Talking about things

I should be cleaning my bookshelf

Messy desk and bookshelf

How are you coping in these surreal times?  I hope you’re doing okay. Hang in there.

I’m into the first full week of self-isolation and work-from-home, although I have, technically, worked from home for the last three weeks, sans two days.

It started with a cold. Just the normal. Sneezing, sore throat, runny nose. Like many colds it came on full on the weekend—a long weekend, mind, so the three days of feeling rotten were the holiday period. I took two more days off, to be sure I was over any bugs.  By then, COVID-19 sanctions had hit.  I couldn’t go back to work without a doctor clearing me of any issues

That took the rest of the two weeks, just to be sure I was cleared.  I must say, I have never been the only person in the doctor’s waiting room before. It’s usually packed.

I didn’t get a COVID-19 test. Both the doctor and I were fairly sure I didn’t have it—if you’re interested, she tested my temperature, listened for any liquid in my lungs, and went through my symptoms—but she was at pains to emphasise that even though she was clearing me for work, she couldn’t guarantee I didn’t have COVID-19, as I hadn’t taken the Coronavirus test, only that I did not have the symptoms that indicated it.

Anyway, I was cleared for work, went back for two days, just in time for the work-from-home edict.

I am grateful I still have a job for the moment—many people don’t.

I am grateful I can work from home.  I work for a company that has a good work-life balance and allows us to work from home one day a week.  Not that I had been able to do so for the last six months, due to the project I am on, but we can, when we’re not so busy, so it wasn’t even a stretch (or an expense) to set up.

I am grateful I have a boss who looks after her staff and makes a real effort to ensure we’re not isolated while we are working from home.

I am not sick.  I am healthy(ish), although horribly unfit.

I thought I’d get more writing done.  I have two extra writing hours a day because I don’t have to commute. That hasn’t happened. Instead, I’ve worked longer hours. I can’t believe I’m doing this.  I start at nine and finish at nine, and when I’m finished I gobble a quick meal and go to bed.

This week I’m sticking to rigid office hours.

And I need to clean up the bookshelf behind my desk in preparation for work tomorrow.

That shelf is the one we put our junk onto, things we don’t anywhere else to put.  Especially electronic stuff, like cables and old keyboards. As you can imagine, it’s messy, and we’re doing lots of video conferences. Right now I take the laptop out to the kitchen to make the calls. I don’t want anyone to see to see mess behind me.  One day I’m going to forget and take the call at my desk.  I want it cleaned up before that.

Take care, everyone.

Talking about things

A time for discovery

Gregor Mendel’s painstaking work with pea flowers established the rules of heredity, which led on to further discoveries about genetics.

I’m slowly working my way through Alanna Mitchell’s The Spinning Magnet. It’s non-fiction, a book about the north and south magnetic poles switching and the impact that might have. The book caught my interest because we have an old story based around this idea that we’d love to revive. We shelved our original story because we thought advances in technology meant the switching wouldn’t have as much impact as we had originally believed.

We’re thinking of resurrecting the story because, according to Mitchell, something like this could still do a lot of damage to infrastructure and the environment.

Mitchell starts by giving the history of the discovery of electromagnetism.

What struck me, as I read, is how many people got parts of the theory right years before their part of the theory was accepted as fact, but were laughed at by their peers.

Alfred Wegener, for example, came up with the theory of continental drift back in 1915 and was criticised for it. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the theory became popular. (Continents drifting on a molten core is important to the concept of Earth as a massive electromagnet.)

But it’s not just electromagnetism where important findings are overlooked.

Nowadays, Gregor Mendel is known as the father of genetics, but while he was alive his paper on his garden of peas and his theories of inheritance were ignored while he was alive. Nowadays he’s known as the father of modern genetics.

You wonder how many other scientific discoveries are out there, even now, that are being derided or ignored. Or discoveries that people don’t publish because they didn’t want to be ridiculed.

Charles Darwin sat on his theory of the origin of the species by natural selection for years before publishing it. Not until a young, upstart scientist/writer by the name of Alfred Wallace sent him his (Wallace’s) own paper on his theory of natural selection which he’d developed from trips to the Amazon and the Malay Archipelago.

A year later, Darwin published his paper.

