Doggone Writer’s Block

by Sue Trollip

This is going to be a short post because I’m terribly busy. I’m trying to find a name for my main protagonist, HD’s dog. It’s a sheepdog and no I will not call it Lambchop.

Now I’ve never given much thought to dog’s names because I’ve never actually owned a dog all of my own (sob). I spend a lot of time with people who have dogs but I’ve never had to name one, so now I’m thinking hard. The cogs of my brain are churning, and it sort of hurts. HD is not an alcoholic so Smirnoff won’t do, he’s not a reader of classics so there goes Lassie, he’s quite humane, so that’s a no vote for Dog.

Thinking quickly I turn to the family dogs, from my youth. We had Cindy and Copper and Tessie and as the family dispersed so more dogs appeared. There’s Indie, Sam, Butternut, Puddles. Not blown away with delight I look to the pooches of friends, Oscar, Rosebud, Princess, Tequila, Spike, Buttercup and Peaches. No, nothing is thrilling me there either so finally I consult my bookshelf to find out what other authors call their pets – I’m looking at dogs here, so forgive me cat people. I found Katie, Angela and Phoebe, all of which were owned by young girls. (Note to self: start reading books where men have dogs.)

I’m stuck, I’m suffering from dogged writers block. So I turn to my trustee friend Google and get Laddie, Brian and Moses. None of this is helping. I don’t want the old fallback of Rover and Sheeba, though now I see that Jeep seems to be high on a few lists. I’d rather have one of those in the garage than in the kennel, and I think HD would too.

Finally my brain switches gear. I can think, but seldom at high speed. Hello Amazon!

Enzo is in ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ and then of course there’s Marley and ‘In the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time’ Wellington makes a brief appearance.

Now these are better names. I’m breathing again and the gasping has stopped. I can do this …

Baboons among the books

By Jacqueline Dowling

Book Fair 2011 was a huge success; they said. Everyone who visited it over the two days said it too. So it must have been a success – stands to reason.

But for those of us involved in the gestation of this, to date, unique happening in our neck of the woods, it presented interesting challenges. First off there was the possibility of a Cape winter gale complete with hail, sleet, rain and whatever the Antarctic hurled our way.

No problem we all said, we’ll hold it in the nature reserve and hope for a sunny week-end – so we did. Books firmly under cover in picturesque stone huts, picnic tables under the trees and plenty of ladies in pinnies brandishing tea-pots, and platters of wicked things to eat.

We held our collective breath, crossed fingers and didn’t watch the weather forecasts or even mention the possibility of anything but warm sunshine, birdsong and spring buds.

And that’s exactly how it turned out. Brilliant days, early budding fynbos, carpets of daisies as far as the eye could see; a backdrop of newly green and majestic mountains, with waterfalls flowing into streams – perfect.

That’s what the booksellers thought too: they sold many books and everyone had a great experience in beautiful surroundings. All, that is, except the ladies in pinnies who fell prey to the local baboon troop.

Grey furry bodies bundled into the kitchen, shrieking in excitement and in anticipation of a fabulously free feast. And they managed, perfectly – several plates of sandwiches disappeared up the valley, whole cakes grew legs and followed suit. The tea tables experienced a flurry of hastily filled mouths and stall-holders were left speechless.

Just as suddenly it was over. Peace reigned. Refreshments replenished and service re-commenced. Book sales continued: business as usual.

It was a huge success. Everyone said it was. So it must have been.

Then why, I ask myself, am I not in a frenzy of pre-Fair 2012 nerves this year?

Probably, and only because of the uncertain weather conditions you understand, it will be held in a large auditorium complete with doors, windows and no trees!

Getting it out there

By Susan Roberts

I like to think I have a few things in common with the American writer Richard Bach. Okay, only about four things. Like him, one of my all-time favourite movies is the original Star Wars; like him I wrote my early work on an old-fashioned typewriter. Like Bach I resisted until recently the call of the internet and such basic tasks as creating a website and writing a blog; and like him I am quite shy of the readers who may be “out there.”

