Holiday With Books

There was beach and catching up with old friends and good food and lovely places as well as the books.

The first of many scenic picnic spots, with Prue, dappled.

The first of many scenic picnic spots, with Prue, dappled.

The birthday pile

The birthday pile – presents from Prue, along with a fifteen-session ticket to Writers’ Week.

The books part began with the birthday pile. And there was one more book for the birthday morning the day after we arrived in Auckland.  A and F were as welcoming as ever and there was catching up over Indian takeaways and wine. I mentioned to them that I was about to do an online course about Walt Whitman and A found a copy of Leaves of Grass that had been given to her mother by the mother’s grandfather and had annotations. Lovely. A also gave me the booklet Howl by Alan Ginsberg that has a poem about Whitman in it that includes the wonderful line, “who killed the pork chops?  and talked about teaching Whitman early in her university career.

At dinner with my son and his girl-friend, he pressed upon me his copy of  Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, which looks into extremes of religious beliefs in he United States. He has had an important influence on my reading, getting  me started on science writers like Jarred Diamond.

When were further north, at Martin’s Bay, another A asked if I could explain to her why she likes some poets and not others. I’ve thought of a better answer since we left that goes something like this. There’s what the poem is about and there’s the words the poet has used. If either the content or the language strike a chord with me I like the poem. And if both what is said and how it is said come together to express something that really resonates with me I fall in love with the poem. Hardly profound, but I’m pleased that A set me off to thinking about it.

Prue with A (hidden) at Martin's Bay

Prue with A (hidden) at Martin’s Bay

On the way back to Auckland we stopped off to see E and B. There was a copy of The Luminaries sitting on a sofa, so of course, among all the other conversation we talked about that. Back at A and F’s The Luminaries came up again and they resolved to buy and read it.

At dinner, prepared by A and F for six of us, J said that at the suggestion of a friend she was re-reading Three Women by Marge Piercy and moved by writing about caring for someone who had has a stroke, as she and her sister do their very best for and with their mother who has been severely incapacitated by a stroke. H talked about researching family history and delving into The Coming of the Pakeha to Auckland Province. We went to a party with A and F, and E, who I know only slightly, said how she had got some of my novels from the library and they had been a welcome and pleasant distraction from some difficulties over the summer. I liked hearing that. And later, an email from C, visiting from the UK, to whom I had given a copy of where the heArt is, saying how she had enjoyed it and making some thoughtful comments.

I finished The Flamethrowers, which I referred to last week, and ended up liking it more by the end. Author Rachel Kushner is coming to Writers’ Week in Wellington soon and I shall go and hear her. The other book I’ve read this holiday, also from the birthday pile, is Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Harold sets out to post a letter and ends up walking the length of England to see the dying woman to whom the letter is addressed. This story could so easily have been mawkish, and it isn’t, it’s about regret and guilt and how what we do, or don’t do, determines what we think of ourselves and hence how we behave. It’s a lovely story, well told.

One of many Coromandel panoramas.

One of many Coromandel panoramas.

On Prue’s mind is on a contract she has recently signed to undertake another left-wing-feminist-economics book for a NZ publisher’s Ebook series.  She and I are both resolving to do serious writing from April, when other commitments and The Wellington International Arts Festival are over. On the drive home we each talked at length about our writing projects and the kilometres flew by.

A Print Book Out There

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Last Tuesday the print version of where the heArt is was launched at LILAC, Wellington’s lesbian library, quite possibly the only one of its kind. It’s a subscription library and describes itself as “for women-oriented women.” Find out more at its website at: I had been asked to say something about writing and about publishing and to read from the book.

“The best training for writing is reading’ I said; not an original statement, but one I believe to be true. I talked also about content—as in feelings, experience, imagination, thought—and craft, the “how to” of good writing, using Elements of Style, which I mentioned in my last blog entry, as an example of a useful resource.

Deciding what piece from a novel to read to an audience involves considerations of the plot of the book and not giving too much away. So I read the first chapter.

In talking about publishing I referred to the range of ways you can publish, from chapbooks, which are hand made and usually given away to friends and family to publishing by an established publisher with all their weight of expertise, marketing and distribution to bring to your book. The latter, of course, is accomplished by a tiny percentage of people who write.

So I identified a whole bunch of other ways of getting readers, from posting short pieces on Facebook, or your own blog, or entering competitions. Publishing an ebook requires less outlay than publishing a print book, though it’s a mistake to omit editing and design from the process, and it requires time and commitment.

Getting an agent I referred to in passing; it’s not something I’ve ever done myself. Join the New Zealand Society of Authors (‎), I suggested, for reliable, New Zealand-based information. Poking around on the internet for writing that relates to your own was another idea, you never know who or what you will find.My final piece of advice was to follow this blog.

An option I had forgotten about until my partner mentioned it after the event, is serialisation on the internet. Renée is publishing her book Once Bitten a chapter a week at her website

However anyone decides to seek readers for their writing it takes some effort, you can’t just plonk your story/ poem/ essay/novel on the internet and wait for people to find it. The good news is that there’s plenty of ‘how to’ information out there, just be wary of anyone who wants money before they’ve done anything.

Paper & Pixels

I grew up with books on paper. Now I use the internet a lot for finding out things, as well as the wonderful Wellington Public Library, but I still like to have a printed instruction manual when I’m learning new software. I may have crossed over, but I haven’t given up my old ways.

Thinking about this has come out of doing research for the novel I’m writing. For the first time I’m not writing on a word processing programme like TextEdit or Word or Pages, but on software especially developed for working on complex documents. I read a lot of reviews of specialised writing software on the web and one name kept coming up, along with enthusiastic reviews. I hadn’t previously heard of Scrivener, but I went with the endorsements of multiple users and bought it.

There are good online tutorials provided by the makers of Scrivener, but, yes, I bought a “how to use Scrivener” book as well. I use both. Often.

What I’m liking about the software are the organising tools, (an improvement on the colour-coded post- it notes I had all over my door) the ease of moving between files, being able to have two and more files open at once ( not nested) and the ability to save a web page directly to the research section and subsequently open it offline. Here’s a screenshot showing one of several ways of organising and re-organising your writing.

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Of course I have a large ring binder, in sections and subsections, of notes from books I’ve read, pages from magazines and papers, even some printouts from web pages.

No excuses, then, for not getting on with the writing. I can even, with Scrivener, create myself a computer screen that displays only the page I am writing on. Or I can have files all over the screen where I can see them that will open with a single click. There’s room on my desk for some open folders.

It’s a “both and” situation, not an “either/or” one. As The Miracles sang in the 1960s, “I like it like that.”


I last wrote a blog entry on 2 June.

It wasn’t working, this blogging business, it had got tedious, a chore. So I stopped, to think about what I wanted to do with it, if anything.

This is the restart. I moved the blog from blogspot to wordpress because it seemed to offer more options within my technical capacity. I’ve kept the name, “out there” because I like the way it can mean a number of things, including the idea of being out—visible in the world—as a lesbian.

I still read a lot and will talk about some of the books I read. I’m writing a new novel, so far without a title, that is hard and fun all at the same time. An urge to write more poetry is bubbling away, and the idea that this can happen in parallel to the novel. From time to time, therefore, I’ll post some pieces.


This is where I write.

Something every week, that’s my idea. On Mondays. Regular; a new challenge.

Today is Monday, I’m closing the gap.