A to Z Challenge – a retrospective

I have had my blog for over three years and have posted iregularly whenever I was inspired by something I’ve read, seen, heard, or thought but taking on the A to Z April Challenge meant writing 26 posts in one month.

The concensous is that writers write everyday and don’t wait for inspiration

When I decide to try something I do it wholeheartedly and for me and the A to Z April Challenge that meant that I approached each post as stream of consciousness, with little or no preparation apart from a list of A-to-Z with potential topics. I know that some people have prepared their posts in the weeks before April and although I admit that I may have finished on time if I had taken this approach I am unsure if I agree with it.

I tried to write each post in one session, dropping my thoughts almost unedited from my heart/mind and on to the page/screen.

This doesn’t mean that I was flippant in my writing but it did teach me to edit once and then let it go. I did fix typos in the minutes and hours after each post.

The Stats for April:

  • Followers: increased from 11 to 219
  • Views for April: 11,589
  • Comments: 260
  • Most popular post: What is the Beginners’s Mind?
    • 4,379 views
    • 241 likes
    • 116 comments

WordPress – Freshly Pressed

Although I’m tempted to claim the highlight of the month was having my “B” post promoted on the WordPress Freshly Pressed page but it has actually been the amazing blogs that I’ve discovered and the wonderful and inspring comments I’ve received, especially when posts have been re-blogged.

Thanks to everyone at A to Z Challenge, to all my followers, and the the blogs I now follow and am regularly inspried by.

The Posts:

Thanks again…


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1Q84 – Murakami’s cult masterpiece

Haruki Murakami’s epic novel 1Q84 was an instant success in Japan and soon its publishers were in a mad rush to get the work published for the english language market.

Oddly mirroring the plot line in the novel where one of main characters ghost rewrites a story, the publishers of 1Q84 were in such a hurry to get it to market that they enlisted the services of two different writers to translate the work; one for books I and II, and another for book III.

Set it Japan in 1984 the story revolves around two central characters:

  • Aomame (written with the same characters as the word for “green peas” and pronounced Ah-oh-mah-meh); a female fitness instructor and part-time assassin
  • and Tengo, an aspiring novelist and part time editor and maths lecturer

The point of view alternates each chapter with Aomame and Tengo and the reader slowly learns their connection. Murakami enjoys playing with the time period too and takes his time explaining iconic objects of the time.

1Q84 features an immaculate   conception, telekinesis, transmigrating souls and a talking crow. But the   more blatant oddness of Murakami’s plots tends to distract us from their   roots in emotions that are just as unaccountable. A virtue of his writing is   that, carried away, you rarely sense the strain. – Anthony Cummins The Telegraph UK


Knopf / Getty Images

The title 1Q84 has its roots in a few different places; it is set in 1984, there is of course George Orwell’s novel 1984, and in the story Aomame coins the term for the odd version of the world she finds herself in; it is 1984 but also no longer the same. The name of the letter Q is also the same sound in Japanese as the number nine “Kyu”. And the complexity of this too mirrors that of the storyline in many ways.

…Yes, this is a Haruki Murakami novel, where magical and dreamlike phenomena are deadpanned into existence with the same calm craft that his characters routinely employ in cooking themselves delicious-sounding Japanese meals. – Stephen Poole, The Guardian UK

Murakami has a knack for oddball twists (talking cats, raining fish) and in 1Q84 this continues with terrifying “little people” emerging from the mouths of goats and people and a moss coloured second moon hanging in the sky.

Having Tengo and his editor and co-conspirator discuss the writing and editing process delivers some classic writing advice:

“When you introduce things that readers have never seen before into a piece of fiction, you have to describe them with as much precision and in as much detail as possible. What you eliminate from fiction is the description of things that most readers have seen.”

and on story development:

“Once a gun appears in a story, it will be shot and someone will die”. 

1Q84 is a masterpiece but I am left a little frustrated at having to read the translated story rather than Murakami’s original Japanese work.

Q is for 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Paul Dempsey doesn’t write love songs

Paul Dempsey is the front man and singer/songwriter for the Australian rock group Something for Kate (SFK).

His most recent release is the solo album “Everything is true“, on which he played every instrument and provided all the vocals.

“Dempsey is a gifted observer of the human condition…a truly beautiful collection.” – The Daly Telegraph

Dempsey’s songwriting is superb and unique, it stands apart in an industry full of three-minute lust songs.

