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Port Lincoln

As part of our year of travel (two years really, because it’s 2023/2024, and it’s mostly, but not all, cruising), we’re in Port Lincoln, South Australia today. It’s the first time we’ve been here. Port Lincoln is famous for it’s tuna fishing, but coming into the port the standout is the massive silo elevator that loads wheat onto the ships. We are on deck eleven (equivalent to the eleventh floor in a building) and the elevator still towers above us. Walking down the pier, which is 500 metres long–that’s right, half a kilometre–in front of you are massive wheat silos. And I mean massive. There are fishing boats, too, big ones, but the silos made me very conscious that we’re also in wheat country and not only that we are also just on the edge of the Nullabor plain.

The Australian sun is harsh. I wasn’t out in it for long, but my face got a little sunburned. Which would be fine, except my hair at the minute covers one side of my face, so right now I’ve two-thirds of a pink face, with one side that’s still white. 🙂

There’s no photo today. At least, not for the moment. I’ll see if I can add one later (maybe even a stock photo, if one exists), because the harbour at Port Lincoln is amazing, and bigger than Sydney Harbour. I have an iPhone (on which I take photos), an iPad and a PC (on which I write the blogs), but no matter how I test my tech at home and they work perfectly together, as soon as I’m on the road they stop talking to each together.

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Comfort reads

I was catching up on other author’s blog posts and came across Ilona Andrews Comfort Reads post. (Yes, I’m behind, but you know, when the writing’s hot, you’ve got to write, not read.) Reading through the comments—because that’s half the fun of reading blog posts—I was happy to see that a lot of readers like my favourite, Sweep of the Blade. I love Maud’s story. I love Helen and her rippercushions. (And Arland’s okay, too. 😊)

It got me thinking, though. The topic of the blog was what was the author’s (Ilona’s in this case) favourite comfort-read novel of their own.

Like most authors, my favourite novel is often the one I am writing now (90,000 words so far, and still enjoying it) but if I had to choose from out admittedly small list of published stories for a comfort read I’d probably choose Confluence?

Why? I enjoy rereading them all, but I have all five books close to my desk and that’s the one I tend to pick up when I’m stuck with the writing (or yes, to be honest, wasting time) open to a page and then realise I’ve read to the end of the book.

Coming soon. Other authors book I have as comfort reads.

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Names

Ours is a very settled suburb. A combination of old families who’ve lived in the area all their lives, plus houses rented out to students who study at the local TAFE nearby.

Around ten years ago a new neighbour moved in across the back. We shared the back fence. She came around to introduce herself. “My name is Pei.”

I said, “What a lovely name. Spelt ‘P’, ‘e’, ‘i’?”

“Yes,” she said “Most people can’t spell it. I have an English name, too, if you’d prefer. It’s Susan.”

(Naturally I call her Pei, as that’s how she introduced herself.)

That was the last time a non-Anglo introduced themselves to me with a secondary Anglicised name.

Pei moved out six years ago, downsizing so her son and his family could live in the larger house. She came around to see us not long ago to talk about the back fence, which needs replacing.

“Hi,” she said. “I don’t know if you remember me, but it’s Pei, who owns the house across the back.”

She didn’t bother with the Anglicised name, probably hasn’t used it in years.

It used to be a thing, choosing an English name when you have a—to native English speakers—hard-to-pronounce name. It doesn’t seem to happen now. I can tell you it definitely doesn’t happen at work, or not the ones I knew. The non-Anglos I worked with had names like Kuo, Deepti, Shanshan and Xo.

Even when we went cruising, where the crew often come from countries like Indonesia or the Philippines, the staff used their own names. Agung, and Jesus, Jayachandra and Sanjay.

Until this last cruise.

Our Filipino room steward was Paul. Our Indonesian waiters in the dining room were Stanley and Rose. Upstairs in the buffet Sandra was another Filipino, while Wendy hailed from Xi’An (Terracotta Warrior country), in China. These people went home—to Indonesia, to the Philippines, to China—on their breaks. They’d be unlikely to choose Anglicised names anywhere but on the ship, and I’m quite sure their family and friends didn’t call them Stanley, Sandra, Wendy and Paul.

I didn’t get a chance to ask why they’d chosen Anglicised names. It’s not something you can ask, really—“Excuse me, were you told to pick English names or was it your choice?”—but I went home from the cruise feeling uncomfortable about it. It had that vague feeling of how the British used to call their Irish servants names like Jane and Rose and Lizzy because they found their actual names, like Maebh and Siobhan, too hard.

