Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More launch photos

these are taken by the lovely and ever-helpful Mark.

Coppertooled happiness

The process of stamping the inside and crafting the outside of my books is laborious, but very satisfying. I'm guessing it takes me about 25 minutes to do each book. Only 9 left to do!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Yummy launch

I'm still feeling a warm glow from my first ever book launch (are they all this much fun? If so, I'll start writing now!). It was a bit of a rush to the finish, as the books were only ready from the printer's a few days before, and I was still madly hand-tooling the copperplate squares for the front cover right up to the last minute, which meant I only had 44 copies ready to take with me to the launch. Which I thought would be enough, but we actually ran out of copies rather fast!

People were spilling out the doors of the small dim sum shop (photos to follow), making for an authentically squashed atmosphere, which was kind of fun. I didn't hear any complaints about the dim sums, in fact they all went rather fast, so I assume they were good. The only person who complained loudly about being at a poetry reading was my 3 year old nephew Marcus, who was temporarily placated by being promised more dumplings. I'm particularly proud that there was a good Asian representation of artists, writers, media people, and "arts appreciators" and of course in the manner of small communities they all started talking to each other and finding out they were related!

I was really lucky to have some talented guests as well - so thanks Michael, Doug, Anna Kaye, Lynette and Ming Cher for making the occasion what it was. I owe you guys big time! Thanks to Gus for the wonderful images above.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


About half an hour ago, I decided to call it quits on the "proofing" of my manuscript,which has occupied me for the last 10 days. "Proofing" for me isn't just proofreading, but also rewriting, trimming and addition of extra material (including parts of chapters). So now I am printing out Draft 2 of my novel: 74,668 words, 364 pages double spaced. Just hope and pray that my dad's aging laser printer won't pass out from the exertion before I finish. Yes: I'm killing trees. Yes: I feel terrible about this. No: I can't do anything about it, this time.

The clock is still ticking: I now have just over three hours to finish printing two copies, go get them bound (cheap spiral) and hand in at the uni. Have now been awake 24.5 hours, and drunk 5 cups of coffee. So I'm probably looking like a "properly" bedraggled author. Hope this makes some of you (you know who you are) happy.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

tick tock

22 hours to go until I have to hand in the thesis/novel. I'm tired of staring at the computer screen.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Radio rant

I've been featured in an online poetry show, "Poets with Wings" run by a local independent radio station called Jam Radio. I'm interviewed with my friends Miriam and Daniel about writing poetry while travelling. To listen, go to:

and click on "Pounamu: Poets with wings". (use Firefox internet browser to open if Explorer doesn't work.)

The interview with me starts at about 20 mins in, and I read poems at: 28 mins ("Safe Haven"), 29 mins ("I write her name", poem by Shen), 49 mins ("Patagonia") and 56 mins ("Un poema pequeno", written in Spanish). There's a loop track from 29 mins to 49 mins which you should ignore. :)

Friday, October 12, 2007

The method.

Well, actually there isn't a method. But this is a photo of what my room looks like at the moment:

The post-it notes are what I'm using to keep track of my chapters. There are two main characters, thus the pink and blue stickies (and no, it doesn't mean one is a boy and one is a girl). The other post it notes, beneath the main 3-row sequence, are notes on themes, possible plot elements, and reminders for things I need to add.

It's been a steep learning curve trying to figure out how to construct a long narrative, and the curve is still going upwards. I've tried all kinds of things so far, character sheets, synopsies, mindmaps, diagrams, flow charts (that's the one taped above the sticky notes). A lot of the moving around of plot chunks or new plot ideas still happen in my head, usually in the mornings just after I wake up. I have to try and write down my ideas before I lose them.

The current method is borrowed from filmscripting. The post-it notes are a version of "storyboarding" -though as my film director sister has pointed out, a real storyboard would have a sequence of pictures and few words, not a lot of words and no pictures as I do. For me (being a novelist), the words carry the picture.

It's the 12th. 12 more days to go.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chinese whispers

My parents, up until now, have been standing back watching my sudden veer in career direction with what I interpret as baffled bemusement. I'm surprised they are so calm about it, actually. But maybe they are just happy to see me so happy.

