Tuesday, 29 June 2010

On Parking

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rainy day, rainbow haze
parked at the jetty.
green waves breaking
on shelly beach and concrete walls.
clarity of the hills beyond the channel
shifts to falling water
Others park here, sitting, watching.
cars as offices, their windows fogged
Proud seagulls preen atop lampposts
outrigger canoes slice water
while slanting rain
wraps islands in mystery
Day’s end glows
and behind, in the west
blue skies beckon
then the moment is gone
dimness falls
I will need headlights to get home again
but first I will sit here a while longer
absorbing the ocean
its last reflections of sungleam
in the clearing sky
as rainstorms move out across the gulf
clouds dragging thick straight tendrils
that rush to the waves
and the seabirds wheeling above
who catch the light that remains

Sunday, 27 June 2010

On Being Happy

Sometimes I think I'm the luckiest girl in the world.

However, that didn't stop me from spilling cold tea all over myself just as I was formulating that sentence. The cup was fuller than I thought it was, you see.

Anyway. Sure I'm lucky. I live in New Zealand. People say we're not patriotic, but have you seen the proportion of locals wearing a touristy T-shirt? I say we just show it differently.

I get to sit here in my eagle's nest room, the main road traffic swinging around behind me, the ocean mostly visible ahead unless it's raining quite severely - it may be 5km to the beach as the crow flies, but it's near enough to catch the variations in the water's tone: icy green to deep turquoise to winter grey to bright green - and I get to work for my living at my own pace and whim, while also pursuing the author and publisher type passions.

It may be cold - the house is not insulated or heated - and often it may seem too silent, though thank goodness for my flatmates. There may be bugs and ants and stiff windows and doors and a scratchy phone line and a huge power bill in winter, but somehow none of that matters. I'm lucky to have it, yeah, and the mortgage too I guess, because not everyone can just walk in and get one.

Missing Dad is the thorn in my bliss. It's been nearly a year now. A year in heaven already. Wow. I hope he's enjoying it. My oldest friend is certain he'll be arguing theology with God. I wouldn't put it past him. Mum dreamed he'd been put in charge of a city up there. Oh yeah. That'll suit just fine.

I get to sit here. Write. Be at peace with the world. And dream of other places, real and imagined. So I'm happy. In my own way. In spite of the thorns of loss and past trauma. Nothing lasts forever, does it...

So what is it that makes you happy?

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Rangitoto Island: Sleeping Volcano

By far the largest—and youngest— in the Auckland volcanic region, Rangitoto sits at the gateway to the city and is visible from any position high enough. It’s a classic shield-shaped volcano where the lava pouring out built up into an island, high and steep in the centre, low and flat at the edges, and circular in shape.

It is said to have erupted around 600 years ago, which is not long in volcanic terms. Motutapu is its immediate island neighbour, separated only by a few metres of causeway, but is not volcanic—it was there a long time before.

Rangitoto is a cliché of sorts in Auckland, an oft-photographed icon, yet so few tourists or locals visit its shores. That is a day trip very much worth doing: a short ferry ride from the city deposits you at a solitary wharf, and a couple of hours walking (or a ride on the tractor wagon if you want to cheat) will get you to the top, where you will be rewarded with a fantastic 360° view of the Hauraki Gulf, its islands, and the city of Auckland, which, though huge, is distinctly reduced by viewing it from the summit of a mountain.

Due to its young nature, there is no real soil on the island—merely decomposed debris lodged in the cracks between the lava. Hence the forest too is young, and sparse in places. There are even fields of bare volcanic rock that make you think you’re on another planet. Also, there are caves in the lava on the flanks of the hill as it becomes steeper towards the top: created by air bubbles in liquid rock which then solidified, leaving these irregular open spaces.

Ships pass by in the Rangitoto Channel to Auckland’s container wharves, and on summer evenings the cruise ships leave town by the same route, all lit up like Christmas trees, and dwarfed by the 260-metre volcano.

Always there, always brooding, often with a cloud darkening its top in otherwise clear skies—it is difficult to describe what Rangitoto means to a local who’s grown up in its shadow. A marvel of nature, definitely. A sleeping threat, perhaps. A symbol of home, for sure.

In case you missed it last year, here's my video of a visit there...

