Crisis and Creativity

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but I contend that actually it’s crisis that’s the real mother of invention.

Lately I feel like I’ve hit one crisis after another—getting Covid during the busiest season in the garden, having book sales completely tank in the lead-up to Christmas, having a critical component of a week-long science lesson be unavailable anywhere last week …

In the garden, I cut corners, laying compost on top of the soil rather than incorporating it as I usually do, in order to save time and limited physical energy. It’s something I hoped to be able to start doing, but figured I still had years of breaking up clay before it would work. Surprisingly, while the soil is a little harder than I’d like it to be for planting, it’s not terrible. If the plants do okay, I may have just changed my garden routine for good, saving me lots of work.

For my books, I’ve taken a step back from the ‘usual’ marketing techniques that have been costing me more than they’ve been bringing in. I’ve analysed what I’m good at, what I enjoy doing, and how I can incorporate those things into my marketing strategy, rather than banging my head against marketing strategies I’m no good at and hate doing. It will take a while to implement my new plan, and even longer to know if it works, but I’m having a great time working on marketing at the moment, rather than dreading every second of it as I usually do.

In the classroom, with less than 24 hours until my science lesson, I launched into preparations for plan B—activities I hadn’t run in 30 years. I felt completely unprepared, and kept realising things I’d forgotten to prepare or forgotten to do—each time I looked around at the resources to hand and got creative. The result was a set of fabulous lessons that didn’t look at all like I’d planned, but which worked well and were fun for everyone.

I really hope next week isn’t as full of crisis as the past several have been, but if they are, I’m pretty sure that as long as I keep moving forward, creativity will blossom and I’ll end up in better shape than before.

Here’s to crisis and creativity!

A Hobbit Adventure

As a writer of fantasy and adventure novels, it’s important to me to get out and have my own adventures. My adventures provide the inspiration and the gritty details for my characters’ escapades. I especially enjoy true wilderness adventures—the less sign of human impact, the better.

view from Mt Isobel
The view from atop snowy Mount Isobel

Of course, not every adventure can be a wilderness experience. Sometimes you want some fun with a little more luxury.

My husband and I recently spent a lovely weekend in Hanmer Springs. While the town is known for its hot pools, we’re not the hot pool type. What we appreciate about Hanmer Springs is the ability to step out the front door of your holiday home, climb a mountain, and end the hike at the pub a few blocks from the holiday home.

It’s hardly a wilderness experience, especially given that Hanmer Springs is surrounded by pine plantations, rather than native bush, but on a winter weekend during the rainiest month on record, it’s just right.

Our main hike for the weekend was up Mount Isobel. This wasn’t our first winter trip to the peak, but it was the first time we’d followed the ridge from the peak in order to descend via Jollies Pass. The last time we were on Mount Isobel, the wind was so fierce, there was only enough time to race to the top, snap a photo or two, and race back down before we froze. This time was entirely different.

It snowed the previous day, so we hiked through a winter wonderland. Light wind and full sun made it a stunning hike. The snow was an easily hikeable fifteen centimetres deep on the ridge—just enough to ensure our feet and lower legs were thoroughly soaked by the end.

There was nowhere dry to stop for lunch, so we ate in short snatches standing up. That was really the only downside to what was a delightful seven-hour hike.

And when your hike ends in Hanmer village, with beer and good food on offer, and a roaring fire at the holiday home to warm your toes, it’s hard to complain about anything. I think of it as a Hobbit adventure—a bit of fun without skipping second breakfast.

Rain, Rain, Go Away …

After a rainy week, the flood has only just begun. It’s been hosing down rain for about the past ten hours, and it’s supposed to continue for the next 24. I was out in the rain a short while ago building a bridge so my chickens can get back to their coop across the lake that’s formed in their paddock. The news is full of pictures of flooded streets and swollen muddy rivers.

Excessive baking!

It’s not entirely unusual weather. Last year I spent a whole week with my year 7/8 maths students doing a lesson on isoclines with weather station data after a particularly spectacular rainstorm dumped 200mm on us in 24 hours. 

But just because we’ve experienced it before doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable. It just means we know how to cope, right?

On Saturday, I baked apple/blackcurrant pie and pumpkin cupcakes, filling the house with delicious warm aromas of cinnamon and fruit. On Sunday, I raided my fabric stash to make a sunny patchwork tote bag—not that I need another tote bag, but that’s irrelevant when it’s raining for the zillionth day in a row.

Yesterday, I banged out over 5,000 words on my current novel, bringing me within 10,000 words of typing The End. 