But over the last week, both of them have suddenly demonstrated enthusiasm for my newfound vocation. It started, innocently enough, with me requesting my mother to write for me, in Chinese script, the text of a Cantonese saying I'd heard since childhood: "Every grain of rice means hard work". This is one of four Chinese poems or sayings that I am using as a touchstone for my novel.

For those who don't know, I am illiterate in my first spoken language, Chinese. These days, my parents are too fatigued (from years of haranguing me and my sisters) to suggest any more Chinese Lessons, but become instantly delighted and hopeful if we demonstrate any interest whatsoever.

Anyway, I found out through a quick Google that this saying had evolved from an earlier four-line poem attributed to a Chinese Philosopher, Cheng Chan-Pao, and that led me to ask my Dad if he could find the original poem in Chinese. Half an hour later I heard my Dad making a long-distance call to his mate in Hong Kong to ask him for advice. His friend, Uncle Hung, is an ex-Waikato University Professor who just happens to be a descendant of Confucius. "My daughter's writing a book...." my dad started off, proudly. Later Dad called me into his study to show me what he'd found so far. He was surrounded by open Chinese dictionaries and literary texts and looked happy as Larry (whoever Larry is).

A few days later, a fax arrived at his surgery. Uncle Hung had enlisted the help of the Professor of Chinese at Hong Kong University who had trawled his way through the compendium of best Chinese literature ever written (there are lots of volumes and thousands of pages, apparently) and come up with the original of the poem I was looking for. Only it wasn't by Cheng Chan-Pao, it was by Li Shen, a famous Tang Dynasty Poet (772-845 AD).

What had started off as curiosity on my part had become an international scavenger hunt. And I was starting to discover something that mustn't happen only in Chinese literature : the transmission and transmutation of a particularly good line, down through the ages. From poem to philosophy to common saying.

My father suggested I try to translate the original poem myself, now. I was quite surprised by this suggestion, since it must rate as the first time he's acknowledged that I am writing poetry. So I got him to read it to me several times in both Cantonese and Mandarin (they are represented by the same characters, but the pronunciation is very different) and explain the meaning and intent of the characters. Then I tried to match the rhyme scheme, meaning and rhythm of the original as closely as I could. Here it is:

Spade, rice plant, sun at midday,
Sweat drips down on green terrain.
Who knows how a bowl becomes full?
Every grain by hard work gained.

As a final part to this international, intergenerational collaboration, my father has just come home tonight with an envelope almost as big as his smile. Inside were two carefully folded pieces of rice paper, on which were written, in a beautiful hand, the Chinese sayings I'd asked for, plus the poem you see above. They had been transcribed for me by a renowned calligrapher, my father explained. His friend.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ballet lessons

Does anyone have a memory of ballet lessons? I did them when I was 7 (for 3 long years). Mostly I remember always being the one who was out of step with the rest of the class, the ungainly one always going left when everyone was going right, sticking my foot forward when it was supposed to go back. I've always been somewhat uncoordinated. Which is why it's weird that in my adult life, I love dancing.

Anyway, the point I was getting to was, the ballet mistress would always go down the line of bodies, adjusting this foot or that arm position, telling you to suck in your belly, pull your shoulders back. So you'd maintain this "ideal posture" until she got past you, and when she was past you you'd let out your breath again and let yourself slouch a bit.

Writing is like that. Since I started formally studying the process of creative writing, and with my various informal interactions with people, I have been conscious of sucking in my stomach, making sure my sentences were lean, that there were no unnecessary words, that there weren't too many adverbs, that my prose wasn't overrun with -ings. This was when I started learning about poetry. When I started writing plays and short stories I learnt about not stating the obvious, about showing not telling, about suggesting rather than making my dialogue too "on the nose", and hundreds of other things.

The novel form, I was told (not by my teachers I hasten to add), is a great form. Here is where you don't have to watch every sentence or pare it down to the bare minimum. You can let your characters out to play. You can put in things that are, strictly speaking, unnecessary just because you like them. In a phrase (I naively thought when I started this project), you can let it all hang out.

This is a fallacy, as you've probably already guessed. A novel, as I've discovered this year, requires you to follow (or at least discriminately break) all of the aforementioned "rules" of good writing, but you have to follow them for longer. And it adds in further disciplines (plot, character development, thematic shading and so on)on top of that. It's hard and I'm feeling it.

