I was pleased to be asked to join another of Tony McNeight‘s sketching classes on the weekend; the topic – cross-hatching, and the medium, ink. It was some time since I’d used the technique but I was keen to give it another go. True, my tools were ancient, but in good form, since I’d recently cleaned my pens out and replaced the ink cartridges. Continue reading
Many years back, I wrote my first children’s story, Toby and the Tuatara, and illustrated several images to accompany it as an example to show potential publishers. My artwork gained mention but my early writing attempt didn’t. However, the drawing of a native tuatara instilled in me the desire to see one in the flesh. Last weekend that dream almost came true.
This is the blog that almost wasn’t as my procrastination had reached levels unsurpassed. However, through a chance meeting with an artist touching up a sign at the community garden and an ensuing conversation, we discovered that we had much in common, from our beginnings in advertising to illustrating and tutoring. Continue reading
I begin with the destination, for there are approximately 650km between Auckland, where I live, and Wellington, the city I drove to last week with my daughter Lara. This was a long-planned road trip to see the phenomenon of the World of Wearable Art show, which so many have seen in its thirty-year history, but has managed to elude my daughter and me. This may have remained the status quo if I hadn’t seen a figurative print in a local gallery earlier in the year that I instantly desired, and wished to hang on my newly-painted studio wall.
I love walking, and while walking around my neighbourhood I got to thinking about why I enjoy it so much. Fitness certainly plays a part, for I am like a caged animal if I can’t get outdoors. But there is more to my walks than mere exercise, and one salient aspect is what I see. More ideas for drawing. Devonport is a lush green suburb at the tail-end of a peninsula. Homes are built on and around several volcanic cones, and nowhere is far from the sea. The views are simply stunning. My walking routes either begin or finish on King Edward Parade which looks across the harbour to Auckland City and to the other townships lining the promontory opposite. Continue reading
There was a talk at the Auckland Art Gallery two weeks ago featuring a small still life study of Picasso’s, Verre et Pichet. The painting reminded me of my art studies at University when I painted a fragment from one of Picasso’s cubist works (long forgotten the name). This in turn set me thinking about the many still life sketches I used to do of simple kitchen objects. At one stage I produced one (at least) per day. Perhaps this talk would be the kick-start I needed to set me on a similar drawing trajectory. I asked a like-minded friend if she’d like to accompany me to the gallery and happily she accepted. We set off in anticipation of what we might gain from the talk that day. Continue reading
I either go biking or walking most mornings and love looking over hedges and fences into people’s gardens to look at the various flowers and plants growing. This pastime has become even more important to me lately, as I now live in an apartment, and no longer have a back or front yard of my own. A couple of days ago, I went walking with my daughter, and took photos of trees full of blossom, and some daffodils against a wall in a garden. This was in anticipation of my next post, where I thought to feature the change in seasons by sketching some blossoms. To achieve what I had in mind, I needed some actual blooms. Procuring live specimens proved harder than I thought. Continue reading
Yesterday I was gazing out my window at the the hill opposite, the gutters overflowing in a downpour and instantly I was thrust back in time, remembering a hilltop village in Tuscany during a thunderstorm. Lying below this mediaeval town was the village of Sansepolcro where I’d stayed for a week with my husband, enjoying the sun, the food, the ambience and the art. I also remembered I’d written a short travel piece after returning home and searched my files to find it. Great – I had my next blog. Continue reading
Last weekend I was down in Christchurch and was invited to see a play at the Court Theatre. I knew the essence of the story from seeing the film in the early ‘nineties. My son insisted I see it, as he thought it time I experienced a horror movie. Misery the play, like the film, was adapted from the book by Stephen King. I wondered whether the play adaptation might seem dated as years had slipped by since the book and the film appeared. However, the reviews for the play were very positive, and I stepped into the theatre on Saturday night looking forward to a second spooky experience. Continue reading
Last week I posted a non-fictional account about my first trip to Rome, which tells about The day I fell over Caravaggio. On returning home from that memorable trip I decided to write a fictional account of that experience. Like any fiction, much is borrowed from fact. The centre of Rome; the streets walked, the sites visited etc. However, it is the events that took place one very hot summer’s day which I have delighted in retelling in a very different way. Continue reading