Today … well, today I’m watching that lake in the chook paddock, in case I have to raise the height of the bridge. But when I’m not rescuing my soggy birds, I’m pottering away at my novel, and tending to marketing and all the other unpleasant aspects of writing. I’ve also drunk endless cups of coffee and tea (and it’s not even lunchtime yet…). No doubt I’ll quit early to make a decadent dinner of comfort food, probably eaten by candlelight (because why not take advantage of short days while you can?).

Crazy tote in progress…

And of course after dinner, when it’s still supposed to be raining, I’ll no doubt curl up with one of the books I picked up in the library yesterday.

So it’s not all bad, though I do look forward to the return of the sun someday.

Do Something Scary

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Paper! Never needs a new operating system.

I heard this bit of advice years ago, and while I wouldn’t say I do something scary every day, I do try to push myself out of my comfort zone when I have an opportunity.

Yesterday, I did something that for me was scary.

I updated my computer system.

I know that sounds pathetic, but I’d put off any updates for years, because I had a host of expensive software that would be rendered useless if I upgraded. The software worked well for me—why would I upgrade and have to spend thousands of dollars to replace it? 

The reason why came to a head as I tried to publish Fatewalker last week. My software was no longer supported by the upload algorithms at Amazon, which meant my e-book wasn’t uploading properly. It was the last straw in an increasingly frustrating game of eking out my old software for as long as possible.

So I spent some time over the last week searching out alternatives to my expensive old software and emotionally preparing myself for the inevitable frustration of a new operating system and new software, which may or may not be able to read files created by the old software. 

Yesterday morning I made two complete backups of my computer.

Then I clicked on the dreaded button to install the latest operating system.

My computer flashed up warning after warning, asking me if I was sure I wanted to do this. 

Yes, I said. I’m ready. 

The screen went black.

A progress bar told me it would be about four million years until it was finished.

I spent my afternoon trying not to glance at the still-black screen, writing a short story in a notebook, enjoying the beauty of analog writing.

I brainstormed titles for my current work in progress, revelling in the scratch of pencil on paper while ignoring the whine of my computer’s cooling fan.

I took a long break with a cup of tea.

Finally, light returned to my screen. I was relieved to see the update had been successful. None of my software worked, but all my files were there. 

I pulled out the credit card and bought new software. I purged the old, useless software from my applications folder. On a whim, I downloaded some free software that looked useful (software I couldn’t have run before). 

The process was almost fun, in a nail-biting sort of way.

There will be a learning curve, of course (and no doubt some swearing involved). I have lots of new systems to master. But I uploaded a fully functional version of Fatewalker today to replace the cobbled-together one I uploaded last week—not a single warning or error message to be seen. And I played around with some new software, just to see how it worked, and was pleasantly surprised at how intuitive it was. Then I got down to work, and added over 3000 words to my work in progress. 

It was a good day. Scary thing conquered.

What scary thing have you done recently?

Middle Grade March Promotion

I’ve teamed up with 30 other authors this month to promote our books for ages 8-13. There’s a fabulous line-up of books here, and many of them are on sale or free at some point during the month of March. I’ll be posting a link to a different book each day during the month on my Facebook page. Be sure to check back frequently for new deals—some only last a few days.

Sir Julius Vogel Award Nominations

New Zealand’s annual Sir Julius Vogel awards recognise excellence in science fiction, fantasy and horror works created by New Zealanders and New Zealand residents.

Fatecarver cover

The awards are named after a journalist and politician who was not only the Premier of New Zealand in the 1870’s, but also wrote what is regarded as New Zealand’s first Science Fiction novel—Anno Domini 2000—A Woman’s Destiny) which envisioned a New Zealand of the year 2000 largely run by women (which was quite prescient, given that in 2000 New Zealand’s Head of State, Prime Minister, Governor General, Attorney General and Chief Justice were all women).

The awards are presented annually by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand in a range of categories. 

To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to the SJV awards in the past, in spite of their importance to the NZ speculative fiction community. But I was recently notified that my novel Fatecarver has been nominated for Best Youth Novel. 

Of course, I’m chuffed about that. But I know that in order to get onto the shortlist, Fatecarver will have to be nominated more than once, because the number of nominations determines which works move on to the voting round.

Hence this post. Anyone around the world can nominate an eligible work, and it doesn’t cost anything to do so. Now that at least one person has nominated Fatecarver, I’d love to see this book make it to the short list.

And while I’m at it, my short story, Deathventures Inc, which was published in the anthology Alternative Deathiness is also eligible for a SJV award for Best Short Story.

So if you have a moment, I’d really appreciate a nomination or two. Nominations are open until the end of March. The nomination form is here, and information and guidelines for the award are here

Thanks!

