Monday, May 20, 2013

On reading old books and being far away

I don't think I've read a book written in the last thirty years for two months now. I can't even think what the last one would have been. Oh, yes I can. A few Mills and Boon Moderns last week, because it's comforting to read romance novels when it's too wet to go out. But mostly there's been a lot of Jane Austen and the Brontes and Wodehouse and Neville Shute. The Shutes are particularly enthralling as the characters are Brits who come out to Australia and go back to London on slow boats or bunny-hop through Asia or the States to get here. Letters are send by air mail and take a week, or by sea mail and take months. The odd telegram is sent too, but you get the impression that they were terribly expensive.

These days I don't review books so I read what I like, which is the best way to do things, I think. So I wander over the Italian Alps with Emily St Aubert, not much caring that I should be "keeping up with the industry". I'll be in the mood for new releases soon I'm sure. But why am I liking these old books so much? I think it must be because I'm far from home. If a man who's lost his legs in WWII can't find a Naval Wren and chases her all over the world for years only to discover she's opted out with a bottle of sleeping pills the day before he finds her (thanks for the laughs, Neville Shute), I can't really be sad for being twenty-two hours or a Skype call from home.

I'm not a melancholy, homesick person, and I like being out of my comfort zone. I needed to be out of my comfort zone. What self-respecting writer hasn't moved to another country? Read their autobiographies in the back of their books: "Hazel has lived in Vladivostok, Tangiers and briefly in Yemen, which makes her pretty cool and smug, don't you know. No wonder she's written a bestseller based on her experiences and has a proper grip on metaphors."

But when your brother gets engaged and everyone's there at the party but you, in the house you used to live in, you might like to read a few comforting old books where they didn't even have Skype and shed a few untimely tears into your boyfriend's jacket on the main street. It was lovely to know that three of my dear friends, Shona, Megan and Ben, where there to represent me and drink plenty of champagne in my stead.

In a serendipitous booking, last night Tim and I went to see Alan Davies in a stand up show in an Islington theatre. Just love him. Tim was in tears at one point and I couldn't stop cough-laughing. (Back-to-back spring colds. Worth the extra coughs.) Cheered me up no end. Today I'm reading Rosamunde Pilcher novels from the 1970s, and this one's set in London. I'm sure it'll end up in Scotland at some point because what Pilcher novel doesn't? It opens with a girl getting a letter from Ibiza a month late saying her mother is dying. So Melbourne isn't very far away after all.

Stiff upper lip and all that. Spirit of the blitz. What ho and pip pip.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

“I promise not to oppress you with too much remorse or too much passion, though since you left us the white rose bush has died of grief.”

Who knew anyone could improve on Austen? That one line is just toooooo romantic. Do you know where it's from? The 1986 adaptation of Northanger Abbey. It's 80s-tastic with all the perms and the sax-offending soundtrack, but I adore this silly adaptation of Jane Austen's silliest book. The acting is awkward and some of the supporting cast are downright weird, but Peter Firth is the perfect quirky Henry Tilney and Katherine Schlesinger is a lovely big-blue-eyed-and-naive Catherine Morland.

*happy sigh*

I'm obsessed with books about big dreary old castles at the moment. I'm reading The Mysteries of Udolpho (halfway, but the audiobook is bugging me so may switch to an electronic edition) as well as The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Meanwhile, say it again, Henry. Please!

“I promise not to oppress you with too much remorse or too much passion, though since you left us the white rose bush has died of grief.”

The thing is, that line is not in the book. But it ends this TV movie perfectly.

Watch it here:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

London, and Some Thoughts on Being Rescued

I've been pretty quiet on the blog, and I'll be able to tell you why very shortly. It's been a deliberate silence and nothing to do with my books and writing. I have been doing a *lot* of writing, and loving it. London is absolutely gorgeous. I've become a history nerd. The V&A, the British Library, The Wallace Collection at Hertford House, Fulham Palace and Southwark are just a few places I've been exploring in the last few months. I love it here. And now it's spring I love it even more.

Now, some thoughts on being rescued. There's a scene in Blood Song which you may remember (and spoilers if you haven't read it -- and if you haven't you can no matter where you are in the world now -- hurrah! Quick plug: the ebooks are already out for both books and the paperbacks are out in Singapore and Malaysia, on May 10 in the UK and in September  in the USA) when Zeraphina is "rescued" by Rodden in Lharmell. The thing I love best about that scene is while Rodden has every intention of getting Zeraphina and taking her back to the safety of Pergamia, it is a rescue that backfires on the him. Zeraphina's first emotion upon seeing Rodden is annoyance, because it means he's a good guy after all and she did so enjoy detesting him. And her second thought (after Rodden elucidates a few things) is absolute refusal to go home. Rather, she insists they press onwards. And I rather like her subversion of the damsel in distress trope.

It never occurred to me at the time that that was what I was writing. It just seemed to me what Zeraphina would do (the stroppy thing, any excuse to argue with Rodden, right?) But when I read a review that complained the heroine was *actually rescued OMG laaaaame* or words to that effect, I felt rather surprised. Most of my reviews have been glowing, some middling and a very few absolutely flaming. But none of the flaming ones got to me because I absolutely condone the right for someone to dislike a book. It's being misconstrued that makes me indignant.