“The tally for genius lyrics per second is positively baffling…eleven excellent reasons to acquaint yourself with one of Australia’s finest songwriters.”Beat said of his latest solo effort

Dempsey is a veracious reader too and the breadth of his literary consumption appears to feed his songwriting; everything from literary classics, 1960’s Sci-Fi from Philip K Dick, to A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines  by Janna Levin, and The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene.

“For me…a half a dozen words, the rights words, arranged a certain way…when you get one line that manages to posses some sort of insight into an aspect of your life is so satifying.” PD on Face The Music Songwriting Segment with Paul Dempsey presented by The Push

When asked once about the breadth of subjects in his songs he said that he actively avoids writing love songs, that the genre has been done to death so why put just another love song out there. There are so many more interesting things to write about.

once in a lifetime she says

the waking life stitched together in your head

well, what if it’s only worth

the bundle of nerves it’s written on?

and i don’t need these arms anymore

i don’t need this heart now, to love

i don’t need this skin and bones at all

Ramona was a waitress

Dempsey is currently in the studio recording Something For Kate’s next album, expected to be released later this year.

Paul Dempsey, Stephanie Ashworth, and Clint Hyndman – Something For Kate

“P” is for Paul Dempsey

The Mars Series by Kim Stanley Robinson

Although Kim Stanley Robinson’s award-winning Mars Series , written in 1992, has been criticised for some failings for forsight, such as the exclusion of China from the multinational venture, and the larger than expected role of the Russian team following the real world collapse of the USSR. However, twenty years on the story does not feel dated as many other science fiction titles do.

The three original three volumes, Red, Blue, and Green Mars received acclaim (Nebula, Hugo, and BSFA awards) from both within and without the science fiction genre, and like the Apollo missions of NASA in the 1960’s this story of the colonisation and terraforming of Mars has inspired a new generation of scientists and philosophers to look towards our neighboring red planet with longing eyes and big dreams.

The Mars Series tells the story of the first one hundred humans to permanently settle on Mars.

It is the red planet itself though that drives the story forward, as both a character and the sense of “place” it provides.

Kim Stanley Robinson: science fiction's realist - The Guardian UK

Red Mars, the first book in the series, begins with a speach given by John Boone, the default leader of the multinational venture and “the first man on Mars”, at the opening of the first “tented” city of Nicosia. But then moves back to the selection of the first one hundred team on earth and then the departure of the Ares of the from earth orbit where it had been constructed.

The series contains all the admirable tropes of the science fiction genre but it is no “Space Opera” and it has received some negative criticism from with the genre because of this. It was with this series that new sub-genre of science fiction was coined; Future History. It reads like a novelisation of well known historic events rather than pure invention and this only enhances it realism.

In addition to the red planet itself as the driving force of the story, it is the extraordinarily detailed characters that stay with you. The structure of the books, particularly the narrative mode of third person subjective, lends itself to this end with the POV set with the one character for each chapter. Robinson’s writing is of such high quality that the reader cannot help but sympathies with these POV characters even when they could be considered antagonists.

I always feel a sense of loss when one chapter ends and I am summarily evicted from inside the head of the POV character who led the chapter. But this loss is more than balanced by the welcoming feeling when returning to a POV character that I’ve come to know intimately.

In 2012, the twentieth anniversary of the release of Red Mars, the series reads as fresh and thought provoking as it did when first published.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest work 2312 is due for release in late May 2012. Orbit publisher Tim Holman described the setting of this novel thusly:

2312 will be set in our solar system three hundred years from now; a solar system in which mankind has left Earth and found new habitats. This will be a novel for anyone curious to see what our future looks like – a grand science-fictional adventure in every sense.

It is number one on my list of recommended reads for both readers of SCI FI and fiction in general.

“M” is for the Mars Series

The Cunningham Classic – one of Australia’s Spring Cycling Classics

I’m making lighter post today for day three of the April A to Z Challenge.

Saturday 6 August 2011 was the 29th annual Cunningham Classic but for me, only a three year cyclist it was my first. The race was held soon after Cadel Evans won his first Tour de France so it was hard not to get caught up in the  huge buzz of excitement about cycling in Australia.

The race, for all but the elite riders, was 96km from Gatton to Warwick in Southern Queensland. The main climb looks hard on the profile but it is only the last few kilometers that hurt.

Cyclists are split into two main groups by their physiology; either sprinters or climbers. I’m definitely more of a sprinter so I was not entertaining any aspriations of wining the King of the Mountain (KOM) jersey.  Professional riders all talk about riding through the pain and that the climbs don’t hurt them any less than us mere mortals, it’s just that they can go faster.

