Wednesday, September 25, 2013

THE AMERICA’S CUP IS STILL AMERICA’S CUP, DAMMIT


The squeaking, hissing and groaning has stopped at last - and that’s just me.  In San Francisco the America’s Cup is over for now and Team USA have retained the Cup, after a titanic and almost unbelievable struggle against early odds. The big beautiful catamarans have also gone quiet and are being put away, perhaps for ever – because who can afford to enter another America’s Cup regatta with such super-sized, super-fast, super-expensive yachts.

At least that’s what we here down-under in New Zealand thought a week or so ago. Because we were 8 – 1 up and only needed one more win to get our hands back on the Cup.  We were already polishing its plinth.  How could we lose?  Chicken-counting seemed harmless enough, although some cautioned against it.  We told ourselves comfortably that we could even afford to lose a race or two.  We only needed one win, they needed eight without losing a single one.  We were already planning the next regatta, back here, with smaller, more affordable, more accessible boats when everyone could join in rather than the three who challenged the Cup holders Team USA this time.

George and Zoe, my resident furries, had become accustomed to a daily nap between eight and ten a.m. on my blanketed lap, but I watched the racing with increasing alarm. The days passed and Team USA, astonishingly, won five races on the trot. Yesterday, trailing 8 – 6, they brushed Team NZ aside before race one even properly started and, coming from behind, finished the job spectacularly with race two. The day ended at 8 all, with one race to go. 

That was today. We tried, we really tried.  Like the rest of the four million-plus Kiwis I wore my red socks.  I blew the wind till my cheeks exploded.  I whistled.  I yelled at the television, watched through my fingers the relentless, triumphant progress of Team USA up and down the course. They came from behind – again – and roared home. The regatta – all nineteen races of it – has been described as the most staggering upset win in the history of sport. And it was hugely exciting, even for someone like me who knows nothing about sailing and, usually, cares less.

George and Zoe napped on, mindless of the carnage on the water way over there in San Francisco. They are going to be decidedly put out tomorrow morning when they have to find somewhere else to sleep the morning away.  The sun will still rise. There is, after all, life after The America’s Cup and I have work to do.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

TALL POPPIES


Until recently, here in New Zealand, it wasn’t acceptable to stand out.  Everyone was equal, no one was better or worse, Jack was as good as his master.  Not so long ago children tried not to win prizes at school – oh, the shame of it.  Growing up, they were discouraged from pushing themselves forward, blowing their own trumpets, showing off. Even now adults who are suspected of skiting receive the curled-lip treatment.

Oh alright, I exaggerate – but tall poppies still tend to get their heads chopped off.  Tall poppies are of course those who dare to raise their heads above the parapet, and are therefore targets for everyone else. I’ve been here long enough to be wary and, like any hopeful immigrant, have done my best to fit in,  although anyone with half an eye could see that it was nonsense.  How would anything get done if everybody ducked down in case they became successful, invented things, found new continents, discovered cures for this and antidotes for that? What good are a lot of decapitated poppies?

But things change. We have embraced the personality culture that has infected the rest of the world, although we still only revere celebs from elsewhere – even from Australia if we’re desperate. Our own? Not so much. Apart from sporting heroes, we tend to dismiss our over-achievers as being somehow not quite up to scratch.  They are not as good as the overseas ones. They are obviously skiting, showing off, and probably up themselves. So we still chop their heads off – if we can catch them before they disappear overseas to continue their stellar careers.

We indie writers are therefore in a quandary. We are uncomfortable with self-puffery. We can’t hide behind a publisher who does our marketing for us while we simper modestly in the background, because we are the publisher.  But now smashwords.com, the conduit and distributor for thousands of us, have a new section for personal interviews, and the indie authors, including me, have leapt in and, rather quaintly, interviewed themselves. We can use the supplied questions as is, modify them, delete them, or generate our own. We can go back any number of times and change anything, add anything. It means that the power is in our hands – and so is the responsibility.

It also means sticking our heads above the parapet. So please put the swords away if you just happen upon these personal interviews. They are almost the only way we can tell the world about our works, even if it does seem like showing off.  I’ve hidden the link for mine up there on the left, under The Books.  