In Praise of the Pencil

I don’t consider myself a Luddite—at least not when it comes to writing. I publish e-books and use lots of online tools for marketing, distribution, etc. I love the writing software, Scrivener, and own both Adobe and Affinity design software for creating my print books and marketing material. I  don’t know how I would manage without all the tech I use for writing.

But I love pencils. 

There is something about the tactile sensation of a good, sharp, Number 2 pencil that unlocks my creativity. I love the way a pencil moves over the paper—with enough resistance you feel the shape of every letter. I love how the line thickness is responsive to pressure and direction. I love the warmth of wood beneath my fingers. Writing with a pencil is like caressing words into being.

I appreciate the erasability of pencil. I admire the elegance of letters formed in pencil. The sound of a pencil rasping across the page is soothing to me. I appreciate being able to write upside down, in the rain, and on multiple surfaces with a pencil. I love the fact that much of a pencil is actually used up in its use, and most of it is biodegradable. I love that a pencil can sit in a drawer for 50 years and still be perfectly functional.

I enjoy the contemplative nature of sharpening a pencil to the perfect point. The gentle grey of graphite on the page is easy on the eyes. Pencils require no electricity and can be carried anywhere.

I’m picky about my pencils—I can’t stand the not-proper-graphite, reconstituted-wood pencils. Real wood and soft flaky graphite are a must. Otherwise, the proper pencil mood doesn’t materialise. With a good pencil, dragons become real, magic portals open, and there’s a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow.

Guerrilla Art

We spent a night in Wanaka last week before our tramping trip. While wandering around town looking for a likely spot for dinner, we came across some poems stuck onto a bridge railing. 

Like a Banksy painting, the poems were certainly not ‘legal’ and were no doubt frowned upon by the local authorities. But also Banksy-like, they made passersby smile and think.

Years ago, when my husband and I lived in State College, Pennsylvania, we regularly took our walks in the agricultural fields near the edge of town. Along the path, shortly after leaving the neighbourhood, someone had installed a tiny section of sidewalk. Embedded in the concrete was the poem ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ by Shel Silverstein. There was no indication of who had installed the poem, and it was tucked away beside the field as though it had been surreptitiously installed in the dead of night. 

There are municipally sanctioned examples of Guerrilla art—art that appears in unlikely places. The poetry among the rocks along Wellington’s waterfront is one example. But there’s something particularly delightful about the non-sanctioned art—the amazing sand sculptures people create on the beach, the sidewalk chalk drawings that proliferated during lockdown, the splash of graffiti on train cars. It’s an expression of life and spirit, a proclamation of something uniquely human, a statement about human lives.

I think we all could use a little more guerrilla art in our lives. Thanks to the Brownston Street Bard for your lovely contribution. May the ink continue to flow from your pen.

Sunshine in a Teacup

I woke up to the sound of rain today. Not an unwelcome sound—the seedlings in the garden will appreciate it. Still, a rainy day inspires a certain amount of decadent self-care to banish the mental chill (even if it is perfectly comfortable indoors). 

My decadence this morning came in the form of pulling out a Sunday teacup for my coffee. 

We bought two of these cups at Driving Creek Railway in the Coromandel a few years ago—a Christmas gift to ourselves, and a real splurge. They’ve become our special occasion coffee mugs—used on Sunday mornings and Christmas Day only. In my mind, they’re associated with relaxation, holiday, and decadence.

So on this rainy morning, with a day of intense work on the next novel ahead of me (and no sunny-day excuses to get me out of it), I thought I needed a little motivation in the form of a special vessel for my coffee. A tiny thing, but it has made my day sunny, despite the rain outside.

Inspiring Landscapes

When I was writing my Dragon Defence League series books, I delighted in placing my characters in some of my favourite places in New Zealand—the mountains of Fiordland, Kahurangi National Park, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, and many others.

But New Zealand’s landscapes infuse my latest book, Fatecarver, even though it is set in a purely fantasy world.

While I was writing Fatecarver, I kept imagining specific places in New Zealand. I sat on a peak near Arthur’s Pass and imagined my characters there. I scribbled down descriptions of real views, storms, trees, and hikes to use in the book.

I took the New Zealand landscapes and mixed and mingled them with favourite places in the United States, Panama, Peru and Bolivia until the Fatecarver world included elements of a lifetime of adventures. 

Many of my fellow authors are adventurers like me. We take inspiration for our writing from dramatic landscapes and other settings we’ve experienced. The landscape becomes a character in its own right, thwarting other characters’ plans, throwing up challenges, or providing aid at a critical moment. Just like real landscapes do.

Natural landscapes play a huge role in my own real life adventures—it’s only natural to include them in my fictional ones.