(To be fair, in between, he published a paper with Wallace, and he and Wallace apparently supported each other over the years.)

Alfred Wallace was well-known during his life, yet it’s only recently that he’s come back into favour. Most of us learned about Charles Darwin, we didn’t learn about his contemporary.

And what about poor old Mendel? I learned about Mendel and his peas in secondary school, and again at university. It’s only when we were researching genetics for Stars Uncharted that we discovered that if it hadn’t been for someone dredging up an old paper nearly fifty years after Mendel wrote his intial paper, we might never have known his about his painstaking research.

Maybe there’s something to be said, after all, for the academic ‘publish or perish’. At least academic papers are electronic nowadays. Put the right search terms in and someone up comes your work. Maybe they’ll quote it.

Or a science fiction writer might even find it and pick it up as an idea that might just work. You never know.

It wouldn’t be the first time a writer has picked up a crazy, seemingly far-out idea that was later proven to be factual.



Talking about things

Voting for the Hugos

2012 Hugo. Designed by: Deb Kosiba; Photo: Deb Kosiba.
2012 Hugo. Designed by: Deb Kosiba; Photo: Deb Kosiba.

In which I attempt to explain how Hugo voting works, and why I like the system*.

Compulsory voting

Here in Australia we have compulsory voting in elections.

I have to confess that in politics, I’m a huge fan of compulsory voting. If you live in a country where voting isn’t compulsory, you probably think I’m crazy, but I like it. To me, it changes the onus on choosing to have a say in your country’s politics from ‘opt-in’ to ‘opt-out’.

That may seem a small distinction, but it’s not.

With non-compulsory voting you have to opt-in, and you need to do it twice. First, you opt-in to register to vote. Then you opt-in to vote on the day. Maybe you don’t feel like voting that day. The weather’s bad. You don’t feel well. Some bully is threatening you while you stand in the voting line.  Maybe you missed the date to register.  Or all the candidates are equally bad, and you don’t want to vote for any of them.

With compulsory voting you have to opt-in, too, by registering to vote.  By choosing to not do this you are already making a choice. Theoretically you have chosen to be fined rather than vote.

Likewise, on polling day. Don’t turn up.  You have chosen to be fined, rather than vote.

Even if you do turn up, you don’t have to actually vote if you don’t want to.  Get your name marked off, take your papers, put them in the box without nominating anyone.

It’s not a perfect system, by any means, and there’s a whole stack of issues that come with it, but I still like it a lot better than the alternative.

Hugo voting isn’t compulsory

Despite the fact that I like my politics compulsory, voting for the Hugo isn’t compulsory, and I don’t think it should be.

You opt-in initially by purchasing a WorldCon ticket. You opt-in a second time by nominating various works/persons for the ballot. And then you opt-in a third time by actually voting on the shortlist.

So what’s this got to do with the Hugos, then?

Because that brings me to the other thing I like about the Australian voting system.

Preference voting

Hugo voting uses a variation of the Australian preferential voting system for voting on the shortlist.

(I’m not going to talk about voting to put items onto the ballot in the first place, that’s more of a straight count.  I’m also not going to talk about how parties can totally distort things in Australia politics by setting their own preferences, sometimes purely to spite other parties. You don’t have to vote along party lines.)

Voting on the Hugo shortlist is done using what they call runoff voting.

It works like this.

Suppose we have four books on the Hugo Best Novel.  (I know there’s more, but how long do you want this post to run for?  Let’s keep it simple. I’m also not going to use real names. I got these from the Fantasy Name Generators site.)

  • An Argument of Water
  • Bakker’s Butcher
  • Solar Flare
  • Life in the Vacuum

You go in and vote. Four books, five options, because not awarding the prize rather than voting for a book you don’t like is a valid option. Let’s say you vote as follows.

There can be two results.

An outright winner.

There’s no question here. Bakker’s Butcher got over 50% of the votes. It’s an outright winner.

But suppose the results are a lot closer? There’s no outright winner between a novel that gets 35% of the vote, and one that gets 32%.  (From now on I’ll leave out ‘no awards’ as I’m trying to keep this simple. Read the Hugo page for more detail on how No Award works.)

