Boots in spring

The weather sucks. It’s supposed to be spring. You know, the time when you feel a change in the air. When you dust off your walking shoes and then vacuum up said dust. When lambs get frisky and you think of joining a dating site again. None of that has happened. There are some mornings when it seems as if the sun is going to win, but then the wind comes up. Or the rain starts. Again. I’m still in jeans, a jumper and boots.20170815_202440

It would be good if the weather could make up its mind. Then again, why should the weather be any different? I’ve had enough of my stupid head too. Everyone knows I have a problem making up my mind. Shush your mouth – a sarcastic ‘What? You? Indecisive?’ is not called for. I have been known to meet someone, break up, get back together, break up, get engaged, break up, marry him, leave him, get back together, leave him, get divorced. But that’s only happened once.

The problem I have now is what to do next year. Apart from buy new boots because the one keeps falling down. I had this strange dream last night: The school I’ve just left, and the one to which I seem to keep returning (shush!), contacted me to say I was being considered for the role of HOD English. There were three of us being considered – a Science teacher from another school, the principal’s secretary, and me. I was walking around the school grounds playing loud rap music and the naughty kids said I was cool. I woke up in a panic. Not because I was playing a form of ‘music’ best suited to the naughty kids. But because the reality of only having another nine weeks’ employment is settling on my trembling skin. Do I grab any old teaching job or do I have faith that something will come up next year?

I’m not a risk-taker. I don’t deal well with uncertainty. Cue conversation with Inner Self.
IS: But didn’t you just leave South Africa twenty years ago with no job to go to, no place to stay and a few coins in your pocket?
Me: Well, yes.
IS: And didn’t you resign from the travel agency after 9/11 with no teaching job lined up?
Me: I did.
IS: And what about resigning your management position at the end of last year to follow your dream of writing a novel and getting your Masters?
Me: Yep, I did that too.
IS: Then I suggest you take off the boots you’re hiding in, and slip on your sandals. The sun is just around the corner.

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Kill your darlings

You know what the hardest thing is about writing? It’s having to not use all the words you know. Over years of avid reading and a love for language, I have accumulated a lexical cornucopia, a plethora of parlance. Now I have to throw all of those out of the window and use everyday vocabulary. That makes sense, I suppose. Could you imagine a modern novel written like Dickens or Austen? The problem is that, as soon as I sit down to play at being a writer, my fist slides up under my chin, my lips purse, my brow furrows and I stare vacantly at nothing. If you’ve seen Uncle Rico having his photo taken in Napoleon Dynamite, you will know what I mean.

It’s not just ‘big’ words, it’s also fancy phrasing. I should probably say ‘the sun set’ rather than ‘the warm hues of an exhausted sun reached tentatively across the darkening sky, before slipping silently into slumber.’ No wait, I might use that! See what I mean? In trying to paint a picture for my reader, I often lapse into ‘purple prose’ – it sounds writery in my head. A phrase I have recently been introduced to, which was first coined a hundred years ago and has since been attributed to some of the greats like Anton Chekov and Oskar Wilde, is to ‘kill your darlings’. Get rid of the phrases you think sound wonderful. They probably aren’t great for the reader.kill your darlings

When I sit at my computer with inactive fingers or sit at a coffee shop with a blank piece of paper and an empty stare, it’s not ‘writer’s block’. I don’t believe there is such a thing. I know exactly what is going into my story. It’s just finding a way of saying it.

That seems to be the way I operate – knowing what I want to say, but having it come out wrong. When my kids were small they learned this. When I came home to find blue feathers by the cat flap (that sounds like a short story title) I wanted to break the news gently to my son. I said, ‘The cat ate your bird.’ He cried.

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Five Essentials of Novel-Writing for the Emerging Author

I’m reblogging something for the first time ever because these are the things my writing mentor keeps telling me. Maybe if I hear them often enough, my novel will begin to resemble something publishable.

A Writer's Path


by Richard Risemberg

It’s tough out there; everyone’s writing novels, and many of them are pretty damn good. You will have a hard time marketing your book, whether you are self-published or have managed to get into a trade publishing house somewhere. Most books, even many deserving ones, vanish, leaving their authors to hope for van-Gogh-like posthumous success. But you can tilt the odds slightly in your favor by writing a book that is actually worth reading. Here are five essentials for the emerging novelist.

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Send in the clowns

A short play in one act, one scene.
Scene 1: A dark staged forest with cardboard trees.
Player one enters from stage left.

