Why do we write the books we write?

mrsPandUrsula

I look at my latest novel and I think, why? Why did I write it, that book, that particular book in that particular way? Why didn’t I write a different novel, or write it in a different way? Why didn’t someone else write that novel? Why do I write any book at all nowadays?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Fixing Mrs Philpott, and lots of other people have told me they do too. (Allow me to toss in a few encouraging adjectives from my 24 fans: exuberant, giggling, positive, terrific writing, great fun, feminist, intrepid, life-affirming, adorable…) I love my funny worried self-deluding heroine and the cover and the entire concoction of stories and characters and earthquakes and sex and unstoppable tips from friends and strangers. Nevertheless, I’m puzzled about why I wrote it.

Not about why I write books in general: that’s fairly straightforward (on the surface). I love writing books, that’s why. I get high on the adventure, the puzzle, the impossibly difficult project. It’s how I get my thrills— intellectual (as half-formed ideas stretch out and colonise my brain), emotional (fear, pride, fear, the ecstasy of Flow), and aesthetic. That’s enough reason, surely?

But still, why writing instead of say, mathematics or scuba diving? A bunch of writing genes, a library habit, a ready-made audience of five sisters? No, because then we would have six poet-novelists in the family. Maybe some credit is due to aphantasia, leading me to compensate for mind-blindness with extra skills in language, narrative, and abstract thinking. That’s a stretch. Maybe the fact that my mother was briefly engaged to an eminent poet. (What? No. No!)

Who cares? I write books. I can’t help it. It’s a habit.

You are different. You write for your own particular reasons. I wonder what they are… maybe you’ll tell me…

That leaves the specific question: why did I write Fixing Mrs Philpott? I’ll leave that for another day.

Classic DIY recording booth

33073780492_0ab1508fce_z

I am proud of this Heath Robinson contraption in my study. My unique and glorious video recording booth is the result of about ten months’ trial and error and ingenious problem solving. What problems, you ask? Multiple engineering problems associated with recording short video lectures for my new online courses, for example:

  1. reduce echo to get a clear and friendly small room audio quality
  2. put lights in ideal position
  3. ditto for microphone
  4. ditto for MacBook Pro & its iSight camera
  5. enable impromptu instant recording any time without hanging drapes and duvets or moving stuff around
  6. record against a simple unobtrusive background
  7. and all this while keeping my study the serene space that it used to be.

They’re all one problem really and I hope they’re now all sorted. Except No. 6, which I’m working on.

How to make your own video recording booth for $64

So, you could make one too! Here’s what you need. Total cost $64 for the entire booth. (I’m not counting the hardware, namely microphone, computer and lights.)

  1. a basic stand-up desk borrowed from your friend who may take it back at any time
  2. 6 clamps (those orange sticky-out handles) ($54)
  3. 2 yoga mats,and scissors to cut them with (experience in home dressmaking an advantage) ($10)
  4. 11 bulldog clips (scrounge through office spaces and under couches)
  5. 2 pieces of old padded sofa cover (you know where they are)
  6. cheap plastic trolley with four trays (still usable for office stationery, ipad, Kindle etc))
  7. one cushion subdivided, two pillow cases (sacrificed in the cause)
  8. 8 large books (because trolley and standup desk are still too low).

In case you didn’t notice, I can’t stand sitting down for such tasks.

I’m just too clever for this world

So there you are! This is a classic blog post of the self-satisfied variety. I am just so proud (or maybe that’s relieved) I had to skite.

Now, about those courses…

Birthday girl

cartwheel4-2

hey it’s my birthday!
I know that
but do you?

I popped out of my mother
upside down and early
and I jerked and jumped

right out of my pram
they called me Jigger
the baby who never lay still

when you think of the odds
what a miracle
what a marvel, what a thrill!

and every single day since then
I’ve clambered
out from the dark of sleep

and there I was and here I am
with another 20 years ahead
to jiggle and wriggle and always

upside down and early
to squeeze and crawl and run
out of the dark and into the sun

and every day’s my happy
and every day’s my birthday
I haven’t had my fill

here I am I am I am
happy birthday me
happy birthday you
—-

poem written in a rush on 24 February 2017, my 77th birthday
rachel mcalpine CC BY 2.0
that means you may copy it and share it, but give me credit
and please note that this sudden poem may well be altered when I settle down

Happy birthday to you! (You woke up, didn’t you?)

