Monday, August 30, 2010

A Birthday

I thought I should post about a little date of local note.

Today (30 August 2010) is my adoptive city Melbourne’s 175th birthday.

So on this day in 1835 settlers who had sailed from Tasmania (now our smallest state, back then the second British colony in Australia) came ashore from the schooner Enterprize and began clearing for vegetable gardens and buildings.

Since then Melbourne has grown to a city of 4,000,000 souls.

One of Melbourne’s icons is the tram system, featuring modern and not so modern trams.Melbourne is a mix of old buildings and new.

In any area you can see a palimpsest of old and new.
The old is valued for its own sake and there are strict heritage laws to protect buildings of cultural or historical value.Of course sometimes this can cause problems for developers. For example this old factory (a shot tower) was where a developer wanted to build a new shopping centre.But then again, with a little creativity you build around the old (without harming it) and end up with something interesting.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday - But no Swan Watch (Sorry)

An extremely quick post tonight.

For those of you hanging out for a dose of cygnet cuteness I have to say sorry.

I did try to catch up with our swans on Friday afternoon, but I got chased back inside by cold wet weather before I found them.

I have been away all weekend in Gippsland (eastern Victoria), and didn't get back until after dark.

So all I can say is I will try to catch up with them during the week (weather permitting).

Now as a slight consolation: a piccie I took at dawn this morning down at Cape Patterson in Gippsland.
Time allowing I will post about my Gippsland trip this week. I've come back with 600 odd piccies and once I have sorted them I will share more.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


You’ll have to forgive me but the tone of this post is a bit somber.
On Saturday Deb and I went for one of our weekend drives.

As so often happens we drove out into the mountains to the east of Melbourne.
We decided to head up to Lake Mountain to see how the snow is going in the tail end of the season.

The road to Lake Mountain passes through Marysville which was devastated in the Black Saturday bushfires back in February last year. Across the state of Victoria 173 people perished in the fires.

We paused in a valley behind Marysville where I grabbed these piccies.

What was a lush valley of Mountain Ash trees is a stark graveyard of greying ghosts. The reason these trees are grey is after the fires the burnt bark has fallen from those that have died.The trees covered in a green fuzz in this piccie are the ones that pulled through the fire. Normally after a bushfire you would see the bush bouncing back and all the trees except a few would have come through. These fires were just too hot.

Back on the main road we drove further up the valley.
In places low clouds softened the ridge-lines covered in dead trees. The Aussie bush is not deciduous, these trees are bare not because of winter but because they have perished.
Finally on the high ridges ahead we saw what we had come for: Snow

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Swan Watch V: Cuteness Overload

Inevitably I found some minor errors with my proof copy of Veiled in Shadows. So I have uploaded a corrected version to LightningSource (my printers). No doubt when I check it again there will still be minor issues. Unfortunately, the reality is that no matter how many times you check a book there will always be more things you can correct.

However, I guess that this time it will be a case of enough is enough and I will approve the proof. This means that the book should be available in print in two to four weeks.

In the mean time I have begun reformatting (again) the corrected copy to get it ready for a Kindle (and other e-formats) edition. It should be ready for e-readers at about the same time the print copy becomes available.

Now to Swan Watch for the week.

I found our swans with much more ease this week. The little family was grazing on the lawn bedside the pond.Mum (dad was close by) would walk a short distance with the babies waddling behind. Then the cygnets would flop down on the grass.The babies have grown, but they still resemble cute fuzz-balls more than anything else.
The cygnets look intently at blades of grassbefore reaching across with their necks, that are hinting of the sinuous length they will one day have, to pluck one that looks appetising enough.

Meanwhile mum fusses around to make sure they are safe.While dad keeps both eyes on me to make sure I am not getting too close.Another close up of the babies.On another pond a few hundred metres away a chestnut teal is also raising a family.When she realised I was watching she quickly lead her brood into some reed beds. I wandered around to the other side of her pond to see if I could get a closer shot. This gave me a bonus, I spotted this white-faced heron hunting in the thicker vegetation.He/she was quite successfully catching little fish.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to Draw-Out Writing a Novel and some Interesting Software.

There are novelists who write a detailed plot and stick to it come “hell or high water”.
Then there are those who discover the plot as they write.

Then there are those who fence sit.
I have to admit I am a fence sitter when it comes to outlining. I have done a version of the free form effort. I have also written reasonably detailed outlines.

For my soon to be published novel Veiled in Shadows, I started with no outline. In fact for the first few months I was “working” on it I wrote nothing down. That is right nothing, not a word on paper, or on a computer screen. I ran through the whole story in my head.