We then look at preferences.  Solar Flare only got 6% of the votes. So we take all the second choice votes for Solar Flare and distribute them amongst the other candidates.  Let’s say half the people who voted for Solar Flare voted Bakker’s Butcher second, and the other half voted for Life in the Vacuum second.

We still don’t have anyone with 50% of the votes. So we take the next lowest.

20% of the people who liked An Argument of Water voted for Life in the Vacuum as their second choice.

We have a winner.  Life in the Vacuum.  It’s not necessarily the winner you wanted, but there’s a good probability that more half the people voting put it in their top one or two books. Chances are it was also in your top 2-3.

It’s important, when you vote for the Hugos, to give serious consideration to not just what you think should come out on top, but also to how you rank the others. And to where you place No Award, if you choose to use it.

“But, you say, Bakker’s Butcher should have won. It got more votes first time around.”

Should it? It got less than half the votes, which means that half the voters didn’t think it was the best novel. And more voters put Life in the Vacuum in second place.

It’s not a perfect result by any means, but it does mean that when there is no clear-cut winner, the winner is the one deemed most popular overall.


* A couple of caveats.

This explanation is a rough approximation of how it works. I’ve left out a lot. If you want the full details, check it out on the Hugo website.

Also, it’s not perfect—politically or for the Hugos. It can be gamed. No Award is valuable in these cases.

On writing Talking about things

Speculate 18

From the Dungeons & Development: Character Under Pressure panel
From left to right: Ben McKenzie (moderator) and dungeon master (and dragon), Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman, Andrew McDonald and Brooke Maggs.
I didn’t get a picture of the band, there were too many heads in the way. The band leader was Maize Wallin ( Unfortunately, I didn’t write down the names of the band members, either. (I didn’t write anything, to be honest, but I took a photo of the intro slide, so at least I can name the speakers.) Music and effects were great.

Yesterday I went to the Speculate 18, which is a speculative writers’ festival, held here in Melbourne.

It was pretty good.

As festivals go, it was small. One stream, five sessions. But they were good sessions. Three in the morning, two in the afternoon.

The most fun session was the first one after lunch.  Dungeons & Development: Character Under Pressure where our four panel members and the moderator did a D&D role play live on stage, with a band to add sound effects on the side.

It was lots of fun, and the dynamic between everyone worked really well.

I couldn’t pick a standout session in the more serious topics.  They were all uniformly good, and I liked bits from all of them.

Two of my personal favourite bits were from Science Fiction: The Past, the Present, and What’s to Come.  One was Dirk Strasser’s summary of the current state of science fiction.  The most popular trends at present, he says, are climate fiction, generation ships, space opera, and gender themes.  Plus Laura Goodin’s point that back in the Victorian era, genre didn’t exist. Writers like Dickens happily wrote across genres.

The audience questions from this session led to some really thought-provoking answers, too.  One audience member asked whether the pace of scientific change would make science fiction irrelevant. No, Laura Goodin says, science fiction is a lens by which we see ourselves through fiction.

I have to agree with her.

A lot of people get this idea that science fiction is only about the science, and that somehow there’s no science left to discover.

I think most of us would agree that’s not true. Sure the mobile phones, artificial intelligence and self-driving cars and other things dreamed about in the forties, fifties and sixties are finally here, or nearly here, and the rate of change of some of these things has increased almost exponentially, but what about genetics? What about climate control? What about massive ocean farms?

Plus, science fiction isn’t really about science. It’s about people.  As Laura said, it’s a way to see ourselves. Fahrenheit 451 is still just as relevant today as it was when Ray Bradbury wrote it, even if instead of burning books they’re burning data stores. The Handmaid’s Tale shows us a bleak, dystopian future.

Science fiction is still doing what it set out to do. Entertain us, but also make us think.

The audience questions on all panels were good. (Kudos, too, to how they kept the questioners on track. No statements, just questions.) A question on an earlier panel sparked a discussion about the things writers take out of their books.  (What Sherylyn and I call our pet words.) Sadly, that got cut off because we’d run out of time.

Now, we just have to go back to our own manuscript and check for ‘somehow’. Which is, as was pointed out, a lazy way of having something happen without the author having to explain it.

Sherylyn (who came along, too), pulled her notebook out at the start of the first session. She started writing, and kept writing through the whole of session one.