P1: Okay I’ve had enough. Yoo hoo! I said I’ve had enough!
Player two enters unseen from stage right and hides behind a tree.
P2: What’s the safe word?
P1: I can’t remember. Is it ‘stop’?
P2: What do you take me for? I wouldn’t have come up with a word like ‘stop’. Try again.
P1: Um, is it ‘Rumplestiltskin’?
P2: You’re an idiot.
P1: Listen, whoever you are, I really can’t remember and I would rather like to get out.
P2: But you haven’t found the meaning of life yet. You still have time. It’s only September the 14th.
P1: But I’m tired of feeling useless and ignored and broke and uncertain and…
P2: (booming voice) Enough!
P1: Ooh, scary voice. Well done.
P2: Thanks. Listen. You chose this path this year. You knew what it would entail. You can’t get out now.
P1: Is this some sort of joke? Am I part of an act? Like a circus act?
P2: W-w-what do you mean?
P1: Well, is the curtain going to open to reveal an audience? Or a dancing elephant?
Player two hurries offstage. Voices heard offstage.
P2: She knows. What should I do?
P3: Just send in the clowns.


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Sometimes you have to make your own


Trying to decide what to eat for lunch today, I resisted the temptation to reach for one of the chocolate brownies I made last night. I thought back to when I followed the Liver Cleansing Diet and how much I enjoyed having toast with honey and LSA. I don’t have toast, but I did have a stale bagel in the back of the fridge. I don’t have any LSA. But I do have linseeds, sunflower seeds and almonds. So I made my own. It was yum.

Life is often like that. We make our own. Our own choices, our own lunch, our own luck. A cliched expression often quoted by one of the principals I’ve worked with is ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get’. Of course, that floated above the heads of most of the teenagers being addressed. However, it is true. There are some things over which we have absolute control. I can choose to take the time to learn to bake properly. Do you have any idea how many times I have heard the words, ‘You’re so lucky you can bake.’ I can choose to raise my kids with a healthy sense of self-respect and pride in a job well done. And no, I am not ‘lucky’ that they have matured into decent human beings. Maybe I’ve made my own luck.

I can also make my own success. Of course, I don’t have control over which books publishers choose to invest in. And I don’t have control over the housing market when it comes to selling my house. But I do have control over what I do next year. Sort of. I am applying to teach in some of the Asian countries, grunting and sweating my way out of my comfort zone as the common sense guinea pig who lives on my shoulder wiggles his indignant nose at my non-sensible approach to life. I might also apply for some HOD jobs because, if I do stay in teaching in NZ, it might as well be as the boss.

My mother always told me I was fickle, and I have grown up vacillating between trying to prove her wrong and accepting she was right. I have tried to stick to things to show I can, and given up to show her she was right. I may change my mind before the end of the year. Hell, I might change my mind before the end of the hour! But at least I am giving myself a direction. And making my own way in the world.

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Anyone got a bridge for sale?

Technically, it’s still winter, but the sun is shining. That makes everything better. I had a gap in teaching today so I went and bought a coffee (fair trade, I might add). I parked down at the beach and watched the gulls float on the water. I thought of taking a picture for my blog, but I didn’t want to ruin the feeling. Do you sometimes find that you are so intent on capturing every moment to share on social media, that you forget to live in the moment? Anyway, I decided against it. The tide was in and the water was sparkling. It was almost enough to remind me that there is life outside the classroom.

The sun is shining…20170227_083723

I started writing this blog the other day. Then I stopped. Why? Was it a lie? Was the sun not shining? No, none of those things. It’s just that when I started thinking of life outside the classroom, I had nothing more to say. Now that I’m teaching full time for five months, there seems to be little time for anything outside of school work. So you see, I found that my thoughts were turning to the dark side. And nobody wants to read that.

Let me tell you how my novel is going. I was up at 5.30 this morning, working on it. By 4pm I had had about enough of rewriting and editing. But you know what? I loved it! I had plans to do all sorts of things if I got tired of writing. I was going to go for a walk, bake brownies, make lemon curd. I didn’t get to any of these things. I was living with my characters. Late this afternoon we went to the shop and it felt surreal. My mind was still in my book. It was awesome! I might just do it again tomorrow.

The question now is, what will I do next year? I could stay home and write, and not get paid, and end up living under a bridge. I could get another teaching job, have my brain implode, and end up living under a bridge. I could just sell my house and buy my own bridge right now, just in case.

Know of anyone selling one?

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The end of an era

I have a new job at a different school. That’s right, I am leaving the place that shall not be named. I know what you’re thinking – yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this before. I know I’ve had four farewells and it has become a running joke at the school. People laugh and say, ‘You’ll never leave.’ I laugh and say, ‘One day I will.’ And we both laugh and carry on with our day. Well, tomorrow is my last day there. For now perhaps.

I thought this picture of my burger tonight showed a suitable metaphor of death. And you can’t get more final than death.20170801_193406_resized

Am I giving up my studies, I hear you ask. No. Does that mean I won’t finish my novel, you ask. No. I am a woman of many talents.  I am on the second draft and will have it done by the end of October. I will make sure to post photos of my graduation next year. And of the book cover. Even if no one wants to publish it and I make a cover on Publisher. Or hand draw it.

I just got tired of looking after other people’s classes, so I took on some of my own. So much for having a year’s break from teaching! I guess it’s in my blood 🙂

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