Monday, 7 November 2011

The mind boggles.

What is it about some people that they cannot bear trees planted near them?

For the last three years I have been busy trying to turn 12 acres into a fairly self sufficient, small amount of income-earning horticultural block and the house into a Language School for Japanese homestay holidays, and a writers' retreat. I live in a glorious part of N.Z. with wonderful beaches, mountains and high country all in easy reach. It seems a sensible way to add to my pension when I reach pensionable age.

I have been working hard to plant windbreaks to shelter my tree crops. The tree crops I plan to grow are hazel nuts, a small pick your own orchard of apples, pears, cherries, apricots etc and Douglas fir and Scots Pine which have their roots inoculated with gourmet fungi, either saffron milkcaps or a member of the porcini family.

I do consider neighbours and before planting on my 12 acres I worked out what I could plant without shading, blocking or otherwise being a nuisance to neighbours. All my windbreaks are designed to be coppiced for firewood and thus aren't allowed to grow beyond 6 or 7 metres.

With all this planning then it becomes rather infuriating when one neighbour of my four neighbouring properties spends his whole time trying to get rid of me and my trees. I have had this man harassing me daily for the three years I have lived here. His threats and foul mouthing have been duly written down,reported to the police, taped, witnessed, and statements written as the police requested, yet nothing has been done.

This week, after having carefully checked with my friendly solicitor, I have been removing the nasty neighbour's electric fence reels hooked onto my boundary fence. The law is that both owners of a boundary fence must agree to anything done to the fence. I was not consulted and the three heavy reels have already stretched the wire. My nasty neighbour whined to the police.

Guess what? Oh yes The police came running to speak to me. Interesting isn't it? My neighbour has threatened me, stalked me along our mutual boundary fences, verbally abused me in sexual terms, and done this daily for three years, but the police have done nothing. My foul mouthed neighbour whines about my perfectly legal action and they jump.

It's still a man's world as far as the police go. I wonder if I'd been blond, glamourous and twenty years younger whether I'd have had more police attention!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Lordy, how time flies.

August done and gone and I didn't do my weekly blogging. Tut!

I've been teaching in one form or another most of my working life. Beginners are usually fun to teach, but beginning writers are definitely the worst people to teach.

One in ten new writers ranges from diabolically difficult to merely bloody awkward. Everyone learns to write at school so everyone thinks they can write a novel. Ah me!
Baby Beginners who are serious about using writing as an art form, a way of painting marvellous tales with carefully selected words will eventually become real writers but those people are rarely the one in ten.

I do feel sorry for the flagrant exhibitionists who want to be noticed and admired and see their names in the local newspaper. Why they think being a writer will do this for them I don't know. Perhaps they were ignored as children or believe that when they read about J.K. Rowling in the newspaper that they too can be like her. How little they know.

I'm grumbling because I've discovered that LinkedIn is a TakeIn. I'd been persuaded to join because it's a professional networking group. Oh yeah! Try the Authors and Writers group any of you experienced writers. It's full of the writing tutor's nightmare students. I've got my students tuning in to a particularly hilarious and sad couple of threads by a would-be writer who suffers from every newbie 'disease' possible. Sadly she is also rude to people who disagree with her and the lack of any moderator to remind her to respect her fellow writers is noticeable. I hope the other LinkedIn writers' group I've joined is better.

Friday, 12 August 2011

I can see the frustration, understand the rage.

The riots in the UK were a shock, it's the sort of behaviour one expects in American inner city ghettos or anywhere with people used to express their passions full bore, not like the stolid British. And, yes, of course there are opportunist baddies, thieves and thugs who know they can murder or pull of a tricky robbery and probably get away with it in the chaos.

But frustration with a life which seems hopeless, jobless, and which sets you in a society where you will receive no respect, and therefore you end up with little self respect, that can become anger-making. And anger and frustration, with nowhere to go, end up exploding.

When our Western societies have turned Capitalism into a religion, turned money into a god, and urge us all to consume more products with built in obsolescence, and buy, buy, buy, but ignore the other side, creating jobs, something will give eventually.

When films, TV and advertising all glorify possessions and obtaining them, and when films are made with heroes and heroines who are mass murderers, thieves or people who take what they want, we aren't exactly sending out 'good' messages.

Monday, 1 August 2011

What a waste!

I rarely watch TV. Can't stand all the American crap, this stupid vampire rubbish which seems quite dangerously unbalanced, let alone the violence which is so much a part of American films and TV programmes. There are so few interesting and intelligent programmes. I don't own a TV, didn't buy another when mine packed up. I am a slow writer and long quiet evenings are a great time for writing.

