Writing process

Books read 2018

I haven’t forgotten that I promised two more Lord of the Rings tours from New Zealand, but this is the end of the year and it’s time for our annual “Books we read and liked” over 2018.

This was a year of classics.  We read, or re-read, a lot of what we deem the modern urban fantasy classics.  Ilona Andrew’s Kate Daniels books, Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson books (first time reading these, and loved them). And, of course, there was a new Anne Bishop Others’ book, Lake Silence, which we read as soon as it came out.

We both read, and loved, the three Murderbot books that Martha Wells put out this year.  Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy. They were great.

We also picked up a couple of non-fiction volumes. One of them is Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay. It’s an older book, but very interesting, about how paint colors originally came about.  Highly recommended for any fantasy writer, chock-full of idea generating topics. The other is edited by Dan Koboldt and is called Putting the Science into Science Fiction. It’s posts from a website where experts talk about their fields of expertise, and some of the misconceptions that authors make.  It’s a fantastic book for generating science fiction ideas.

Expect some ideas for our novels to come out of those two books.  Particularly the one talking about color.

Recommendations for this year.  All the above books, of course, but we’ve picked out these two specifically.

Sherylyn recommends

Sarah Prineas’s middle grade novel, The Lost Books, about a boy who wants to be a librarian.  (Funny how there are so many books about libraries and librarians around.)  (I loved it, too.)  One of the things we both loved about it was that even though Alex had run away from home, he still loved his family and they loved him.  (Hope that’s not a spoiler.)  If you like the Magic Thief series, you should like this book, too.

Karen recommends

Witchmark by C. L. Polk.  I wanted to like this book because I loved the cover.  I’m glad it turned out to be a good story as well.  It’s a steampunk, WW1 era m/m fantasy, if you can imagine that, about a doctor, also a witch, who runs away from home because he doesn’t want to be enslaved to his sister. It sounds crazy but it works.

Next week, it’s back to New Zealand, and a tour of WETA.

Fun stuff

Best wishes for the festive season

Books and movies Fun stuff

Canterbury Station, Mt Sunday and Lord of the Rings

My exceptionally ordinary photograph of Mt Sunday, which is not the mountains behind (which I initially thought) but the big rock on the left side of the picture.

So, we’re back from our cruise to New Zealand (and Tassie, because, why not stay on the ship another five days). 

Both islands (or is that all three) were fantastic, as you’d expect.

And we have internet again.  Yay.  It’s amazing the connectivity you take for granted until you don’t have it.  Or, rather, you can have it, but you have to pay a lot for it.

In New Zealand we did a Lord of the Rings theme. We took four tours, three of which were Lord of the Rings (LOTR) related. I’m going to talk about those over the next few weeks, interspersed with some usual end of the year blogging stuff.

I used my phone to take photos, didn’t wear my glasses most of the time. As a result, my photos are terrible. But I’m going to inflict them on you anyway.  If they’re really bad, I’ll get some stock photos as well, just to show how good things really looked.

Our first LOTR trip was to through the Canterbury plains and up to Mt Sunday. This was the set for the exterior of Edoras, which was where the Rohan people lived.

We were told before we booked that there was nothing left of the set there. We just wanted to see it, and to see some of the glorious scenery that New Zealand provides.  It was a nine hour tour. The ship was in port for ten hours, but you had to be back in nine, so you can imagine how tight the time was.  (Tip. For a tour like this, always book through the ship, because they guarantee to wait for you if you do. If you book it through a private operator, they won’t wait.)

The tour started at 8:00am.  We didn’t get onto the port until after 8:30.

We spent at least three hours being driven through the Canterbury plains, and getting some interesting facts about the countryside, about farming, and how it has changed.  For example, even though it looks lush and green, there isn’t much topsoil. Erosion is a real problem.  The area used to be used sheep and wheat, but then they started using those massive irrigators which is lowering the water table and doing a lot of other damage.  Who’d have thought, says me, with some cynicism, because I live in a country where we’ve done exactly the same thing.  You’d think we’d learn by now, wouldn’t you. Nowadays, it’s dairy now and grass.

Anyway, enough of that.  Back to LOTR.

After the plains our bus started into the Southern Alps. The weather was overcast, but pleasant. A beautiful day in beautiful, beautiful, country. Another guide, Cheryl, joined us.  She was a local, and she and her family had camped out in the alps all their life.

She also told us—which Barry, our bus driver hadn’t—that Barry had worked with Peter Jackson as a security person in a number of Jackson’s films.

As we went into the mountains we started to get Lord of the Rings stories. A lot from our guide, Cheryl, but some from Barry, too. 

There was the tale of the station owner, the photographer and the helicopter.  They had an agreement with the station owner that he wouldn’t let anyone on his land to view the filming, but he ended up taking a photographer over in his helicopter. The pictures were published. Jackson’s company decided to sue, because they did have a contract. But then someone let the set horses out one night, and they needed a helicopter to round them up.  Guess who had a helicopter close by?