“You took some comprehensive notes there,” I said, while they set up for the next session.

“Not notes,” she said. “The first thing they said, about describing the woman walking down the street. This whole idea popped into my head. I had to write it down.”

All in all, it was a good day.  I was exhausted by the end, I admit. Five sessions were enough.

Talking about things

Timing is everything when you’re finding books

I knew I was in trouble when I checked the time on my iPad.  2:59.  I’d planned on going to sleep early.

It had been an exhausting day, physically and emotionally.  I’d come home early, and the first thing I’d done was lay down and power nap. Only ten minutes, but it helped. Until around 9:00pm, when I could hardly hold my eyes open at the computer screen.

“I can’t stay awake,” I said. “I’m going to bed.”

I took my iPad to bed with me. Ten, fifteen minutes of relaxing reading would help, I thought.

It was only when the iPad flashed up the 10% battery warning that I looked at the time.  And how much I had left of the book.  I was somewhere between 70 and 80% done.

And I had a full day planned the next day.

To be honest, if the following day was a work day, I’d have watched the time more carefully, but it wasn’t, and I didn’t.

After that it became a race against time. Me finishing the book before the iPad ran out of battery.

I won. The battery was on 6% when I finally read the end at 4:02am.

The book I was reading.  Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country.

I’ve had the book three years now. I’ve picked it up a couple of times, put it down, picked it up again. The silly thing is, I’ve always loved the idea of it, but … it was never appealing enough to read more than the first chapter.

Sometimes there’s a right time to read a book. Read it at another time and you might find it okay, or meh, but you probably won’t love it. Read it after reading too many similar books in a row and it won’t impact either.

This was the right time for that book.

Talking about things

A history of migration in a suburb through its food

This little cafe makes the best bibimbap in the district. It’s fresh, it’s tasty. It’s delicious. They also do the spicy edamame beans (chilli, garlic, rosemary and salt) pictured on the home page.

When we were children, Chinese food sold in restaurants was a very Australianised version of Cantonese cuisine. Fried rice, beef with black bean sauce, lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork (the dish with pineapple). All of them were modified for the Western palate. I mean, chilli in your dish—I can’t even think of a dish that contained it. As for non-Chinese Asian cuisine, we didn’t even know it existed.

The area where we live is sandwiched between a TAFE (Technical and Further Education) college and a large shopping centre (shopping mall).

Back when we first moved here our little main street shopping strip had a newsagent, a post office, a fruit shop, a liquor shop, an Italian restaurant, a bakery, a mini-market and Chinese take-away. Across the road the big suburban pub (and I mean one of those monster ones you could practically land a plane in) served modern Australian cuisine. Think steaks, schnitzels, fish and chips.

When we moved here, the shopping centre was taking away all the business from the fruit shop, the mini-mart and the liquor store.

They closed.  So did the Italian restaurant. The newsagent and the post office amalgamated.

At the same time we were in the middle of an international education boom. Universities and TAFEs were actively recruiting overseas students, because of the money they brought in.

As the shops closed, little restaurants started to open in their place.  They were aimed at the students. Eel congees (in fact, congees in any shape or form), more soups, less stir fry.

You could tell the nationalities going through the TAFE by the shops that opened. Indonesian first. Then Korean. We learned to love es teler, then bibimbap.

Some cuisines passed us by altogether. Other suburbs were learning to love pho, rice paper rolls, green curry and pad thai. For us it was kim chi and Hainese chicken rice.

Some years ago the government changed the laws regarding TAFEs. They now had to compete directly with universities, whereas prior to this they had mostly acted as an entry-level to the universities, where the students would come and do a two-year diploma, while improving their English, and then move on to the universities.

The students started moving out.

At the same time, Melbourne (and the rest of Australia) were in the middle of a massive housing boom. As the more exclusive suburbs were priced out of most people’s affordability range, suburbs like ours started to become popular with young families looking to buy their first home.

The restaurants changed to suit.

Chinese restaurants are opening now, but it’s not Cantonese cuisine this time, it’s Szechuan (or Sichuan if you spell it that way).  Try dry-fried green beans with its mouth-puckering Szechuan pepper. Or Szechuan chicken.  (Love the beans by the way, used to eat them all the time. I thought they were healthy. I mean, fresh green beans. Turns out they’re deep fried most of the time.)