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Auckland in the rain

This was written a few weeks back. It's been drier lately!

amphibious nature

winter has struck
water has invaded
city streets deluged
gutters are rivers

shiny leaves float
on sidewalk brick
yellows and reds
gleam of day

puddles at corners
wind-wrecked umbrellas
like broken wings
of skin-soaked creatures

awnings leak cascades
open crossroads beckon
with square waterfalls
from murky clouds

get thee home
says raspy throat
my feet obey
through urban canyons

hallelujah! a bus
no granted fact
haul me homeward
through stubborn downpour

rain gives way
to lightened sky
return to dry
sated earth sings

Monday, 21 June 2010

On Being Single

There's that word again. Single. As if it was a disease or something. Just as well I don't look my age, or I'd be getting a lot more of those sympathetic glances that hurt more than they help.

I was going to say it came about through something-or-other, but that doesn't work, because I've never been anything else but single, barring a couple of long-distance relationships that didn't really come up to scratch. So it can't have "come about" at all. Although, and I'm certain of this, it has been sustained by a factor or two, such as spending seven years of my twenties in Germany, where there was a shocking dearth of nice guys who weren't already taken.

I admit, I had three proposals while I was there: from an old man, a mental patient, and an illegal immigrant. I shall be so bold as to say I don't think any of those count.

Of course one is never prevented from standing on the beach if one is alone, nor other beautiful things. I write, and beat my bodhran, and make sticky chocolate pudding, and share my bed with the cat.

But occasionally, this state of constant aloneness frustrates me. I twitch and pace and fidget and eat chocolate and go shopping when I don't really need to and let my mother talk me into expensive holidays, although that has always ended up to be a good thing so far.

It doesn't help that I work at home in both of my chosen careers and never have to leave the house except to fetch food and go to church. I spend nearly all my time in church writing stories, by the way; I find the atmosphere very inspirational, to say the least. Or is it that there are no distractions there as there always are at home?

There's always God, I suppose. He's around here somewhere. Doesn't go away, and all that. But I don't bother him much. We just enjoy a companionable silence, for the most part, and I think I have an understanding with him that it's okay.

I am well aware there are definite advantages to the singleness thing, and I enjoy them to the full. Particularly the no-kids thing. It may not last forever, and I would not want it to, but I want to make the most of this state of relative freedom to run after dreams and blog in the middle of the night and sleep at odd hours because I can. It's wonderful.

Pretty much all of my best friends are of the online type, that is, they do not live in the same country as me. If you're reading this, chances are you're one of them.

Every email, every @reply tweet, every comment on a blog or Facebook, is like a handshake or a steady look in the eyes or a high five.

So don't be a stranger. Leave me a virtual mark of your presence in my life. What do you have to say about singleness?

Friday, 18 June 2010

Basics 5: Grace's Life

...the education
After rampant curiosity forced her mother to teach her to read at a preposterously young age (the first written word emerged at 18 months and it was the name of her godfather Norman) there really wasn't much point in going to school to start all over again. Thus began a childhood filled with books: reading the Narnia series alone at age five and beginning John White's epic Tower of Geburah series with a three-day 600-page marathon just shy of her seventh birthday. Trips to the library abounded, as did other trips to all manner of fascinating places where people invariably asked why she wasn't in school. Add a good dose of Stephen Lawhead novels, Star Trek in all of its forms, follow that up with a Bachelor of Arts at Auckland University and then a Graduate Diploma in Translation Studies, and you have a pretty good picture.

...the online life
Grace was introduced to the precursors of the Internet back in the days of DOS and Bulletin Board Systems, then had a crash course at university and has never looked back since. She has had about two dozen email addresses, one dozen homepages, and has built many pages for other people, as well as dozens of social media profiles, most of which now lie dormant. Her favoured time-wasters are now Twitter and Facebook, with Shoutlife a close third.

However, that is not where the bulk of the action occurs. As we have already mentioned, there is the Lost Genre Guild, and also the American Christian Fiction Writers (she still can't completely understand why she joined an organisation with "American" in the title), the Christian Fiction Review Blog, the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour, the Anomaly forum at WhereTheMapEnds, and regular contributions at the International Christian Fiction Writers blog. In other writing, she writes a sometimes-regular travel column called Kiwi Come Home at the Colorado City News, in which she describes various places she's been.

