Monthly Archives: October 2012

I Cut It Finer Than You Do!

About a week ago, Mike, from the Zebra Clan, invited me to attend his blog party! I have never attended a blog-party before, so it was awesome to get the invitation. Like most blog parties (I assume — I’ve never been to one before) this one is a theme-party. And the theme of the party is… bragging! We get to brag about ourselves without fear of reproach.

Today I am going to brag about my close shaves. I won’t brag about my close shaves on a broom-stick (which may or may not involve muggles in helicopters), I’ll brag about my close shaves in airports. I’ll brag about the great number of plane flights that I have nearly missed: far more, I am sure, than you!

The first flight that I remember almost missing (though I’m sure there were others before then) was in September 2004. Our family turned up at Phnom Penh Airport wanting to fly to Kuala Lumpur, and from there, four days later, to Sydney. But the officials said that Mum would need special permission to obtain a Malaysian visa, because she was seven months pregnant. To obtain the permission, we would have to go to the Malaysian Embassy in Phnom Penh. That would almost certainly mean missing our flight! But after some tense discussion, we were saved: they let us transfer our KL-to-Sydney tickets so that we would only spend six hours in Kuala Lumpur Airport. We saw all our relatives four days earlier than we expected!

Then there was the time in April 2010, when we were due to fly from Sydney to Bangkok. By this time our family had grown to six, so it was necessary to come to the airport in two cars. Dad and I came with a friend of Grandpa’s: we had a smooth trip across Sydney and were at the airport within an hour. We waited… and waited for Grandpa and girls in the other car. I was beginning to bite my nails, eyeing the departure board in suspense, when finally they arrived — at least half an hour after us. Grandpa had taken a miss-turn (most unlike him) and had gone through the city centre which was thick with traffic. We hastily said our good-byes, checked in, and fairly ran to the gate — where we discovered that the plane was running even later than we were.

On the most exciting case of all, however, I wasn’t even flying. It was July 2010 and the oldest of my three younger sisters and my Mum were flying from Phnom Penh to Singapore. The rest of us were driving down to the coast. We dropped them off at the airport and set off, but we had hardly been going five minutes when Mum called. Dad was driving, so I spent at least ten seconds trying to figure out how to answer the mobile phone: “They’re not letting us fly.” She said, when I finally picked up, “Ruth doesn’t have a Cambodian visa in her passport.” We abruptly did an about turn and were soon back at the airport. The problem was soon apparent: Ruth had recently been issued a new passport. The visa was in the old one. “Well where is the old one?” the airport officials asked, “Can you go into the city and get it?” But it wasn’t that simple. We had left the passport at home — a full nine hours drive from Phnom Penh! The only alternative was for her to get a new visa. We rushed across the busy road to the office where visas could be issued. The official wasn’t in. I paced the office in frustration while the others sat. About five minutes later, someone came to get us a visa — but we would need a photo. Dad fled back across the busy road like a rabbit and retrieved the camera from the car; he snapped a hasty shot of Ruth, jumped into the car and drove off in search of a photo-developing place. Now the rest of us sat — or paced — and the official patiently filled out the forms. In a surprisingly short space of time, Dad was back — screeching to a halt in an illegal parking spot, bolting to office without bothering to lock the car, and thrusting the photo down on the secretary’s desk. Then Ruth and Mum sprinted back across the road and caught the plane with minutes to spare. I considered including Ruth’s visa photo here, but she wouldn’t like that one bit: it was a shocker of a photo.

More recently there was the time we flew from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo. We spent too much time eating breakfast in the airport, and by the time we were ready to go through Customs we were already cutting it fine. But at Customs we were in the queue of a novice official and our line moved like dripping tar. By the time we got through, it was 12 minutes past boarding time. As we hurried to the plane — no buses in the budget terminal — we heard our names called over the loudspeaker. For all my nearly missed flights, I have only had that happen to me the once. Ordinarily we would have run to catch the plane, but Dad had Dengue Fever — which doesn’t make one feel like running. When we finally arrived, the plane was still there — and there about 150 people standing around it. The plane had some problem, so we would be diverted to another flight! But then they decided the problem wasn’t serious enough to cancel the flight, so we all got on after all.