To go back to the original (and by now rather strained) metaphor, I've been a bit lazy while the ballet mistress wasn't looking, but she's back and I'm desperately trying to hide the fat and pull the shoulders back so that at least it looks good, even if it doesn't feel so good.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Shouting on paper

Earlier in the year my tutor, Jen, told me that "shouting on the page is much louder than shouting in real life." At the time I'd looked at her like she was crazy, but now, 1.75 (or so) novel drafts later, I'll say those are wise words.

Shouting, crying, or for that matter farting, on the page are much louder than if you merely get exposed to it, say in a film or even in real life. Why? Because the words on the page have to be processed through the brain of the reader, meaning they sound inside your reader's head, banging right against emotion, thought, soul and whatever else they have in there.

I initially found this entirely by accident, though it took me a while (including time to digest Jen's words) to actually realise what I'd discovered. In my writing, I'm aiming for a limited third person right-behind-the-eyes point of view. I hope this will lead to a more intense experience for my readers, though there is a question as to how much sustained intensity they can take. I'm trying desperately to write a contemporary novel* here and don't particularly want to accidentally end up with James Bond. (no dodginess meant.)

*What is exactly is a contemporary novel? I don't pretend to have much of a clue. But I try and read them, when I'm able.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Writing Treadmill

I think I have a writing routine happening. It goes something like this:

1230 Wake up. Have shower.

1315 have breakfast with my parents, who are having lunch.

1340 turn on computer. Write, with breaks when I lose concentration or when I am interrupted by phone calls etc. Drink my two daily cups of coffee. Sometimes walk around but spend majority of time as slob. Oh, and it's important the internet computer gets turned off, or I'm on there all day instead of writing.

1700 eat again.

around 1900 go out to evening activity - poetry, or plays usually.

around 2200 or a bit later. Get back. Turn on computer. Start writing again.

0200 Snack.

0400 Snack and hot drink to warm up.

0530 or so. Too sleepy to continue, so go upstairs (bumping into things I'm so tired), brush teeth, put on flannel pyjamas/cardigan/scarf/beanie/eyeshades over what I've been wearing during the day, set alarm to go off 7 hours later, crawl under sheets in unheated bedroom (I'm saving carbon credits) and pass out.

You're probably thinking I sound like a grot, and it's true. But then no one ever said it was all glamorous being a writer. If you could see me now (wearing glasses, messy pigtails, and an old trasksuit) your low opinion would be further confirmed. *Sigh*.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Money Conversation

Yesterday an envelope arrived from The Edge (the Auckland arts and performance titan) addressed to "Renee Liang, Theatre Reviewer, Lumiere Reader." It was a weird feeling to be addressed as "Theatre Reviewer." Oh well. I guess that makes me official then.

Accordingly, last night I went to a thought-provoking solo show, wrote my review after I got home (I finished writing at 2 am and then kept going on my novel until 5.30 am - I think my natural tendency is to be a night owl)and accordingly, posted my review for Lumiere here.

note: A TV crew was also there on opening night. The story can be watched here. ("Money for Nothing".)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Just got off the phone to a friend who finished his second novel a couple of weeks ago. He says he's in "post-natal depression" - he's mourning the loss of the bump that he's been carrying round for the past two years.

I'm jealous that he's finished, and quite happy to accept the possibility of a similar affliction just as long as I actually finish the damn thing. As of two weeks ago I have entered a self-imposed "cloistered period", though those around me will say that I seem to have a slightly loose definition of cloistered (I am certainly not living the life of a nun). I guess I mean that I'm trying not to book myself in for too many leisurely coffees, a lifestyle I have sadly gotten far too used to in the past year.

The thesis-cum-novel draft is due on 24th of this month, thus the lengthening lines on my forehead and the very slowly lengthening manuscript. It seems odd to think that I will be giving birth to a novel in three weeks, whether the birth is prematurely induced or not. Part of the reason it seems odd is that I'm still (at this late stage) trying to visualise what the foetus looks like, and even to figure out how many toes it will have. In the same way that you can't be completely sure if your baby will be normally formed/compatible with life until it is born, so I will not be sure until I can see it out in the open, unprotected from the outside world. Anyway, I will have no choice. Come the 24th three assessors will be reading my manuscript, ready or not. Arrrgghhh.