But my indignance aside, the idea of a hero aiding a heroine is important to me. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Not something a feminist should say, right? Well, bully to that. Because conversely, there's nothing wrong with a heroine helping a hero. When two people fall in love, or set about falling in love despite the path being littered with obstinate parents, blood-sucking creatures and class divisions, they should above all else be equals. They should be stronger together than apart. Add to each other. Be a team. And that means relying on each other from time to time. And I hope that's what I demonstrated in Blood Song, and will continue to demonstrate through all my writings. Zeraphina would have been pretty stuffed if Rodden hadn't shown up, but they would have both been stuffed if she hadn't put her foot down and insisted they go on and not go back.

As for Blood Storm, well that's a bit trickier, isn't it? Because we can't talk about Blood Storm without talking about Blood Queen, and if we talk about Blood Queen you'll want a release date and I still, STILL can't give you one. I wish I could, with all my heart. But it's out of my hands for now. FOR NOW. A tiny bit more patience and it will all be worth it, I promise.

(FYI, I know some authors get annoyed when they're asked by fans when the next book will be out. I can't think of anything more ungrateful. Ask away, I'm flattered you care enough to write and ask.)

And if you see another book from me before Blood Queen, that will only be a good thing, right? I hope you'll be excited for it as much as you are for Blood Queen. Nothing is confirmed as yet (I seem to say that all the time as an author. I wish I didn't but things take an awfully long time behind the scenes). Don't be alarmed if the title sounds a little like Blood Queen, either. It's a different book and hasn't superceded the Lharmell books or anything like that.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

From the Road: Kep, Cambodia

I meant to do aaaaaaaaall these "From the Road" posts. From outback NSW, from Singapore, from Malaysia ... but travel in strange places means staring out the window, not writing, right? Bad writer ...

Tim and I had plans to travel overland, no flying, from Singapore, up through Malaysia and into Thailand, through Bangkok then down into Cambodia. It wasn't the amazing cultural adventure I was hoping. It didn't suck, but of course there are always unexpected problems while travelling. I didn't think I'd say this, but SE Asia is COLD. Not in the streets, right, but in the goddamn trains and buses! What the frack! Sitting 4-6 hours basically motionless under mandatory and constant cold air just shuts down my circulation. I do not like the cold at all. Hence relocating from Melbourne to the tropics! So, I did what any new traveller would do. Got the flu.

Malaysia does not hold many pleasant memories for me. Partly the flu, and partly several dirty hotels. Sorry Malaysia :( I did enjoy the museum and historical buildings in George Town, Penang very much indeed. I am certain I'm going to set an historical novel there one day. Suffolk House is highly recommended for a visit if you're ever in that part of the world. The only Georgian Mansion in SE Asia. It's shocking to see how run down it was in the 90s, but now its been lovingly restored.

Ah, Thailand. Last time I came it was the islands. This time it was Krabi and Phuket. We decided to fly out of Phuket and linger a little in Thailand as I'd missed so much holiday time being sick. Krabi and nearby Ao Nang are lovely, packed holiday spots. We rented a scooter and buzzed about seeing temples and waterfalls. Then I lost another day to food poisoning ... thank you Lae Lay Grill, the supposed best restaurant in Ao Nang. It was safer sticking to hawker food.

I can see why people flock to Phuket. It's freaking gorgeous. The beaches are just beautiful. On our last full day we spent the day on Karon beach. Or was it Kuta? Anyway, lovely. But I had just one more piece of bad luck: got stung by a jellyfish all up the back of my legs. OW. Hurt like a mofo for an hour, then started to subside. Bad luck comes in threes, so I'm glad that's over with.

We've been in Cambodia about four days. I'm loving it again and Tim is being won over. He can't believe how low the cost of living here is. We've already rented a flat. Such an uncomplicated business here. We called an agent and he promptly came to get us from our hotel on his scooter, and we hired a tuk-tuk to follow him to various flats. The first two ... hmmm. I have to say I'm not loving the Khmer architectural design. We were also warned that Khmer windows can't be shut as they have vents. Cambodia can be a noisy place, so we passed on those. Also, I can't say I am fond of 80s peach, rose pink, beige tile and dark wood decor.

The third place was the shiz. Four flights up and no elevator, but they are demure marble steps, not monolithic metal structures to be traversed one painful step at a time. Beautiful and bright with large windows in the kitchen and bedroom and double doors in the lounge that open onto a large balcony. Big marble tiles throughout (the landlord is a tiler) in beige, but not a scrap of pink or peach to be seen. Most rentals seem to come furnished here, so all Tim and I need to do tomorrow morning is sign the papers and lug our suitcases in. I am, of course, so excited.

But as I said above, right now I'm in Kep. It's on the coast, and we are staying with half a dozen other peeps in a gorgeous private villa. My friend organised this weekend and I'm so glad we made it to Cambodia in time to come.

The villa in Kep, set up for a house party

More anon.