There the similarities with Bach end, of course. He has written landmark books, made a decent living from writing, and he loves flying his own planes. Unlike Bach, I have written what I prefer to call “sleepers” which have not taken the reading world by storm. Unlike him, I have not made any money from writing, and neither do I like flying in small planes. Or big ones. In fact, I would avoid flying altogether if it wasn’t for the fact that planes provide a necessary means of getting me from A to B faster than my car. For example, if I were to visit my sister in Australia without a plane, I would need one of those amphibious conversions like they conjure up on Top Gear, and I don’t have the mechanical expertise of a May, Hammond or Clarkson. In fact, at the moment my car is completely out of action, but that’s another story …

I digress. About a decade ago, I read a collection of Richard Bach’s shorter writings. I forget the name of the book now, but one essay in particular has stayed in my memory. Like many writers, Bach makes the comment that writing is a solitary act, with the writer confined within four walls with only his typewriter for company. Naturally, it comes as a shock when a book slaved over in private actually gets into print and becomes available for the rest of the world to read.

This particular essay describes how Bach cringes inwardly when a reader approaches him in a supermarket or an airport departure lounge. (My apologies to Bach – I am paraphrasing here, because I don’t remember his actual wording and the book has long since gone back to some library.) Not that he is ungrateful for the attention from readers who recognise him, but he feels embarrassed after the initial “I’m glad you liked the book” and doesn’t really know what else to say. His impulse is to suggest that if you really want to know him, you will find him in whatever he writes. Anyone who has read Bach’s work will know this to be true. His own love story is the subject of the hauntingly beautiful The Bridge Across Forever and his unrivalled passion for flying is expressed in all his books, not just his first runaway bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

As a basically shy person myself, I relate to Bach’s awkwardness with strangers. I too am happiest when expressing myself through my writing, and I certainly don’t have Bach’s problems of being famous or recognisable. But his essay did start me thinking: if I ever became a famous writer, how would I cope with doing a simple book launch? Probably not well. I don’t mind one-on-one conversations or small groups five or less, but to address a roomful of people is one of the most terrifying experiences that any torturer could dream up for me. Sometimes it’s hard to believe I was ever a drama student!

But now it seems that I will never have to worry about actually facing large groups of people. Thanks to the explosion of e-books and the internet, I can do the virtual equivalent of this through indirect means, and without ever leaving the comfort of my four walls and my laptop. Two weeks ago I launched my own website. I was able to put onto it all the things that people might want to know about what I have written, where to find my books, what books I have found useful as a writer, and a little bit about myself and what inspires me to write. You can have a look at it here or by clicking on the link in the right hand column.

Of course, Richard Bach has a website too and I frequently visit it. Having a website is perfect for a writer such as Bach, because it allows him to express himself to his fans without the awkwardness of enduring an actual meeting, and yet it serves the same purpose.

Perhaps that makes five things we now have in common. I hope there may be more similarities one day, but my dislike of flying will never change.

Life Lessons

By Michelle Dennison (awa Julianne Alcott)

I have learned several things throughout my life. I was thinking of them the other day, and thought I would share them …

* If your car / electric appliance is making a strange noise, tape it with your cell phone’s voice recorder. It will probably not make the noise when you take it to get repaired, and the shop person will think you are hallucinating. If you can play it for them, you have proof. I have done that with my car brakes.

“No ma’am. New brakes always make a noise when they are wearing in.”

He stopped saying that when I played him the recording!

* Know exactly where your candles, torch and matches are, so if there is a sudden power failure, you can find them in the dark. If you have never smoked, you may need to have cigarette lighter lighting lessons. I did …

* Always greet security guards at shop entrances. That way, when you discover that the chocolate you bought yesterday is still in your handbag (without the cash slip) and you are walking around the shop with it, you can take it to the security guard and explain. If he has already established you as a harmless friendly person, he may not suspect you of being a shoplifter.

* No matter how I try and convince myself that cocoa pods come from a tree, so chocolate must be a fruit, it isn’t true.

* Shoes that hurt in the shop will probably hurt for several months once you take them home. By the time they have had a chance to stretch, they will probably have fallen apart. If they aren’t comfortable in the shop… don’t buy them!

* If you are going to drop an item of laundry in a public place, it will probably be underwear. Keep it contained by stuffing it into a T-shirt and rolling the T-shirt up. Don’t drop the T-shirt.

* Don’t wait until morning before work to put petrol in your car. That is bound to be the morning when you oversleep / lose you car keys / drop your coffee all over your shirt.

* If you grill food often enough, you actually won’t be able to eat the oily fried version anymore.

* Most food tastes better with grilled cheese on top.

* Exercise is more fun when it is dancing.