, and probably one from a family with more money. Mama (or Maman) and Papa are exotic and slightly foreign, and so on. At least, to this reader they are.


Chortling our way onto the word watch list

Two people giggling (or chortling)
Photo: Marcus Jacobi. Adobe Stock images

Chortle: to laugh in a noisy, gleeful way (verb); a noisy, gleeful laugh (noun).


I’ve no idea which story the word came from, but all my characters are chortling at the moment.

I have two characters, known to their friends as the twins, not because they are twins but because they’ve been brought up together and are as close as many siblings. You know the types, they end each other’s sentences, seem to read each other’s minds. And in this case, they chortle a lot.

Yesterday, I got an idea for a new story.

What I normally do when I get a story idea is open a new blank document, write until I have the idea down on paper—or in electronic form in this case—save it to the ideas folder, and then go back to the current story I am writing. These ideas can run anything from half a page to thirty pages, but they’re usually somewhere between two and ten pages long.

Those ideas are the basis for future stories.

I finish up the idea and reread it before I go back to the story I am writing.

What’s this? This character chortles, too. Not once but twice, in two pages of story. Oh no.

Sadly, I’m a bit of a word chameleon when it comes to writing. Some might even call it a word thief. I’ll read a story, pick up on a word out of that story, and start using it. I remember back when I was reading Robin Hobb’s Fitz series one of my characters started smiling wolfishly. The first three books, when Nightshade was still around. I really struggled to not use the word. In the end Sherylyn put it on her weasel words list and edited it out in the second draft.

I suspect that’s what will happen here, too.

Weasel words are words that add nothing to a sentence. For example, if I wrote ‘weasel words are generally words that add nothing useful to a sentence’ there’s a couple of weasel words in there. Words like ‘generally’ and phrases like ‘some people say’ or ‘in my opinion’.

Our word list has expanded to be more than just this type of writing. It includes the ‘wrylies’ (‘he said, wryly’) and pet words (like ‘chortle’). I suppose, technically, it’s more of a watch-word list. (And yes, I deliberately weaselled there.)

Enough said. I’m going back to my chortling twins.


A grammar question

Clothes hanging on line
I have neither hung nor hanged my washing on the line, for the clouds are a dull, lowering grey and the wind is icy. I threw my clothes into the dryer—which is one way of getting out of a grammar question, I suppose. Image: Anh. Adobe Stock Images.

A trend I have noticed is authors using use the transitive form of a verb rather than the intransitive for past tense. (A bit hazy on my grammar here, so if I have my transitives and intransitives wrong, apologies.)

For example, the author might say:

“The light shined on the sword.”

Where I would write:

“The light shone on the sword.”

It’s not just shined/shone.  Instead of “I woke early,” the protagonist says, “I waked early.”  Instead of “I hung the washing on the line,” the protagonist says, “I hanged the washing on the line.”

I googled it and shined seems to be a common US usage, but I can’t remember coming across it in books before.

I’m noticing this more in stories on Kindle Unlimited.  I don’t know if this trend is specific to self-publishing, whether it’s relatively new usage, or whether it’s just one of the differences between US and British usage and I haven’t noticed it before.

Which usage do you use?


Vivid Sydney

We took photos of the lights from the Vivid festival but can’t at the moment get the phone to talk to the PC in a format the PC recognises, so here’s a stock photo from an earlier year. This photo: Taras Vyshnya – I think it’s 2022.

We happened to be in Sydney this year while Vivid was on. This is a festival of lights (and other things, like food). This year it runs from 26 May to 17 June 2023.

I’ve always wanted to see it, so this year we stayed an extra day in Sydney so we could.

The lights are amazing. It’s well worth seeing at least the once. Very crowded, as you’d expect, but the lights were amazing.


Oh yes, things have changed

The view from my writing desk the day we were in Noumea.

As you know, we love cruising, and we’ve finally managed to cruise after all the years of not doing so as a result of covid.