The race started at a slow pace and it was only some hard words from my teammates that stopped me from attacking even though we had 70km to go. My team had set a goal for me to be about fifth wheel coming in to the last km as that would be the best position heading in to the final sprint.

In hindsight I may have been better off attacking and racing 70km solo.

So I did as I was told and stayed in the pack. Eventually the pace increased to what you would expect in a race and when we hit the climb all of those vying for the KOM jersey were up the front while I just wanted to stay close enough that I could make contact again once the road leveled off. I was keeping pace with most of the riders until someone passed me on the outside. I dug in and got on to his wheel. It hurt and kept hurting but something clicked and I was able to stay with him right to the top.

So now I was about 5 minutes behind the lead group. No one left with me looked like trying to catch them so just put my head down and rode as hard as I could. There were about twenty riders on my wheel the first time I looked around but about twenty minutes later when I finally caught up with the lead group there was only two left. “Now for a rest,” I thought and sat in the middle of the pack. Eventually a few of us took turns at the front and a rider in red told me that there was someone who had broken away and we had to try and catch them. Later we found out that he was in the C grade race behind us so we had no need to chase him down.

This “red guy” kept the pressure on though and I was doing a little too much work on the front, while the other “smarter” sprinters sat in the pack.

About three kilometers from the finish the speed increased and the lead group was suddenly down to just six riders with me on the back; I had achieved my team objective – now I had to win it. One km out we hit a slight rise and everyone got out of the saddle; the sprint had started. The rider in front of me, “red guy”, was slow to start and a gap of two lengths had opened up in front of him. I was about to go around him when he jumped out of the saddle and accelerated. I was pretty tired already so I slipped back into his slipstream and was right on his wheel; there was at most a few inches between us – the perfect spot to slipstream.

Except at that instant he “sat up” (that’s cyclist jargon for giving up) and as we were on a slight rise it was as though he’d put on the brakes and my front wheel clipped his rear wheel and my bike was pulled out from underneath me.

I’ve been training in the martial arts for over twenty years so I naturally tucked my head in and “rolled” forward. Seemed like a good idea at the time and there was not a scratch to my helmet but this type of roll is not meant to be performed at 45km per hour. I hit the bitumen shoulder first and tumbled over and over, while “red guy” rode off, probably unaware what had happened.

The Cunningham Classic is superbly organised and every lead group of riders had a medical and support car following them so I had an off duty Ambulance officer at my side within seconds.

My left leg, hip, arm and shoulder were cut and blood was flowing freely from a gash on my left knee. They gave me one of  those pain relief whistles, where you breath in on them to be administered pain relief and, boy, did I need it. X-rays at Warwick hospital confirmed that I had completely snapped my collarbone and would need surgery to put a titanium plate on it.

I was a bit vague about “red guy”s race number but I’ll never trust a rider in red again! Ouch! And no I don’t have a zipper on my spine, I wouldn’t let them cut off my jersey until there was no alternative, and they took the x-ray with it still on.

Thanks to Upperlimb.com (the race sponsors…mmm) for putting me back together.

I was off the bike for three months and still not back to the fitness, or the weight, I was last year but:

“Bring on the 2012 Cunningham Classic” – I have unfinished business!

“C” is for the Cunningham Classic

The first 95 kilometres of the 2011 Cunningham Classic was so much fun, my best riding to that date…

the next 10m,,, not so much fun!

Blogging from A to Z…it’s coming…April 2012

What to expect in April:

Profiles of people who inspire me or I admire

Reviews of books, films, music,…blogs (leave a comment if you would like to feature!)

…and opinion pieces based on a eclectic selection of topics that I find engrossing or alarming

See you on Sunday the first of April

A Fettered Mind

Only describe the extraordinary

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Over the New Year I read a paragraph of Haruki Murakami‘s new novel 1Q84 (pg. 189 HB) and found a wonderful insight to improve my descriptive writing.

An older editor, Komatsu, gave a younger writer some advice on a piece of fiction he was we-writing:

“When you introduce things that readers have never seen before into a piece of fiction, you have to describe them with as much precision and in as much detail as possible. What you eliminate from fiction is the description of things that most readers have seen.”

There is nothing more sure to stop a person reading than if you describe an ordinary scene in a clinical manner. If it is just a room, call it that; a room, and leave the reader to fill in the blanks. But if the room is imperative to the story then describe it through the eyes and tilted perception of the mind of your narrator or character.

I’d love to read a literal translation of Marakami’s original dialogue for his character Kamatsu. Please comment if you find it?