My first trip to Rome was brief but memorable. It was summer, and stinking hot. Kerry was in Europe already, but I arrived in Rome several hours ahead of him. An astute traveler, I found the airport station, train, city and the hotel with no trouble whatsoever. I changed into a light dress and navigated my way down Via Nazionale. I came across a nice café, drank a ‘flat white’, ate lunch. I wonder what those buildings are further down, I asked myself, and kept walking. I arrived in the middle of the Forum, just by chance. This impressed my husband, that’s for sure, as I had no map, and no idea of the rich legacies which lay within reach. Our motto became – If only we had done our research. Continue reading
Having my granddaughters to stay was as enjoyable as it was interesting. I knew the eldest had an iPhone, but what I didn’t expect to find, was how little interest she showed in using it. I mean, most children I see these days have some kind of device they’re staring at, speaking into, or plugged to their ears; whether out walking, sitting with friends, or eating with their families in cafes. The use of these devices is endemic – or is it? Not as far as Phemie and Beatrix were concerned, for they were more interested in following their creative instincts: they drew, wrote, read, and played their days away. Continue reading
I met Jennifer Beck while tutoring illustration classes some time back, and had long admired her writing for children. When I noticed her latest book in my local bookshop I picked it up, admiring the pencil and watercolour sketch by Robyn Belton on the cover. The Anzac Violin tells the real story of New Zealander Alexander Aitken and the part a violin plays during his time as a soldier in the first world war. Continue reading
The day I posted my last blog, my cat Ninja, as if thinking my Japanese ceramic horse and the Chinese Warrior replica were taking precedence in my affections, managed to break both within a few minutes of each other. He was up on the bookcase and decided to push a glass paperweight off the side (rather like a baby throws a rattle from its cot). Unfortunately, my warrior bore the brunt of this act, with one hand being severed by the heavy glass ball. “I can fix it,” my husband said, “it’s a clean enough break.” Continue reading
‘When did you start writing?’ is a question often posed to authors. I, like many others, started writing in childhood, building on from the stories written for school projects. In my case, I recall writing about girls leaving home; travelling to foreign towns, or countries. The protagonists were always by themselves, managing with little money but finding extraordinary rewards by navigating their journeys alone. Continue reading
It has often been said that everyone has a story to tell and it certainly appears that the adage holds truth. Memoir, or Life writing, is a genre which has flourished in recent years. Mary Karr writer, memoirist and teacher defines the genre in her recent book The Art of Memoir “Novels have intricate plots, verse has musical forms, history and biography enjoy the sheen of objective truth. In memoir, one event follows another. Birth leads to puberty leads to sex. The books are held together by happenstance, theme, and (most powerfully) the sheer, convincing poetry of a single person trying to make sense of the past.”
As part of my getting to know my new neighbourhood I decided to join a book club. I had shied away from joining one in the past, although my reasons probably weren’t that solid, except to me. Most groups I’d heard of could bring any book they happened to be reading and chat about it. I was after a group that read and discussed one book per month, who actually read the book and were able to discuss why, or why not it held appeal for them, and how they viewed the writing style etc.
Last week I posted Don’t rubbish that first draft, and asked readers to share their thoughts on whether they thought the first draft of the train story I had written some time back, was better than the second draft, which is my post today. Please feel free to comment. Continue reading
While researching for my last post, I opened a file I had not touched in a while. It contained several drafts and assignments for a travel writing paper I had completed through a New Zealand university. I opened each in turn, quite pleased at the diligent student I had been. But something intrigued me about one assignment in particular.
I was scrolling through a number of essays I hadn’t looked at for a while and came across this one, which I wrote after visiting my elderly mother a few years before her death. This is not a series of amusing anecdotes, no embellishments of a personality, or extolling of one’s virtues; just a story of a daughter visiting her mother and the impact of becoming a stranger to the woman who had given her life. Continue reading
In an earlier post I talked about how some stories start; namely the ‘fictional memoir’ as I called it then, a novel-length story about my much-loved father. I so wished to keep going with this project, but I was stuck – call it procrastination, writer’s block, or what you want – but I was desperate to keep the promise to my daughter to write about the grandfather she never knew. So how did I break this writing drought? Continue reading
Setting the scene: The staffroom of an English teaching school in Japan. It is morning. A young Scots teacher is fiddling with papers. It is a matter of minutes before our classes start when an Australian male colleague enters. “You are looking very kempt this morning,” I say, pointing to the tie. This is so far from his usual ruffled appearance, I am shocked – almost to the core.