So how did I go about it? Well I relied on the fact that I (usually) have a good memory. In those months the novel was entirely a mental construct. I began with a central character (Katharina), of mixed German and British ancestry. My initial ideas focussed on Katharina being torn between loyalty to her British father and her German romantic interest (Ebi). I quickly decided how I wanted the story to end and built the plot from there.

Then I wrote a first draft from my memory of the story, then I shelved it because I got really busy in my day job.
Some time later (in fact years later) when I read that draft through I was disgusted at how badly written it was. Yet, I still really liked the characters and the themes of the book.

So that first draft effectively became my outline for an expanded (and hopefully better written) story. In the end I redrafted Shadows another three times before I was happy to share it with Beta-readers.

Fast forward to my WIP, Veiled in Storms. The germination of Storms began as I wrote what was to be a postscript for one of the secondary characters in Shadows. I quickly realised as I thought about it, that that postscript would form the kernel of another whole novel. Surprise, surprise, the postscript got cut from Shadows.

Unlike Veiled, I outlined Storms from the beginning in quite a detailed way. Perhaps because of this things proceeded much more quickly and I soon had half my first draft completed. Then of course the day job and life in general got in the way and I had a temporary hiatus on Storms.

Back in June I talked about going back to the WIP and reassessing it. In the end I decided that what I had written would become largely back story to the main action.
Realities of work, life and trying to finalise Shadows, have meant I have had almost zero time to spend on Storms. I have finally started reoutlining the plot. The story remains essentially the same but the focus has shifted from events to characters.

I hate outlining on paper as a general rule. I find it frustrating hand writing something, only to have to scratch it out and start again. Because of this I have usually developed outlines in rough on an Excel spreadsheet, with more detail in Word documents. A bit cumbersome, and hard to see the whole thing at once but it has worked for me.

For those who are interested I thought I would share a piece of software I have been trying out for my outlining. It is a program called yWriter. YWriter is designed by an Aussie novelist called Simon Haynes (he also happens to be a programmer). It is absolutely free from his website.

What I like about this software is it allows me to plan out the story as a series of scenes that I can shift around from chapter to chapter, or section to section, as I see fit.
It has database functions so you can search scenes or chapters by fields such as character, location, etc. I am so far finding it a useful tool for keeping track of characters and events as I shuffle them around to develop the new outline.

If I choose to I can then use the software as a word processer to basically write the story into the outline.
I imagine in the end I won’t use that feature, but that I will use it to finish forming my outline and then write the next draft in Word.

Now a couple of random photos:

An Australian Magpie.
These guys were named for their similar colouration to English Magpies. They have a beautiful warbling song. They also become terrors in spring, swooping down to drive people away from where they are nesting. I have shed blood more than once after a surprise magpie “bombing”. They were bombing me, I wasn’t illicitly blowing them up (as irritating as they can be).

Roadside hay and silo, Flowerdale Victoria.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Swan Watch IV: The Washout

Now before I start don’t panic, today’s post has a happy ending.

I was up early this morning and soon after I headed out hoping to get some piccies of “our” swans.

This morning was bitterly cold (by Aussie standards anyway), intermittently raining and blowing a gale. In fact we have had atrocious weather all week, flooding rains right across the state and damaging winds in a lot of areas (it’s been Ok here in terms of wind).

Because of the weather I drove down to the swans’ pond. When I arrived I couldn’t see any sign of our family.

The only water fowl I could see was a solitary coot.More concerning is the pond has seen a rise and then fall in water level with the rain. This piccie shows a lot of reed debris left as the water has risen and then retreated. Somewhat concerning to me the swans’ nest has been destroyed by the minor flood. These short reeds are the ones that their platform was tethered to. As the water has risen the platform has been floated off and then broken up.

Interestingly some large water-bird has begun building another platform just nearby. I guess it isn’t our swans, but who knows.

As I said I couldn’t see any sign of the swans. I wasn’t really worried because the weather was awful and I guessed they were hunkered down somewhere keeping the babies warm. So I began walking around the perimeter of the pond, planning to check it and the ponds nearby.

But that was not to be, it began to really rain, so I beat a retreat.

A bit later looking at the weather I got the impression that I wasn’t going to be able to get out to get any piccies. I guessed I would have to post an up in the air post for today’s Swan Watch. Deb and I decided to go for a drive.

We drove up to Ballarat (about 90 minutes away) to have a look at Lake Wendouree, the lake is a shallow volcanic crater lake that lies in the heart of Ballarat. We wanted to have a look because with the drought we have had over the past few years the lake has been totally dry.