A dirty old day in terrorized New Zealand

headlines

Now let us do our duty: a swift scan
of the headlines for one shameful day
in a land of slime
and terror.

Minister not keen on drive
Freedom campers use beach as toilet
New Zealand, man up like Dan Carter
Melania wants to start clean

Police honesty box charge
A dance with The Boss
Closure for cat lover
Dog saved from kayak

Easter Sunday trading is here
Pineapple on pizza—for or against?
People safe after fire
When your succulent won’t stop growing

Stop there! It’s all too much.
Why fixate on the false and the filthy?
Take it away.
Let’s all emigrate to the USA.


poem & screenshot by rachel mcalpine CC BY 2.0

 

Fishing the grid

img_7926

a small boat floating
on a sea of memories
words I readily
use swim
near the surface

some words dwell
in the darkest deeps
every year
more nouns and
names

but I
will fight the good
fight
on the tip of my
tongue

buyer’s remorse I think
slower
I’m slowing
her
down

I want to churn
the cross
words
at my chosen
speed


This poem was FOUND in a blog post by James Wallace Harris
poem & photo by rachel mcalpine CC BY 2.0

What’s a found poem doing in a prose blog?

It’s all my stuff,whether it happens to be on this blog or on my blog across the way (Poems in the Wild). But this particular poem is a found poem, and as such, of interest to the original writer and his own followers. Who write and read prose. What a tangled web we weave.

In brief, I loved James’s original post about crosswords and memory and aging, and couldn’t resist reassembling some of his phrases into a poem that added a hesitant rhythm to the sound and meaning, to suggest that too-familiar experience of fishing around for that elusive word.

Thank you James!

Joy of writing #2—sharing

meeow-book-feast
Mini-book fair, maxi-book launch: sharing with readers and writers

Most writers adore those moments when readers tell you how much they loved one of your books. When they quiz you about how you write, why you write, and why you wrote a particular thing a particular way. When their eyes glow and you know that you touched this person with your words.

It’s love you receive at those moments. Love and attention and respect — often from a complete stranger. And you feel simultaneously high as a kite and grateful, humble, almost embarrassed to think that someone has paid such close attention to your writing.

Mini-book fair, maxi-book launch at Meeow Cafe

Last week eight indie or self-published novelists got together for a Kiwi Book Feast, where they launched new books together and met some of their readers. I thought this was a lovely idea — to share the planning, the costs, and the fun with fellow writers. It’s certainly an idea worth developing and repeating. Launching a solitary book is huge fun but it’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. Launching eight gives the audience a sense of perspective and some choices — but not too many.

Double sharing: with readers and fellow writers

The multiple book launch gives writers another opportunity to share their ideas with readers in person. It also requires writers to share the work and the limelight of a book launch with each other.

Have you been to any similar event? It’s the first time I’ve encountered a multiple book launch and I’m curious.

No more mush: mindfulness to the rescue

2364980971_5a9e200b99_z
photo of trifle by Brooke Raymond CC BY-SA 2.0

When life deals you something very very good and something very very bad, how to cope? How do you keep the layers of life from merging into one great ugly mush?

It’s Thursday 16 February 2017.

It’s nearly 8am, nearly time to go to Webstock, a stellar conference that I’ve been so looking forward to.Webstock is a spa for the brain, featuring the humane and visionary side of (mainly) information technology. Held in the stately St James Theatre in Wellington, it’s two days of awesome speakers, top coffee, top ice-cream, top food, and interesting company. I’m especially looking forward to certain speakers, but I know that the two days will be saturated with surprises.

But it’s Thursday 16 February 2017, and my home town of Christchurch is smothered in smoke, dominated by a mega-fire raging on the Port Hills and driving towards the city. Among my relatives alone, at least one family has evacuated their home. My heart is breaking for this precious city that was whacked by earthquakes and is still struggling back up from that disaster.

It is not fair… life is not fair.

And lurking in the background is climate change, for our so-called summer has been a crazy mush of wild winds, hot days, and storms, switching daily.

The job: to relish every blueberry

But I must get dressed. Angsting won’t help. And what a crime to waste this truly exceptional conference by being there with only half a brain. Mindfulness rules and gratitude today.

I can’t terminate the worries. But I’ll keep them in their place.