Whangaparapara Harbour, Great Barrier
In New Zealand we may not be able to provide the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, or the vast wilderness you’d find in Yosemite. We have no bears, coyotes, bison, or alligators, no rattle-snakes, or cobras; in fact no snakes at all. We can hike through our native reserves unworried by strange rustlings or rattles, knowing that the only thing that’ll eat us is a sandfly (and they’re not deadly). Most tourists head south to the ski-fields and fiords, and it is terrific down there, don’t get me wrong, but it is wise not to forget the north, as here you’ll find hundreds of splendid beaches and islands you may never have heard of before. Continue reading
Varenna on Lake Como, is a town I adore, so when my daughter and I began planning a trip to Europe, I booked us into a small apartment there. I had often spoken of my love for the place, and one area in particular. It was day three of our five day stay. We’d taken the ferry to many places, including Bellagio, Cernobbio, Lenno and Tremezzo. We had shopped, eaten, and walked part of the old Roman road. Lake Como is fabulous and I was happy, except we hadn’t yet visited the castle.
If you have been following my blogs you will know that reading and writing take up a fair chunk of my life. My passion for the written word started early, as I was read to as a pre-schooler, and once I could read, I couldn’t stop. I became a keen visitor to the Upper Hutt public library taking home many books at a time. As a teen I was fortunate to read some excellent writers of short fiction. Two that resonate with me today are Janet Frame, one of our (New Zealand’s) most respected authors, and Britain’s Doris Lessing. I have read so many other authors since I have lost count. It is not these lauded authors I wish to speak about however, but what makes a story stand out for me, and why I can remember it, months or even years later.
Lara and I, and other bag-totting lookalikes, stepped off the water taxi at Venezia Lucia Station. All eyes lifted to the arrivals screen. What! The sleeper train to Paris had been cancelled. “Information Office,” I shouted and a mob ran with us the length of the platform.
“It says cancelled. But it’s not,” the official snorted, making a shooing action as if we were flies. “Keep watching the screen.” And thank you too, I muttered.
Try holding two shoulder bags, nailing a big case with a foot while nibbling pizza from a paper bag and holding your eyes on a screen. “It’s arriving,” a backpacker yelled an hour later, and we stampeded down the platform like fleeing refugees.
Writing hands by Karen [CC-BY 2.0]
Who needs critique groups? Only people who don’t believe they need to learn more about the elements of writing, and think they already know how to create good authentic language. Or, they may think they are experts on grammar, or point of view, pace, structure, etc. Now, it is not as if we go about with the elements of writing as a list to draw down as we write, but when starting out on this writing path, it is good to check on our progress once in a while. Complacency can trip us up.
Art class week three: A personal disaster. I thought one way, the tutor thought another, although I believed I was following the brief; which was to think about a character, an object and a setting, in readiness for a triptych we were about to set in action. First, we would work in monotone, and focus on a character. I hadn’t brought along any images but had an idea of what I’d like to create – something that would fit nicely with the memoir I was writing; the most likely character being my dad, and the object, his wonderful (travelling library) truck.
‘Forget any story, and just draw,’ I was told. A character could be animal, not sure about
vegetable or mineral. As try as I might that morning, I could NOT unstick my ‘story’ from my head, and surprise, surprise, as hard as I tried to sketch other ‘characters’ from varying perspectives, my work became more abysmal by the hour. I produced a sheet of caricatures, which failed to make anyone laugh. The best part of the session, was the cup of coffee. Home James (Vivienne in this case) and don’t let it get you down. Continue reading
Books, books, books. My home is filled with them and so is my head, especially when it comes to writing about my dad. He was surrounded by books; not because he was a scholar, but because he had ingenuity in bucketloads when it came to earning his family’s keep. It was post war; his army service done. So what does a man do for a living, with no job, little education, with a wife and four children to look after? Why, he sets up a lending library service of course. He started small, with a stationary library in Gloucester Street, Silverstream (north of Wellington). And being the entrepreneur he was, the idea of a travelling library soon followed.