They got their horses within a few hours and but I believe that the station owner came out on top–at least monetarily.

Why did someone let the horses out?

Ugly fandom rearing its head. Apparently some people felt so strongly that Peter Jackson shouldn’t be making Lord of the Rings they went out of their way to sabotage the filming.

We finally got to the site.  You could still see snow on the alps in the background, even though it was summer.  The scenery was breathtaking.

There was a wind.  Apparently it was mild.  Guide Cheryl showed us the picture of Eowyn (Miranda Otto) standing on the outside of the hall at Mt Edoras with her hair swirling one way and a flag swirling the opposite way.  This is not a fake. The wind really does swirl like that. (You might see it in the video below.)

We posed with swords and axes and Barry took a photo of me with a sword (quite heavy), but my phone really doesn’t take good photos. My head was blurred.  That’s one picture you are not seeing.

On the way back we stopped for lunch at a memorial hall in a country town that reminded of all the country towns of my childhood.  Volunteers fed us juice, champagne, sandwiches and cake.  It was the best food we’d had on the whole trip.  (Don’t, whatever you do, get on a ship thinking you’ll get gourmet food.  You won’t. You’ll get more food than you can eat, and it’s okay, but nothing to write home about.  You can eat all day (and all night.) By the end of the cruise I was craving some good bibimbap, or crispy noodles, oh, and a decent pasta.)  This beef sandwich, with it’s soft grain bread, pickles, and cheese, was heaven.

On the way back, Barry told us a little bit about how he’d come to work for Peter Jackson. He’d been a policeman, worked for a while in the police museum, and had collected information about a New Zealand murder case that Jackson based his film Heavenly Creatures on.  Barry’d had quite a career, believe me.

When we went to get back in the bus, we found we had a problem. The rattling over the dirt roads had loosened the ignition barrel (if that’s what you call it—it’s the thing that holds the ignition) and the ignition had dropped into the barrel.  It had dropped so far down that he couldn’t get the key in to turn the bus on.

We had a tense half hour (for Barry, not for us, we stood around and enjoyed the scenery and talked to each other) while Barry tried to get the ignition thingy back up far enough for him to turn the key.

We got back to the port an hour after the last tender was supposed to leave. But because the tour had been arranged by the ship, it waited, it waited for us.

Sadly, we didn’t get to see anything of Akaroa, which looks a beautiful little port town.

Maybe next time.

All in all, it was a wonderful day.

Edoras as it was in the movie, courtesy of YouTube.
Writing process

Who’s the smartest?

So my smart watch isn’t so smart when it doesn’t have its internet umbilical cord.

We’re cruising from Australia to New Zealand.  We don’t have internet.  (Well, we could have internet, if we choose to pay 79c per minute.  It gets cheaper the more you purchase, but the maximum package is ten hours for $199.  It feels like the internet prices you paid twenty years ago.)

But anyway, time-wise New Zealand is two hours in front of Australia, so we have to put our clocks forward.  And my Versa Fitbit, which is also my watch, can’t manage it.

So far as I can work out, you can’t change the time on the Fitbit. It has to be changed in the controlling program, which is on my pc at home.

There may be a way to change it otherwise, but I don’t know how.  So right now I’m going around with a watch that’s set to permanently two hours too slow.

I’d like to think that the smartphone isn’t that smart, but the phone is controlling me, really. I’m not controlling the phone.

That’s smart.

Writing process

Gah, Gutenberg, Yay New Zealand

You may have noticed a few more typos in our blogs of late.

It’s not me.

I do make mistakes, some occasional typos, a bit of bad grammar, not deliberately, but they slip in. (You can rest assured that we edit our books a lot more than we edit our blogs.)

Word Press is in in the process of changing from its old editor (which wasn’t bad) to a new editor called Gutenberg. (Yes, named after that Gutenberg.) It’s not too bad, based around blocks rather than a full screen. Before Gutenberg the whole document was one long string of text, with paragraph breaks. Now each paragraph becomes a block, which you add and remove at will. An image is a block too, as is a heading.

Anyway, there were a few hiccups at the start, but nothing too onerous. Then suddenly, one release, it started pulling spaces out. It’s seemingly random. I have no idea why or what or how, but it happens. It may have something to do with the fact that I write the articles in Word first, I don’t know.

Worse still, Sherylyn proofreads the articles. “You have so many words run together,” she says.

“What?” I say. “I checked them in Word, and then afterwards, when I put them into Word Press. They’re fine.”

“Take a look.” So I look, and there’s a whole lot of words running together.

I edit the post and ensure every single space has been added back in. I save it. And guess what. New words run together.

You can almost see the steam coming out of my ears. It takes around five edits to get rid of them all, and even then I’m not really sure I’ve got them.

On another note. We’re holidaying in December. Cruising to New Zealand. We’re looking forward to it. We’ve dubbed this the “Lord of the Rings” holiday. We’ve already booked two Lord of the Rings tours, and are considering a third.

We’ll tell you about it if we get internet time, otherwise we’ll share photos when we get back.