First, a poll. (Excuse the format, it’s so long since I had to do anything in WordPress except post that I haven’t yet worked out how to change the font.)

Do you capitalise covid? My logic is that when you’re specifically naming the novel coronavirus disease that started in 2019 then it’s COVID-19 (because COVID is an acronym) but in general it’s okay to refer to it non-capitalised. i.e. covid, even though technically it’s sloppy and one should refer to it as coronavirus. I think of it like flu. Lots of people shorten influenza to flu.

I suspect many people will disagree with me. Which spelling do you use?

Which spelling do you prefer?

Which do you use?

Anyway, post-covid cruising has definitely changed, at least on the two cruise lines we have been on.

If you’ve never been cruising before, I always imagine that an equivalent would be those old-fashioned holiday camps. (A “Nobody puts baby in the corner,” type resort.) In some ways it sounds awful, but there’s a magic about being on the water that I absolutely love. I mean, look at the view (above).

There were less staff, resulting in reduced service. The internet queue, for example, was still an hour-plus long three days into the cruise because there was only one person sorting out issues.

There were less activities. On one ship practically the only daytime activities the ship ran were trivia quizzes. Now, I do love trivia, but five, six times a day? Especially when the only alternative appeared to be bingo.

Most of all though were the extra costs creeping into everything. Want to do an aerobics class? Pay for it. Want to go to a speciality restaurant? Pay standard a-la-carte prices for it. Worst of all, half the food in the supposedly ‘free’ restaurants cost money.

So, cost-cutting is a big thing.

Both cruise lines we went on were on the lower-priced end of the spectrum. We’ll try a mid-range cruise next, to see if the cost-cutting is as bad there.

Despite all that, despite internet issues, and despite my own self-introduced technical problems once the internet got sorted out, it was a great break and writing got done, even if no posts were posted.


Holidays without internet

We’re on holiday at the moment. I planned to post weekly, but miscalculated on internet availability.

I’ll sort something soon.

Meantime, above is the view from my current writing desk. It’s a balmy 27 degrees Celsius, and there’s a delightful small breeze.

Tough times.

The writing’s going well.


Books read recently

I didn’t get a chance to do an end-of-year review of books I read last year so I’m going to do one now. Three books I have read recently that I enjoyed.

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

Del Rey, 27 September 2022

This is book three in Novik’s Scholomance series.

I suspect I’m not the only one who, when they finished book two with Orion stuck back in the Scholomance and El on the outside immediately assumed that book three would be about what happened when El went back inside to rescue Orion.

This wasn’t that book at all.

This was more about what happened outside the school.

It’s lovely when a book throws your expectations so much but you still enjoy the story.

I don’t want to say too much because, spoilers, but if you read and enjoyed Scholomance and The Last Graduate, you should enjoy this one too.

The Weight of Command by Michael Mammay

Falstaff Books, 17 January 2023

All the top brass are wiped out, so lowly lieutenant Keira Markov is placed in charge of the army. She has to contend with attacks, politics and another lieutenant who thinks he should have gotten the job due to seniority.

Classic military sci-fi.

This one’s new, and it’s my favourite Mammay since the Planetside trilogy.

The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley

Bloomsbury Publishing. 26 July 2022.

This one’s a little more downbeat that the others, covering as it does topics like ethics, scientific experimentation, radiation coverups, the gulags, KGB purges (post-Stalin) with some flashbacks to the German eugenics program.

The story is set in 1963 in a town in Soviet Russia where Valery Kolkhanov is studying the effects of radiation on mice. Except, there’s a lot that’s hidden in this town.

It’s a genteel story, very Natasha Pulley, quite depressing and horrifying in places. It does have a happy ending, but first read around there were parts I had to skip. Not because they were bad, per se, but because of things I knew from history. For example, I skipped the flashbacks first time around as soon as I realised (long before Valery did) where his samples were coming from.