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Tahiti–there we went

I thought I’d be clever, and make this a play on words, rather than ‘here we come’ it was ‘there we went’ (because we’ve already been). Or should it be ‘there we go’. But seriously, when you have to spell out the punchline you already know the words don’t work.

That was a longer blog silence than I planned. We’re travelling at present and I am still getting used to setting up a viable internet service. We’re cruising right now–one long trans-Pacfic trip with just a few port days. We started in Honolulu.

Waikiki is a beautiful beach. Weatherwise, it was hot and felt more akin to Cairns than Brisbane, which, when I look at the map, I suppose it is.

We arrived at 6am, spent the day wandering around like zombies because neither of us slept on the plane and the next day got on the ship. Poor planning on our behalf, because we didn’t get time to see much. Next time we’ll take a couple of days as there were places we wanted to go but didn’t have enough time.

Internet prices on the ship were USD$20 per day. Given the exchange rate that comes out to AUD$30+ per day. Call me stingy, but I wasn’t prepared to pay that much. Especially not when I had international roaming on my phone which is only $5 per day (AUD). I decided to wait the week until French Polynesia.

Roaming worked in all three ports there but I couldn’t connect my laptop to the phone. I’ve never had any trouble doing that before. I though about buying a day’s worth of internet, but the ship didn’t look as if it sold that, only sold a package that lasted the rest of the cruise.

The photo above is the view from my ship balcony of Papeete, Tahiti, our last port in French Polynesia. All ports were tropical islands, all beautiful.

We spent another week at sea, including an extra day because we couldn’t get into Auckland because of the weather. (That’s cruising for you. Always expect the unexpected.) We finally arrived in Wellington. I had roaming. And internet. Yay. And then I mucked up the password and had to wait twenty-four hours for a reset, and by then we’re sailing again.

Clearly, I need to get my technical issues in order. Otherwise bite the bullet and start paying for shipboard internet access.

At least the writing is still going well.

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Grand final

Not the grand final, but the 2015 Anzac day football match at the MCG. It gets big crowds and is often a sellout, as is the final.
Image: OliverFoerstner – stock.adobe.com

Victoria, the state of Australia I live in, has eleven public holidays a year. New year, Christmas day, Boxing day (the day after Christmas), Australia day, Labour day, Anzac day, Good Friday and Easter Monday, Monarch’s birthday (formerly known as the Queen’s birthday, but not actually Elizabeth II’s birthday), grand final eve and Melbourne cup day.

The last two are quirky holidays, but I love them. Cup day. Well, first Tuesday in November and that’s the day half the state dresses in their finery and goes off to the races. (And gets drunk. And gets either soaked or sunburned, one or the other, and then the ladies all walk home barefooted, or in thongs (aka flip-flops, we put out thongs on our feet) because they’ve been wearing impossibly high heels all day.) Most of us try to partake in a sweep somewhere so we’ve all got a stake and a horse we’re supporting come three o’clock.

Melbourne cup has been around since 1877. Sadly for the young me, back then it was only a metropolitan holiday, so we country kids got an extended recess and the race over the public address system. Not that we really understood the momentousness of the occasion back then.

Grand final eve is a newer holiday, and I’m not sure if it’s permanent or if it’s still decided on a year-by-year basis. It’s the day before the Australian rules football (AFL) final is played.

This weekend was grand final weekend, which meant Friday was a public holiday. Because I don’t work any more tend to lose track of public holidays now. I didn’t miss the grand final buzz, however. It was everywhere.

Once upon a time (pre-covid) we’d find a pub with a big screen and settle down for the afternoon to watch. It’s a wonderful atmosphere if you can’t make it to the game. Nowadays we stay home and to be honest, don’t even watch the game.

Yesterday, grand final day, I went out to get us coffees from the 7-Eleven down the road.

“It must be a close game,” I said to Sherylyn. “There’s hardly a car on the road.”

It was a close game, the lead changed a number of times, and only four points difference at the end. (Four points is miniscule when one kick can net you six.) That’s the best kind of game. The most entertaining kind.

For those who are interested.

Collingwood (12.18.90) defeated Brisbane Lions (13.8.86), and if you’re wondering how the scoring works, the first number is the number of goals, they’re worth six points, the second is the number of points, and the third is the total points scored. e.g. 12×6 + 18 = 90.

And for those who follow the rugby. The other big football final, National Rugby League) is on in Sydney today (Sunday). I’m not ignoring that, just talking about AFL.

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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. 😊

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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.
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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. 😊)

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Oh, mama

Image: Anela R/peopleimages.com. 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.

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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).

OED

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.