Until this week that is, we have had so much rain in the state in recent weeks and especially this week that the lake has begun to fill up again.While we were at the lake I braved the rain to grab a few shots of another swan family (I figured they would make a consolation prize given I couldn’t post piccies of ours).

The cob was keeping a close eye on me to make sure I didn’t get too close.He is the proud father of five cygnets. As you can probably see they are quite a lot larger than “our” babies. I’d guess these guys hatched three or four weeks ago.

Now to the happy ending.

When I got home this evening my daughter Io said the weather had improved for a while this afternoon. She and her boyfriend had gone for a walk. They saw swans grazing near the pond.

Very kindly they took some photos on a mobile phone (hence the quality).
In this first you can see some wood ducks and a couple of swans.Getting a bit closer they got some pictures of our babies (see the fuzzy grey blobs), before the cob told them to move on.
So all is well with our swans :-)

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Writing Game (A Treat)

I have previously mentioned “A Life Twice Tasted” the blog of British Author Wendy Robertson. Wendy’s blog is one of my favourites, she posts thoughtful pieces about her writing, her life and dare I say, the occasional ramble.

Anyway, back in April Wendy ventured into a new field – radio broadcasting. Wendy is hosting a monthly program on Bishop FM, a community radio station not all that far from where she lives in County Durham in the UK.

The topic of Wendy’s program? As you might guess – books and writing.

Now, I live half way around the world from County Durham, so listening to the broadcast was of course impossible. That is where modern technology comes in, a podcast of the first program was posted within a few days of the episode going to air.

I listened to the first episode, ‘Starting Points in Writing’. It was lovely to hear Wendy’s voice and the material was very interesting. A month later and I waited impatiently for the second episode. Alas, Bishop FM is a small operation mainly staffed by volunteers and they ran into some technical problems – no podcast was forthcoming :-(

Now though, everything is rosy; three more episodes have recently been posted:

Episode 2 – Crime writing,
Episode 3 – Writing for Children, and
Episode 4 – Storytellers and writing groups

As you can see the topics are varied enough to interest writers (and readers) of many genres.
I have immensely enjoyed the episodes I have heard. I am particularly looking forward to an upcoming episode where Wendy will talk to another blogger friend of mine Kathleen Jones.

For those of you who are interested the site for the podcasts is:

Check it out, I think you will enjoy it!

Now because I find it almost impossible to post without including a piccie or two:

Abandoned railway trestle bridge, Stony Creek Victoria.
A Kookaburra.
This guy has very ruffled feathers because it was really windy as I took this shot.
He/she may look quite familiar to non Aussies. Kookaburras are in fact the largest Kingfisher species in the world.
Rather than diving for fish, they perch on trees in the bush and swoop down on lizards and snakes. Some would argue that they do us a favour, but I have a soft spot for reptiles.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sunday Swan Watch III

As I said last night my daughter Io went by the Swans’ pond and saw this:An apparently abandoned nest with at least a couple of eggs visible.

So when I got up in the early morning and headed down I was quite apprehensive about what I would find.

So to my great relief I found this, the Pen sitting on the nest and the Cob in attendance. This is the first time I have seen them together since I started watching them.

I snapped a few more photos.The water was amazingly still so there were some beautiful reflections of the swans.

Then I got distracted by this handsome Swamphen.And a pair of rather chubby looking galahs.Galahs are a fairly popular pet around the world, but like many parrots they originate in Oz.

Then I noticed some kangaroo paws flowering nearby.I heard one of the swans honk and turned back to them, the pen had left the nest.Now the sharp eyed among you might have noticed something in the above piccie. A pair of cygnets have hatched.

One was in the water and the other was riding on mum’s back.The cygnets began exploring with mum carefully watching them.
Dad decided I was too close and interposed himself, coming quite close to me. You’ll notice his wings are partly raised which is a threat display.
I respected his wishes and backed away a bit which seemed to be enough for him.

But I was still close enough to get some beautiful piccies of his little cuties.

This Black Duck noticed my interest and came over to see what I was looking at (probably angling for a feed).As I took another shot By accident I caught this Welcome Swallow as it darted across the water catching low flying insects.

I began wandering home pausing to shoot this ancient river gum. As you can see it was a glorious morning.

Then I noticed something in the grass.
I crept closer.
Grass Parrots (also known as Red-Rumped parrots) were foraging for seeds among the grass.

Finally an Eastern Rosella teased me but wouldn’t let me get a decent photo.
So what a morning I had!
Going from a little apprehensive to excitement over the cygnets, only to top it off with some piccies of more beautiful parrots!