I like to take a break late afternoon, and sometimes prop myself on my bed and pick up my latest read. This week I began to re-read a book which was passed on to me in December. On finishing, I passed it onto another friend and regretted doing so, as I had liked the book Charlotte very much indeed.
When I was hunting in our local bookshop, I spotted the book and bought it immediately. I had not read any of novelist David Foenkinos’ books before reading Charlotte. Fortunately the French is translated seamlessly into English by Sam Taylor. It is literally a joy to read.
To many, the theme of generational suicide might persuade readers not to lift the cover; although it was the cover, which first lured me inside. The book seems to come from another era; it is hard-backed and beautifully crafted, with marbled end-papers and simple type on thick cream pages. It is a book to be handled. With Love. Continue reading
By the time my studio was up and running in the new apartment, I was too; anxious to get back to my art, and my writing. I was introduced to my first Life Drawing class at fourteen. I loved that first class, and I continue to love drawing the human form. I looked through my art folders and images of the figurative work I had exhibited, or sold, executed mostly in graphite and charcoal; a medium I like a lot. That was a while back. I have just joined an art class, where I wish to try out new mediums and techniques; open myself to find new ways of working. I hope it works out.
It is often said that moving house tops the list for the most stressful situations in life. I’ve recently experienced that truth; we were moving, to an interim home in the country, just as my husband came out of hospital.
We looked out to lush pastures, Alpacas, ponies, and Shetland cattle. A bucolic setting; good for my husband’s recovery, and mine. Until … my heart decided to change its rhythm; racing at intervals, making me swoon (lovely word) during my daily walks. Continue reading
The rooms at the art centre were somewhat austere, although the atmosphere created by the facilitator Tom Jenks, was anything but. He was, I learned soon enough, passionate about literature, and the nature of writing, but more of that to come.
As outlined in the programme, mornings began with two participants being critiqued. Extracts were read in turn. Next, would be the feedback from the group, as these were the works we had close-read previously. Tom would also encourage us to speak about certain aspects of the work and later, bring his ideas into the discussion, which sometimes became heated; especially I remember, when it came to my work. Continue reading
I just happened to see an advertisement in a literary magazine I subscribe to, Narrative, where one of the editors was calling for applications to his forth-coming writing workshops in New York and San Francisco. ‘How exciting’ I thought, and then squashed that frivolity with the prosaic ‘don’t be stupid’.
But I kept thinking about those workshops. I had travelled to many cities in many countries, but not San Francisco. I was restless, my future in limbo, and decided I had nothing to lose by submitting samples of my work: a requirement for selection. Only twelve participants would be chosen; it was highly unlikely I’d be one of them. I sent off two short stories anyway and tried to forget the whole thing. Continue reading
I have been working on a piece of writing (the same piece I have been struggling to finish for months), which I shall call a ‘fictionalised memoir’. It all came about following a conversation with my eldest daughter, who voiced that she would like me to tell her more of her grandfather (my father), as she had never known him, my dad having died before her birth. I started by jotting down things about his character; talents, hobbies etc., when I stopped writing and began chewing the end of my pen instead. My father was worth more than a few facts; he was a very kind, interesting, hard-working entrepreneurial type, with a cracking sense of humour and a passion for music and art. His friends loved him, as did I. He deserved a story. Continue reading
I began the year reading Peter Carey’s latest book A Long Way From Home. That it was advertised as a thrilling high-speed story appealed to me and the fact it was written by a favourite Australian author. It’s set in the 1950’s: a time I remember as a young child; though of New Zealand, not Australia.
I was still carrying around the impact of an earlier novel of Peter Carey’s I’d read, called His Illegal self, in which the main character is a boy called Che, whom Carey portrays with utter authenticity. As I opened A Long Way From Home, I wondered whether I’d be equally impacted by a character, and how the story would affect me. Continue reading