There you have it. The lifecycle of a suburb over twenty years, by the changing restaurant scene.

Talking about things

One percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration

When Linesman first came out, Sherylyn and I did a talk at one of our local libraries. There was time, afterwards, for questions.

“Do you consider yourself gifted?” one of the ladies in the audience asked.  “Having published a book and all.”

“No,” we said.  “We persevered.”

There are some truly gifted writers in the world. Not all of them are published.

Likewise, there are truly gifted artists in other areas.  People who can draw or paint, musicians, dancers. Not all of them are famous, or in jobs where they use their ability.

There are also lots of us who say, “I can’t draw.”  “I can’t write.”  “I can’t hold a tune.”

Yet most people can draw. We can write. We can hold a tune.

Provided we are taught how to.

We may not have natural, native talent that shines through, no matter what. But we can learn. If we get the chance. Or if we so want to do it that we will find a way to learn it, despite all the knockbacks we get for it.

How many people, for example, become authors if they can’t read or write?

I can’t hold a tune. But both my parents were musical. My father learned to play an instrument. My mother was natively talented. She could pick up a tune and would whistle along with it, perfectly in tune. Two of my sisters played musical instruments. They can hold tunes. I’m sure, if I learned how to, I could hold a tune too.

I can’t draw. I was never taught how to. Sherylyn couldn’t draw either. Not at school.  Until, as an adult, she decided to do a pottery course.  She enjoyed it so much she enrolled in the pottery certificate course at the local TAFE.  One of the subjects in that course was drawing. As you can imagine, she was nervous.  Like me, she thought she couldn’t draw.  I remember, at the end of the subject, we were sitting, talking, and she was sketching.  She showed me her picture.  It was me. Recognisably me.

Nowadays, she paints, and her paintings are recognisably what they’re meant to be.  She isn’t embarrassed to show them to other people.

Not bad for someone who left school ‘knowing’ they couldn’t draw or paint.

Likewise, with stories. If you want to write a novel, you have to learn how to. And then you have to persevere.  You have to write it. You have to edit it. You have to have learn the basics of grammar and sentence construction.  It’s a rare person who can write a novel on talent alone.

Most of us, luckily, are still taught to read and write at school.  Less of us are taught to draw, or paint, or play music.

I still can’t draw, but I drew the cartoon above after watching Graham Shaw’s TEDxHull talk, Why people can’t draw – and how to prove they can.  If I persevere, one day I might have drawings that I could show the world as well.

Even if I do learn to draw, I doubt that I’ll ever become more than a competent artist.  Drawing isn’t a passion for me the way writing is.  I can stop drawing, but I can’t see myself ever stop writing.

When you’re passionate about something like that, and are prepared to work and learn to improve it, that’s when the magic happens.  That’s when you go beyond ordinary into something you can be proud of.


If you’re interested in learning how to draw, I recommend Betty Edwards’ book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I know people who have worked through the book and come out with some impressive skills at the other end.

Talking about things

Halloween came late to our house

I kid you not, but the white of my eye is currently as red as the girl’s in this picture.

Growing up, Halloween was a weird celebration other countries (US, and maybe Canada) celebrated. We didn’t.

Over the years, Halloween has become a thing, here, with parents buying scary costumes for their children and the kids going around to neighbors’ houses. Or some of them, anyway. It hasn’t really become a thing in our suburb yet—although I can see it will—because until recently this was mostly a renter’s area, full of students who went to the local TAFE. But that’s changing. We’re in a suburb where the families are moving in. Kids are starting to appear.

So much so that this year we actually bought sweets and had them set aside in case someone rang the doorbell. No one did, so I might add that we had lollies left over (which we’re slowly eating), but … I digress.

For a long time I thought trick or treat meant that you either gave the kids lollies or scared them witless by being really scary. I know better now, but my old version of trick or treat would have worked really well in this last week.

You see, I had an injection in my eye last Tuesday and, to quote my eye doctor, “What must have happened is that somewhere along the way they nicked a blood vessel.”

