The Elegance of the Hedgehog

We were thrust into level 4 Covid lockdown and I found myself without a book to read, and, libraries were closed. The thought of it! Thank goodness for Gabby, who said she would swap books with me. I put The Midnight Library (recently read) into a wee bag and walked (mask on) the few blocks to her letterbox and popped it inside. That afternoon, she did the same for me, and left The Elegance of the Hedgehog at my front door.

The title was intriguing. The setting was Paris, a favourite city. It didn’t take me long to start reading. Except the ruminating on Marx at the start almost made my head spin. But when the protagonist Renée introduced herself on page 15, I was hooked. 

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Stormy skies

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While walking, on the lookout for something I could sketch, I looked no further than the sky. It was both fantastic and rather terrifying, as the brooding clouds looked ready to empty their heavy load on me. So, before the anticipated deluge I took a photo, and continued on my walk, expecting to find myself racing for cover at any moment. Weirdly, those clouds kept on brooding and finally wreaked havoc in the middle of the night. Wind thrashed the trees, streets, and whipped up the sea, but our region was relatively unscathed, fortunately. Not so, further out west where floods drowned cars and wrecked homes and businesses.

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Finding a saving grace

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Usually I am up reasonably early, take off for a walk once I’ve finished my chores, returning refreshed and ready for ‘work’. But, lately, I have been staying in bed longer, reading, not wishing to face the world. I do go out eventually, masked while walking, and steer clear of others coming too close. I look at at the clouds, the sea, and the trees still in blossom, to help lift my spirits like they usually do. But my heart is heavy, as the Delta strain of Covid has hit New Zealand and we are in lockdown again. I miss my family terribly. One week has become two, and I have done little artwork or writing. I knew I had to shake myself out of this slump, and gave myself a little drawing project to complete. 

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It’s been a crazy few days

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Belated gift. Artist: John Drawbridge

It all began with me couriering an artwork to Melbourne, as three of my son’s planned trips to New Zealand were cancelled through Covid, and I had intended to pass this over to him when he came. The artwork was intended as a gift when they’d finished house renovations, a year or so back, but I have been a bit slack. You see, I had promised him that I’d do an artwork as a house-warming gift. I did get as far as sketching the idea, but then I just didn’t get around to doing it. That dratted procrastination thing again. But, when I spotted a print in an art store window, by an old tutor of mine, I knew it was the perfect present, and I brought it immediately. I packed it securely for travel, and sent it off to Melbourne last Monday, anxious about it surviving the trip. I was thrilled when Duncan phoned to say that it had arrived safely and he and Harriet just loved it. I got to talk with my granddaughters too, which was great, as It has been a long time since I’ve seen any of them. Then, Beatrix the eight year old said, “Can you draw a sloth for me, NaniViv?”

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Editing: keeping it interesting

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A writer at work

I am currently in the process of reading through twenty-one of my short story manuscripts, following my reader’s track-change suggestions. As Suzanne is very good at her work, I mostly click ‘approve’, and keep scrolling for the next comment. I always re-read the work after this initial browse, in case I find any small thing I think will improve the flow, or a word which now seems inappropriate. Why would you change anything at this stage, you might be thinking? Well, it is because these stories span ten years of writing, and some of those early ones may still require more ‘tightening’.

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Something. Is that better than nothing?

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watercolour, pen and aquarelle pencil

As I shall be in Wellington for the week, I was aware that I’d not find the time to post a comprehensive blog. I thought, I know, I’ll do a sketch, and sorted through photos from my recent trip. Nothing there that beckoned me, but wait? I’d taken a photo some time back of the lovely white orchid which sits on my desk, blooming beautifully. Okay. I quickly uploaded the image and sketched it. Hmm. As I’ve stated many times before, sketches always work best if one keeps up regular practice. I haven’t been sketching lately, in spite of all my promises to do so. Yet, I have decided to show this ‘something’ rather than nothing. I sketched quickly in pencil first, on 140lb, Canson watercolour paper, adding some aquarelle pencil for colour, before grabbing an 0.5 pigment liner to provide a loose outline for the white on white flowers. Perhaps I’ll take my sketchbook with me?? No excuses with some free time up my sleeve… Maybe I’ll find the inspiration I need.

Punakaiki to Nelson

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At Punakaiki Rocks

We continued our West Coast travel northwards. The weather was no better by the time we reached Punakaiki, and it was clear I wasn’t going on any horse trek here. I have only ridden a few times, but always thought that I’d like to learn to do it properly – some day. Probably never now. And then there was the scenic flight over the glaciers which quickly became an unfilled whim, but once we walked around the Punakaiki (or Pancake) rocks, we held no remorse for losing those dreams.

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Franz Josef to Punakaiki

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It is true, that the weather was lousy the day we drove to Franz Josef, and the road flooded in patches, but we arrived safe and sound at the Alpine Glacier Motel. It was hard to realise that mountains surrounded us, as the sky had lowered to road level. Rain, and hunger saw us drive to Alice May’s restaurant for dinner (although it was a mere 5min walk), for rain continued to fall. This is THE place to go to dine, for three reasons: the friendly staff, whitebait omelet, and to read the legend of Alice May. One of twelve children, from Hawkes Bay. She worked as a hotel maid, fell pregnant, and was rejected by her lover when she lost the baby, when he’d originally promised marriage. She shot and killed the man, and was imprisoned. The Socialist feminist movement petitioned widely for her release, and she was, six years later. Later, after moving to the South Island, she married Charles O’Loughlin and they had six children together. Jennie O’Loughlin, the owner of Alice May’s restaurant, is one of Alice’s many grandchildren. Amazing story.

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Down South again

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Last week, Kerry and I headed off for another South Island adventure, with family this time. No bike riding, but a train trip on the TranzAlpine, through the Southern Alps to the West Coast. On the day we left home I dressed for the cold, boots and all, as Christchurch, our first destination, is always colder than Auckland in winter. On the plane, I felt like a swaddled babushka and sweated in my seat, while I looked out in awe at the snow-clad Kaikoura Mountains on the East Coast. What stunning views. And luckily I had the window seat. And, yes, I was the photographer this time.

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Procrastination: my middle name

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oz

Yes, well, Procrastination, I think, must be my middle name. That’s me above, procrastinating. A month back, I was anguishing over how to progress with my new novel, having written several pages and coming to a halt. So, I began collecting more background material, and that helped to a point. I wrote approximately one more page. I had begun writing in 1st person perspective, and was fairly happy with that choice.Then I began wondering whether 1st person would give me the depth of insight I wanted from other characters. So, I changed what I’d written to 3rd person, and stopped. Why? Because I decided to write an article about libraries back in the day. That’s awaiting an edit. Following that, I re-edited a collection of twenty short stories I’d written over the years. My reasoning was, why start a new story when I already had a novel-length book waiting in the wings? Good. Finally I was focussed on one thing!

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