Wednesday, December 26, 2012

NANOWRIMO – A GREAT IDEA BUT IT WASN'T MINE

I want to put the record straight and I can't find a way to do it. Here's the problem.

Last year I published "From Quill to Keyboard", a slight book of eight essays about writing. The essays had been published separately elsewhere but I re-formatted them as an e-book, and gave them a whole new public. In fact, gave them to a whole new public, as a free book, on Smashwords. They have been flying off the shelf – if a virtual book can fly off a virtual shelf in a modest way.

To change focus for a moment – the reason will become clear – I sometimes Google myself. It's shameful but I can't help it. I type "Joan Curry" + writer into the panel and see where I am in the grand scheme of things. Pages 1, 2 and 3 are satisfactorily ego-boosting and it's usually enough to calm a troubled mind. Occasionally I go further, to pages 4 and 5, even 6. And that's when I found the problem.

There was my name in connection with two sites: www.squidoo.com/  and www.pearltrees.com/  In the first, under free ebooks about writing, I found "From Quill to Keyboard" with the gratifying comment that it was a "motivating read for every writer". Then I read that I was "one of the founders of NaNoWriMo". This was repeated on the Pearltrees site.

I should explain that NaNoWriMo was started by an American called Chris Baty who decided to write a novel in one calendar month. The aim was 50,000 words of hell-for-leather exuberant imperfection, never mind editing or planning. He and twenty friends spent July 1999 writing and six of them actually finished their novels. The next year they changed the month to November, and NaNoWriMo was born – national novel writing month. There are now thousands of people from all over the world participating in NaNoWriMo every year.

It is true that in "From Quill to Keyboard" I mention NaNoWriMo to illustrate the working method of an old friend whose exuberance was legendary and whose editing and planning non-existent. Her output, however, was prodigious. But I'm afraid that I was not only not one of the founders of NaNoWriMo, but I have never even participated in the event.

I have tried to correct the mistake, presumably made by the reviewer of the book, on both Squidoo and Pearltrees but without success. Pearltrees proved impossible to navigate to the mistake once logged on – and you can't comment until you've logged on. On Squidoo there seems no way to comment at all. So, for the record, I was not responsible for NaNoWriMo – but I would have been proud to have been, had I been.

Monday, December 24, 2012

THE TURKEY AND OTHER STUFF-UPS


Once upon a time we had a Christmas that was not so much about stuffing the turkey, although that came into it, but a whole lot about stuff-ups.

There was the hammer cock-up and the VCR calamity, the turkey tragedy and the stuffing stuff-up, the duvet disaster and the brandy butter catastrophe, not to mention the Silk Road misfortune.

To begin:  On the morning of Christmas Eve we packed the defrosting turkey, the stuffing (in a separate bag, we didn't want the bugs to start yippy-ay-yaying) and the brandy butter into the chilly-bin, heaped enough clothes for ten days (we were only staying for three) and all the presents into the car and drove over the Southern Alps to the West Coast.

On our arrival one child stared at the naked turkey, said eeeuw! but gamely started to push stuffing into various cavities. Eventually trussed, the turkey went into the oven, but two hours later we realised that we couldn't detect delicious roasting smells. We checked, to find the bird still ghostly white under its foil blanket – something wrong with the thermostat? We turned the oven to fan-bake, removed the foil and blasted the turkey for another hour.

Christmas day we discovered that the only part of the turkey that was actually cooked was the breast. Even the stuffing was raw. We didn't starve, the table was loaded – and there was Christmas pudding and brandy butter. But my famous, sinful brandy butter was oily and sort of yellowish – what had I done to it?  We plastered it over our pudding anyway.

Thank goodness, present time. Surely nothing could ... but we weren't done yet.  In spite of careful planning and consultations we had missed something. The budding builder had been given a complete new toolkit and our hammer was somewhat redundant, but hey, you can never have too many hammers. There were two copies of the book about the Silk Road under the tree – for the same person. The child about to go flatting was handed a huge parcel containing a duvet inner – and found that in the process of sealing the plastic pack the contents had become hopelessly welded along one edge.

A trip to town later solved the duvet and the Silk Road problems. The hammer simply joined the other hammers in the fancy new tool box. The turkey was cut up and blitzed piece by piece in the microwave until it was safe to eat, if somewhat dehydrated. The brandy butter was edible but only just. And I can't for the life of me remember what the VCR cock-up was about at all. Some things are probably better un-remembered.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

THE END OF THE WORLD

Well, one day to go. The end of the world is nigh, apparently, and it is nigher for us down here in New Zealand than it is for the rest of you. We reach December 21 way ahead of anyone else so perhaps we're the canary in the mine. If we are obliterated, you lot are not far behind.

Tsunami
I'm assuming, of course, that the so-called prediction of Earth's demise is accurate as to dates. I mean, 21st December 2012 is quite precise. The trouble is, 21st December here in New Zealand is only 20th December most of elsewhere. Not only that, it is a matter of what time on the 21st December this event is supposed to take place. Midnight? Eight o'clock in the morning? If the world blows up one second after midnight, New Zealand time, then those of you up there in say New York could feel aggrieved that you still had seventeen hours of 20th December to live it up that you were now deprived of. If you could still feel, of course, seeing that the world had, as it were, disappeared. You could sue the Mayans for false advertising – oh no, you couldn't of course – drat.