For the last few days I’ve been going around thinking I looked like a vampire. Believe me, it looked bad. The blood pooled around the eye, totally covering the white. I would have taken a photo, but it looked so bad, I didn’t even want to show it.

I tell you, if it had been Halloween, and my definition of ‘trick or treat’ was scaring kids witless, all I would have had to do was answer the door in the dark and shine a torch on my face. They’d have run, screaming, and probably had nightmares for years afterwards.

Fact number one. I wasn’t a vampire.

For the first few days, I swanned (can I call it that?) around thinking I looked like a vampire. But investigating photos for the blog I realised that the pupils in vampires are red, not the whites of their eyes. So, definitely not a vampire.

In fact, the closest I could come was the Aswang of the Phillipines. A shapeshifting witch who eats unborn foetuses. According to Wikipedia, they’re not harmed by sunlight, they can be befriended, and they talk to you like any normal human. In fact, they even protect their friends and neighbours. They have bloodshot eyes, which is the result of staying up all night searching for where wakes are being held, so they can steal the bodies.

Mind you, my eye isn’t bloodshot. It is absolutely, irrevocably, bloody. There is no white whatsoever. It is red.

Blood red.

Fact number two. You can’t see how bad it is.

Seriously, other people recoil, but you can’t see how awful it looks, unless you look in the mirror.

Fact number three. It makes the eye look smaller.

I have to say, when there’s no white around the eye, the eye looks so much smaller. So all those monsters you read about that have red–or black–eyes where the white should be. Either they’ve got tiny little eyes, or otherwise their eyes are so much bigger than humans.

Fact number four. It could be worse.

I was sitting in a shop today, having my nails done, and the nail technician asked about my eye. By now, I had the spiel down pat. “I had an injection in the eye, and they nicked a blood vessel, and …”

“You’re lucky,” said the lady having her nails done next to me. “My sister had both eyes done. She spent a week walking around, looking like her husband had bashed her.”

I am lucky. It is only one eye. But believe me, I’m holding out for the week to be over.

Talking about things

Of tomatoes and onions

No, this is not Sherylyn’s picture. This an image from clip art, that I tried (unsuccessfully I think) to Photoshop using the oil paint filter.



We came up to Wangaratta this weekend to see our mother. It’s 270 kilometres, so we stop half-way for coffee and something light to eat.

By light, we mean something that’s not going to make us want to fall asleep in the car half an hour later.  What do we normally eat?  Tomato and onion sandwiches. Made with fresh bread, not toasted.

Now adding onion to a road trip may seem a weird thing to do, but it’s the perfect meal.  Fresh, light, and not too much.  The café we usually stop at isn’t grand to look at, but they have deliciously fresh bread, which is super important.  And the tomato’s been allowed to ripen, so it’s tasty, and doesn’t freeze your teeth.

We must be the only people who ever ask for this type of sandwich, however. The owner doesn’t recognise us—until we order the sandwiches.  Then she starts saying things like, “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

Of course, when we get back in the car, we need some gum to clean our teeth, otherwise we taste onion all the way to Mum’s place.


Tomatoes and onion as art

Sherylyn enjoys painting.  She did a “Drawing on the right side of the brain” class a few years back. Once they’d finished that, the class voted to move on to painting.  After a term everyone started doing their own projects, with the art teacher providing assistance as required.

Sherylyn’s concentrating on painting techniques.

One of these was a colorization (note my use of US spelling here, for no reason other than that I can) technique done using a palette knife.

The art teacher wanted her to do still life. (Art teacher loves people to draw fruit and veg.) Onions. So she could demonstrate the technique.

“Onions,” I said. “What do you want to paint onions for? What are you going to do with a picture of onions?”

Those onions stayed around for a whole painting term. And because she was learning the technique, she couldn’t finish it in her own time. That meant she had to keep the picture wet (it was that type of technique) and the paint on her palette from drying out.

The picture took up a whole shelf in the fridge. The paints a shelf in the freezer. In a two-person house there’s no need for a massive refrigerator. That was half the freezer, and a quarter of the fridge.

“Karen wants to know when she’s getting the fridge back,” she told the art teacher one week.

“Oh, but she’ll love it when the picture is finished and you hang it on your wall.”

“I don’t think she’s going to let hang an onion on the wall.”