I could go on and on about late taxis, traffic jams, and general complacency — all of which caused me (us) a very close airport shave. But I don’t feel like it, and these examples are probably sufficient for you. It is enough for you to know that I have come close to missing very many flights. Far, far more than you have nearly missed. But I still have a 100% success rate. I may cut it fine, but I haven’t missed a flight yet!

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Who takes one year to write a novel?

One day, when I was nine, I felt inspired. I decided that it was time I wrote a novel, so in a short space of time I thought up a world, developed a very general storyline, and got going. Eight months later: ta-da! I had my very first completed novel. Since then, I’ve done it about four more times. Each time, I’ve been relatively spontaneous: I may have picked a general setting and story-line up to a few weeks beforehand, but I didn’t do much pre-planning. And other than NaNo WriMo pep-talks, I certainly had no novel-writing instruction. But now for the first time, six years on from that first attempt at glory, I’m going to do it differently: I will take lessons on how to do it. I’m going to do the One Year Adventure Novel.

Compared to the NaNo WriMo, this thing is so different. The NaNo WriMo is to get people to sit down and write: you “win” if you achieve your word-count goal; quality doesn’t matter. So you churn it out. When I did the NaNo WriMo last year, I wrote 32 k and I’m sure I didn’t spend more than 30 hours on it in total. For the One Year Adventure Novel I’ll probably have a similar word-count, but there are 3 lessons of about an hour each (a bit more for us, because my sister and I tend to chit-chat…) for about 30 weeks. That makes for nearly 100 hours. Where do the extra 70 hours go? Into planning, planning, and more planning.

Another way in which this differs greatly from the NaNoWriMo, is that the story options are limited. Rather than being allowed to write anything we want, Daniel Schwabauer, the video-teacher, tells us things that we can and can’t do with our novel. This is supposed to make things easier, based on the quote “boundaries inspire creativity”. The three major restrictions that we have so far are (1) the story must be of the “Heroic Quest” genre:  such as, for instance, The Lord of the Rings – rather than “the Man who Learned Better” genre, like A Christmas Carol, or “Boy gets Girl”, like Pride and Prejudice. (2) The hero must be roughly my age. (3) It has to be in the first person.

These restrictions are in place mainly to make it easier for beginning authors to write – and to write something good. I had no problems with doing a Heroic Quest novel, and the protagonist probably would have been close to my age anyway, but having to write in the first person seemed at first to be a stringent limitation. But I am trying to reconcile myself to the idea: having written five novels in the third person, surely it is time to try something different. Thus so far, none of the restrictions have been strict enough that they seem like a real drawback to the program. And you learn so many awesomely helpful things!

Yesterday’s lesson was on five elements that I should have in my novel(s):

(1) Someone to Care About.

(2) Something to Want.

(3) Something to Dread.

(4) Something to Suffer.

(5) Something to Learn.

I won’t go into them in detail, at least not today, but it is very useful to have all these things in mind while you are crafting the story. In the past I haven’t thought about these things as I wrote; so some stories didn’t have all thee elements. Probably the element I struggle with most is “Someone to Care About”. Most of my protagonists are to be fairly average Joes, but adventures just happen to them. This time I want to make my story more character driven: I want Joe (actually his name’s Alan but anyway…) to make a conscious decision to face danger — otherwise we won’t be that likeable. He doesn’t even need a stereotype brave guy — he could be like Rowan of Rin — he just needs to face his fears. On the other hand, I don’t want to make Joe  too perfect, because then I’m afraid he won’t learn anything. At the moment I’m trying to think of a good flaw to give him so that he can overcome it…

Indeed, today is when I will get the chance to sort these things out — because today’s lesson is “Someone to Care About”. So I’ll think of these things while I do science. I don’t know how writing in first person will affect this though — it might make it harder. One would think it would be easy to be intimate with the protagonist in the first person, but paradoxically, the opposite sometimes seems to be the case. The main character often becomes more of a lens through which you see the rest of the story: and you don’t focus on the lens, the lens helps you to focus on everything else.

Anyway, hopefully this newfound knowledge will translate into a good novel; but it’s entirely possible that I’ll drown in it all and write a shocker. I think what is most likely to bring me down, however, is the fact that I don’t know what I’ll learn, or what I’ll be told to do or not to do. Because of this, I’m more detached from my novel than usual, mainly thinking about it during lesson time — rather than when I’m having a shower or washing up. On the whole though, I’m pretty optimistic about this — and after all, I’ve got a whole year to do it. That should help shouldn’t it?