And think of poor little Niue Island, just up there north-west of New Zealand. Niue is twenty three hours behind New Zealand – will the Niueans have to wait their turn, watching the rest of the world disintegrating until one second after midnight, Niue time? No of course not – a disintegrating world surely couldn't fragment itself piece by piece because of the trifling matter of time zones.

As for those deluded individuals who have made plans to protect themselves from the coming devastation – good luck. However I fail to see how gas masks and underground bunkers are going to help. What happens when the bangs and shakes and fires have died down? Do people really think they will emerge blinking from their bunkers – hello? Bunkers are built underground and the ground will not be there, and nor will the people. There will just be space and the debris of Earth in the form of trillions of tiny asteroids whizzing about.

The Mayans must have got it wrong. Or rather, we have got them wrong. They didn't actually predict the end of the Earth anyway, they simply stopped constructing their calendar at 21st December 2012. They probably got tired of writing "18th December, 19th December, 20th December, 21st December ..." and said enough is enough. After all, they had to stop somewhere.

But – just in case – bye bye, love to all ...


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

DIAL M FOR MURDOCH


I'm currently working on a book written by journalist Martin Hickman and a British member of parliament, Tom Watson.  "Dial M for Murdoch" tells the almost unbelievable story of the rise and fall of the News International empire and its eventually corrupt, dirty, cynical drive for power and profits.

 Coincidentally a relatively small scandal has recently broken in Australia. A pair of "presenters" at an insignificant radio station decided to telephone the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was being cared for. They also decided to pretend to be the Queen and Prince Charles, and see how far they got before being caught out. They recorded the call. Their deception was juvenile and ridiculous, their accents absurd, but somehow they got through the barriers and were apparently given information they shouldn't have.

The consequences were appalling. A nurse died of shame. Her husband and children are devastated. The hospital is embarrassed. The guilty pair have apologised and have appeared on television in tears, insisting that they didn't mean any harm. Of course they didn't. It was a prank. They did nothing illegal. They didn't foresee any consequences. The radio station management had checked the recording and okayed it for broadcasting. So it wasn't their fault.

The point of the whole silly business was about ratings and therefore profit. It's done all the time. Anything to make a splash, catch the reader's or listener's attention, collect followers, sell stuff, make money. And most of the time it's legitimate, even if it's sometimes also distasteful and vulgar.

Well, that's pretty much how News International went about things too.  Has no one noticed a connection between something like that harmless prank to boost ratings and what Rupert Murdoch's corrupt and toxic empire eventually stood for?  Information gathering about people in the news – juicy little titbits about royals and film stars – to increase circulation and make money escalated from scratching around legitimate sources to spying, hounding, hacking phones, bullying, bribing, blackmailing, intimidating, perverting the course of justice and the rest of the huge, wriggling, maggoty mess.

The slippery slope can start with nothing very much but lead to ruin for a lot of people, just like the Murdoch empire. It's well sign-posted, and could well start with "I didn't mean any harm".


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

EUTERPE - THE MOST MEMORABLE DAY


In the sailing ship Euterpe, on the voyage of 1879, there was one day that the three diarists on board – George Lister, Joshua Charlesworth and James Martin – agreed was most memorable. It was 12th October, about halfway through the voyage that began on 1st August and lasted five months.


Euterpe's flag
(Courtesy Mike Wood Photography)
It began when the sun rose with a stunning display of beautiful colours. Lister observed that it rose and set differently in the tropics than it did on shore. The sea was like a great tableland, they could scarcely detect the motion of the ship and "the water was so clear that we could see a great way down – some said a quarter of a mile." 

Charlesworth too found the day spectacularly beautiful, as fine a day as he had ever witnessed. There was not a breath of wind, the sea was perfectly calm, not a ripple on the water, and they could see the horizon for twenty miles. The laconic Martin wrote that he had never seen a pond as smooth.  

A whale was spotted half a mile off, and came to within a few feet of the ship. It blew twice, then raised its head and back out of the water and disappeared. Porpoises and flocks of large birds, including albatross, floated on the water. Sharks, bonitos and shoals of small fish were about, and soon a shark came swimming around the ship accompanied by its pilots, two to eighteen inches long and coloured like mackerel.  Some went "right before his nose" and others followed behind. Baits were let down to entice the shark to take a bite but he was shy, although he kept going round the vessel so that all could see him. 

More sharks arrived, people tossed them biscuits, and a sailor threw a harpoon at one but missed. Bait was more successful and two sharks were caught but broke away before they could be dragged on board. Finally one was caught, hauled up and slaughtered on the deck. Charlesworth wrote, "You may depend the affair caused great excitement on board" (only if you enjoy that sort of thing, say I).

Whales continued to spout about the ship in the evening and Charlesworth described such a "splendid sunset … as I have seen yet and perhaps ever I shall see again" and “altogether the day passed away the most beautiful we have had on the voyage.”

Martin felt contemplative: "We are in a dead calm and the sunset is splendid. Oh this uncertainty there is about a sailing ship. We may be stuck here for a month or gone in an hour." 

There was singing on deck at the end of that beautiful, exciting, memorable day.