The poor art teacher doesn’t know when Sherylyn’s being flippant, but it’s true. Neither of us wanted the picture on the wall, no matter how good it was.  While we both like to eat onions, we’re not going out of our way to hang pictures of them.

Next term, the art teacher wanted Sherylyn to continue the technique.

“Sure,” said Sherylyn, who’d enjoyed painting the last picture.

“I think you should do some tomatoes,” the art teacher said.

Now, the poor onions had lasted a whole eight-week term. The tomatoes didn’t last that long. Especially since this time she had to cut one in half, and paint the centre of the tomato as well. Imagine, if you can, what a moving target it is when you have to buy new tomatoes every third week. Especially when the tomatoes start off orange but get redder each the week as they ripen.

We got some nice tomato sandwiches in weeks three, six and eight, however. (The full ones, not the halved ones.)

I have to say, both pictures looked good, and the colouring in them was lovely. (Even if that first week, the guy locking the building after the class had finished said to Sherylyn as she carried her picture out to the car, “I can’t tell what half these people are painting.  At least I can see that yours are oranges.”)

Not long after that, the combined classes put on an art show. Every student was asked to provide artwork. Sherylyn put her tomatoes and onions in.

She dragged me along to the opening night.

I finally met the art teacher. “Sherylyn is so good,” she said. “Those pictures are amazing.”

“They’re okay,” I said. And I meant it.

We write novels together. We are honest with each other. Okay means, yes, they are okay. Amazing means wow, wow, wow! This is the best.

Later in the evening I met up with the art teacher again.

“Sherylyn is my best student,” she said.

“That’s nice,” I said. “She’s enjoying the class. That’s the most important thing.” I confess I’m not the world’s greatest conversationalist.

The new term started last week. The art teacher told Sherylyn, “I don’t think your sister is very supportive of your art.”

By the way, the tomato and the onion sold at the art show. We don’t have pictures of them, because Sherylyn forgot to take them before the show.

Talking about things

Is it just me?

Is it just me, or are Young Adult (YA) books going the way of their older sibling, the New Adult (NA)?

First, let me define what I mean by YA and NA.

Young adult fiction is fiction where the protagonist is a teenager. Usually mid-late teens rather than early teens. It is often a coming of age story. While the intended audience is teenagers themselves, these books are often also read by adults.

New adult fiction was intended to be stories about people just into adulthood. Late teens or early twenty-somethings. About what happens to teenagers after they finish secondary school and start on the next period of their life.  University/College, or work.

Or, as Cora Carmack succinctly wrote on her blog a few years back:

Young Adult books are about surviving adolescence and coming of age. New Adult is about how to live your life after that. New Adult is the “I’m officially an adult, now what?” phase.  Just like growing up, that life stage is different for everyone, but I do think there are some things that are constant.

Cora Carmack, The one about what new adult means to me

Except new adult very quickly turned into a specific type of book. Post-young adults and sex. In fact, it has a reputation as ‘sexed-up* young adult’ stories.

And you expect this, for yes, people that age are likely to have sex. Most of them, anyway. Many teens have sex as well, and one expects that to be reflected in young adult books too, although often not as explicitly.

I would also add, primary audience for new adult books appears to be female.

Young adult and new adult are marketing groupings, a way of putting books together in a bookstore so that the desired audience (people of around the same age or a little younger than the protagonists) can easily identify the books they want to read, books about people like them.

But it’s not just readers the age of the protagonists who read these books.  Adults do too, and voracious, mature younger readers as well.

I read a lot of young adult books. Fairly obviously, I enjoy them.  But lately they’re all starting to sound the same. So much so that the last three I picked up, I put down without reading past chapter two. In every one of the three books the heroine was an angsty 16-17 year-old. She hates, or is angry with, a handsome, superior boy a year or two older than herself. The only difference in all three books was the best friend.  One was a girl, and I wasn’t sure if she’d stick by the girl to the bitter end or betray her, another was the quiet, ever helpful guy as best friend who you knew would turn out to be secretly in love with the protagonist.  The third book didn’t have a best friend.


I need to read more widely.


* There’s a list on Goodreads, New Adult that’s not about sex. It looks to have interesting books, with authors like Rainbow Rowell. I think I might go and re-read Carry On.