 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

GREAT-GRANDMAMA


(I wonder what would happen if I could interview my redoubtable great-grandmother …)

Dr Muriel Maitland King settles herself and smooths the pale grey silk over her knees. “So, we meet at last.” She indicates a spindly-legged chair and I sit down nervously.

“You have been very – elusive, but I’m beginning to see you more clearly,” I say.

Muriel’s eyebrows rise. “Absurd! I could not have been difficult to find. I was – and I quote from one of the quality newspapers – ‘one of the most interesting personalities in London’.  Why have you been looking for me?”

“I want to write a novel about you.  I would like to find out more about you and your life. ”

Muriel frowns. “That would not be appropriate. My life is private, and nothing to do with you.”

“That’s not quite true,” I say.  “You were my great-grandmother. You were also a doctor – or so you claimed …”

“Claimed? Claimed? All London attended my clinics. My lectures were famous in England and America. My books were read by thousands.”  Muriel leans forward and glares. “The Princess Christian herself summoned me to Cumberland Lodge to ask my advice!”

“The Princess Christian being Queen Victoria’s daughter – yes I know, I found the newspaper reports - in the quality papers of course.  You certainly made a significant impression on the London of your day. Wouldn’t you like the world to know more about you?”  Muriel’s eyes glitter and – do I detect a smirk beginning to appear on her face?  I press on. “Think of the interest from people in the world of today, the 21st century, the world of your many descendants – my world?”

“Do you think so?” she says thoughtfully.  (Aha, gotcha!) “And you propose to write about me in a novel?”

“I would really like to write your biography, but two centuries on it is almost impossible to find enough information about you that I haven’t found already, and what I have is patchy.  So, I will have to fill in the gaps from my imagination, in what we today call faction, which is a novel based on facts but with fiction mixed in.”

“And what makes you the person to write this – faction?”

Good question, and I choose my words carefully.  “I have researched your life and feel I not only know you but that we have much in common. The generations that have come between us – your children, their children and grandchildren – have carried some of your genes and I can recognise those, in them and in me.  I find that very interesting and, at times, alarming.  And if I am successful you could become even more famous than you were in your time.”

Muriel nods graciously. “Perhaps,” she says, “it would be appropriate. Very well, you have my permission.”
 
(I wish - oh how I wish!)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

HAMPERS ANYONE?


Some time ago I read an article by someone who had, one year, been a volunteer delivering Christmas hampers to the poor, the old and the needy. It was a light-hearted piece, and the hearts of the writer and his fellow volunteers were clearly in the right place. They set out, a few days before Christmas, wanting to spread cheer to those who, they felt, were going to be short of it. How they selected recipients was not revealed. Enough to say that they knocked on doors, and presented hampers with beaming smiles and a "merry Christmas!"  They were met with a variety of reactions that the writer of the article found puzzling. 

Some people were taken aback but accepted the goods. These were usually women with young children trying to manage on their own in difficult circumstances. But many of the others, but most especially the older ones, were  more inclined to react with a more or less civil "no thank you" to an angry "how dare you!" before slamming the door.

It made me ponder the problem of people – old, poor, needy, disadvantaged, you-name-it – who live in uncomfortable circumstances and may, or may not, need help. Other people feel a need to provide that help. But kindness can be embarrassing. Help can seem like interference. Charity can be taken for condescension, and is acceptable only if it involves worthy causes in broad terms rather than people directly: world hunger, cystic fibrosis or saving the planet. 

On the surface it seems simple enough. Here are some people who don't have enough to eat, here are others who are sick and need help, and here are still others who are cold or lonely. Our hearts bleed. What can we do? Well, lots of things. But the real question is, what should we do?

We can leave it to the government. There – done.  But governments are clumsy giants, unable to operate with finesse. Instead there are armies of bureaucrats who do their best but must stick to the rules and not be influenced by feelings. They do not tramp the streets with hampers looking for anyone who might need one. But welfare charities do, apparently. I am uncomfortable with dishing out largesse to people who haven't asked for it and may be embarrassed, humiliated, hurt or angry by the gesture. A Christmas hamper, however generous and well-meant, is no substitute for a chat, a cup of tea or a stiff gin and tonic with an actual friend.

The writer of the article said that some of those people were eventually persuaded to accept what was kindly meant. I suspect that the recipients had more delicacy than the givers, and graciously allowed them to do the good that they clearly wished to do.