However last night a friend invited me to watch a programme following the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on its first grand European tour. The tour had been reported as a great success and I looked forward to seeing the orchestra in some of the concert halls I'd visited when I was travelling around Europe. New Zealand on Air had funded the film which was fronted by someone called Jeremy Wells. I should get to hear some great music.

My fury knew no bounds when it turns out that Master Wells thinks himself a comedian. So it was a programme about Jeremy Wells, focusing on him and not the orchestra. Some comedian, he sounded like a brat of five asking kindergarten joke questions. So the poor members of the orchestra faced infantile questions about 'doing number one and number twos', 'playing in the nude', 'sex before a concert' and such like rubbish. The poor German doctor was asked if she had to pick up testicles if a member of the orchestra had them sawn off by a fellow musician's bow.

Funny it was not. Pathetic, infantile and a complete waste of NZ on Air money it was. If it was meant to be 'young person' humour and an attempt to gain a younger audience for the orchestra then I don't know of young people who are as infantile and stupid as Master Wells was.

I hope I don't ever meet the idiot. I'd like to saw his testicles off and stuff them down his too large, flapping gabby mouth. The NZSO truly had a successful tour, it was diminished by his crass stupidity.

Monday, 18 July 2011

twitter and tweet indeed.

I dared to comment on an online forum that I found it sad that a social networking forum like Twitter seemed to be part of a world that promotes money and business over all else. Shock and horror. How dare I say that? It wasn't true, Twitter was wonderful etc. Well, sorry, but my brief experience tells me so.

I've been learning how to 'use' Twitter for the past 18 days. From day two I had two or more suggestions to follow with a sickly pink button beside them saying Promoted. All of these promoted things turned out to be businesses selling clothes and stuff I do not want.

I followed a suggestion to use the hash key and join the Friday reads book group. My first tweet to them was about the remarkable, well written, and thoroughly thought provoking, Inspector Shan series by Eliot Pattison, set in Tibet. I then received a tweet from a travel company which makes tours to Tibet. Tweet is the wrong word it was just a business message.

Since I have complained to Twitter support all the suggestions to follow businesses with Promoted buttons beside them have vanished. I've discovered how to block any businesses which bother me. However now I am receiving tweets from people I am not following, nor are they following me. It's difficult enough reading and understanding the Tweets from the people I follow as it is without tweets from some twit raving about baseball which I hate.

I am picky, I only follow writers I know or want to know, a few small press publishers I know and like their books, and reader/book groups like the Guardian one.
So how does Twitter dare post on my Twitter site so much promoted business when I am clearly not interested in anything other than writing, reading, and publishing? All it does is convince me that Twitter is only after making money from compiling information about the people using the system and flogging it off to business interests.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Bread and butter.

Coming back to New Zealand after, what, around ten years in Asia, I was horrified by the food prices and the deterioration in quality, particularly in bread. I felt like Elizabeth David and wished she were alive to start her Save our Bread campaign all over again.

When I finally settled and found a good supply of flour from the local specialty baker I started baking bread again. It is such a quick and easy thing to do and the end product is delicious. What horrifies me is that whenever I have to go to a pot-luck or 'Ladies a plate' social, and take a filled loaf, a cheese loaf or a pizza, people are amazed. They make two comments, one about the time it must take and the other about the effort. Considering the number of TV cooking programmes where the presenter urges people to make bread I wonder what it takes to get the message home that making bread is easy and the result is a helluva lot better than shop bought stuff which now seems more like soggy cardboard than ever.

I have an overnight recipe or two, a good keep-it-in-the-fridge recipe, a no-knead recipe, and a simple to remember recipe which I can throw into the Kenwood and let its dough hook do all the work. I have taught these to several interested people who trot happily home. Alas, when I meet them weeks later they are buying bread again. Why? I think it's because bread requires people to be organised, to plan ahead and remember. And because people are so used to shop bought stuff they cannot get their families to accept the different texture, taste and smell of real bread. Sad.

If I can get enough cream I make butter. It's easy to do but my visitors often exclaim how different it tastes, how sweet it is. Seems to me we are all so used to manufactured stuff ew've lost our taste buds.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Why the fuss?

All we writers dream of a big publishing deal with those publishing conglomerates, all that's left of the publishers I remember. I've always wanted a penguin or an oak tree on my book, but it's so complicated now. No more bringing on a new writer, if that first book fails to make enough sales then the second book often isn't published and the writer is struck off the publisher's list! It's grim.

In my last year at university I wrote a book, one of those YA horse books. It went to Collins who published the horse books I liked. It was provisionally accepted and I had to line up with an editor and work with her to make it perfect. However I was off on the great O.E. (Overseas Experience) so didn't follow through but smiled to myself and thought 'Well, I'm a writer, I've cracked it.'

Today Collins has been eaten up by one of those money making concerns and getting a book near them or any publisher is almost impossible. We have to approach publishers through agents.

Find an agent? Those agents I have approached, and who kindly replied, tell me that they receive anything from 6,000 to 8,000 queries a year. And only take on one or two writers.


It seems to me that agents are like film critics. They are jaded. They have read so much that only the most outrageous or the obviously (in their eyes) commercial stuff is acceptable.

But the technological revolution has hit the world of publishing and I believe it has done so with enough impact to make a real and beneficial difference to writers’ lives. You wouldn't think that to hear so many writers screaming about e-publishing.

There was a huge panic when Penguin published their paperbacks. Publishers screamed ‘It’s the end of the book.’ What actually happened was that books became affordable to people who had not read very much and couldn’t afford to. People who wouldn’t be seen dead reading a whopping great hardback book, with its taint of school, and lack of cool, happily shoved a small, lightweight paperback in their pockets and read. There was a golden age of reading and a paradise of markets for writers.

I happen to think it’s happened again.

The new technologies have brought us new forms of writers’ markets, to whit, MP3 and MP4 audio and audio-visual downloads, and e-publishing.

The new readers are that large group of people, tech-educated, and mobile, who do occasionally read, but are ‘too busy to read much’. They travel and are heavily into gadgets. Flying is boring, carrying several paperbacks is a pain with weight-limited hand luggage. An ebook reader is lighter than a paperback, holds up to three thousand five hundred books and it’s a with-it gadget. So are i-pods and their clones. Everyone under forty seems to be permanently plugged into these gizmos only the size of an after eight mint. Even mobile phones can download stories. What is more, downloading an ebook is affordable. No more $40 books, ebooks and stories are usually in the $1 to $8 range, many are free.

Amazon ebook sales are soaring, outselling standard books. The 'Big' publishers, like Penguin, are dipping their toes in, but with rotten royalties. Most of the established Independent Small Press book publishers already offer ebook forms of their authors’ works at the same time as producing a paperback copy. The e-publishers were there first and are now extending into print as well.

I've been encouraging my students and writer friends to test the market and sell reprint rights of those old published stories tucked away at the back of the drawer, to MP3 markets which accept reprints. It's amazing how many markets there are, they pay and they sell. There are a lot of people buying stories to listen to as they drive, or jog, or wait in queues, and many of these people don't set foot in a library. It's a whole new market.

As for e-publishers why are so many writers so reluctant to see their work published this way? Romance, SF and Fantasy writers aren't, and several tell me their incomes have shot up since they leapt on board with ebook versions of their work.

Never mind the decent royalties, between 40% and 80%, and the excellent sales work done by e-publishers with you to help you promote your book. No, it’s their attitude to writers. Anyone who has tangled with the web of agents and publishers these days will understand. These Small Presses claim to value their writers, and they seem to. Writers I know are satisfied. These Small Press/Indie e-publishers generally have editors who know their job, who are polite and pleasant to work with, have clear and simple contracts, pay on time and can even allow writer collaboration on the artwork.

When the 'Big Boy' multinational publishers appear to only want a celebrity author, a story they are sure they can sell, (and don’t they get it wrong?) and a money making writer with their first book, the flexibility of e-publishers, those Small Presses and Indies, is a gift for us writers. It’s a step back to the old days of nurturing the writer’s talent and skills, where both the editor and author had the same goal, publishing the best writing the author could achieve.

There’s another good reason for going to an ebook publisher, staying in print. And I mean print, for most epublishers offer a POD as well as an electronic form of a book. Twenty years from now your grandchildren can go to the epublisher and ask for a copy of your books. Try that with the multinational publishers. It certainly helps a writer’s income if all their books are available at the flick of the computer button. Readers like it too.

We haven’t really got into ebooks in New Zealand yet, but I encourage my students and writer friends to think seriously about using an epublisher. At the moment they are accessible, often not requiring submission via an agent. They don’t mind where their authors live, they respond quickly by email. They are open to unusual, not easy to label works as well as the classic genre novel and they’ll sell all around the world.

And if I have to hear another writer whine that e-publishers are second best I shall personally sit them down and make them actually read the websites and writers' guidelines. They are not second best, the writer's novel has to be submitted in the usual way. It may be rejected. It will be edited and polished and carefully marketed. What e-publishing is giving writers is another form of market and an increase in their earnings.

Why all the fuss? Why not cheer instead.