...the offline life
Born in Auckland, New Zealand, birth having allegedly been brought on by the sound effects in Space Odyssey 2001, Grace left for London, England, at the tender age of six months. For two years she followed her parents on their gallivants through Britain, France and Germany, and gained a persistent hint of a British accent while learning to speak. The return to New Zealand was followed by the addition of a brother and the abovementioned educational exploits.
During her high school and university years Grace entertained notions of musicality and was involved in the Elkanah Music School for a number of years. She formed bands and played at times in church. After university, she got a very bad case of itchy feet and ran off to Germany, where she proceeded to find a job with the police and stayed for seven years, during which time she lived in a kitchen for a while and later in an 800 year old house with wonky walls, was involved in a church movement and band, security for the Pope, car thief investigations, prayer meetings in a Turkish delicatessen, owned four pet rats, a three-legged cat and a normal one. Some of the songs she wrote at that time were recorded live and rough with the band and can be heard here, here, here, here, here and here. She managed to make a lot of enemies by following her heart and what she believed was right. After this caused the quota of friends to become too low to handle, she decided to go home the long way: five months in Ireland and two in an epic road-plane-train trip across the USA to meet a whole lot of writer friends. You can read about that trip here: http://frankcreed.com/Newsletter/0109/p6.html (right hand side) and also at the YouTube and blog sites listed above.

Grace speaks good German, passable French, try-hard Maori, and a very little Latin. After playing the guitar seriously for about 15 years, she then switched to the bodhran, because it's fun to hit things. She is owned by a cat, has three housemates who are generous with their baking, and an ancient Toyota Corona pimped up with bathroom paint. Her music of choice is ambient electronica and science fiction movie soundtracks. She goes to Glenfield Presbyterian Church, and spends most of her time there writing, for which she has the express approval and encouragement of a Respected Worship Leader, so nyah.

These days she spends most of her time in her hilltop house in Glenfield, looking at the ocean and dividing her hours between freelance translation work, to pay the bills, and entrepreneurial publishing, which at this writing has yet to earn a bean. But you never know.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Balbriggan Town

The name alone conjures up memories of the sweet summer I spent there, scribbling in a room with a sea view. It proved easy enough to arrange accommodation in Ireland, even from another country, and that is how I ended up in Balbriggan.

The town is about 45 minutes north of Dublin by commuter train, though there is no longer much of a gap between the sprawling city suburbs and the satellite communities. It has always been a fishing village, but now it serves also as a home for city workers.

I believe it has a population of about 20,000—sharply growing—and there’s one hotel, several pubs and restaurants along the main street, four supermarkets, and a good number of suburbs itself. In suburban Ireland, housing is arranged in estates where each street has the same name. For example, the Clonuske estate has Clonuske Park, Clonuske Drive, Clonuske Close, Clonuske Rise, and Clonuske Green. It was certainly confusing at first!

The houses themselves are joined wall-to-wall more often than not—it is the finer homes that stand alone—and they often have brightly-coloured doors and window-frames in otherwise plain facades of brick and plaster.

Balbriggan faces the Irish Sea, looking towards Wales, as did my window. The beach is never far away in this town, and once there, you can walk for miles to the north along tiny coastal tracks that may get a bit rugged and adventurous in places. Once I encountered a herd of cows who had trampled down their fence and escaped onto the beach. They proceeded to enter a housing estate, where local boys kept them in check until the farmer was called.

The sound of the green trains is often heard, whizzing by towards Drogheda, or the blue ones that go to Belfast. And when the sun sets over the little hills at the western horizon, the colours rise up in the eastern sky, followed by the night—and I wrote on and finished a novel or two that summer, in that little room in little old Balbriggan.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Random Wednesday Poetry

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coming of the night

the evening shade slips across the gentle hills
the higglety-pigglety houses, the treetops
the skyscrapers
the volcanos

each place the sun rests its final kiss
is set aglow in golden tones
before the darkness creeps in
and the sea takes on its night hue

russet shining grasslands
on the islands
deepening texture of the forest
now touched by the fingers of the dusk

eastern clouds reflect the sunset glory
wisps of pink in an apricot sky
wink! the sun reflects from an apartment block window
before the shadow consumes the thirtieth floor

lights blink on across the city
the sky is still red and grey
matching the oak tree’s leaves and bark
as day surrenders to blissful rest

and inside, the lamps go on
work goes on as soft rain appears
the cat’s whiskers twitch in her tight curled sleep
and home is a wonderful place to be.

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Sunday, 13 June 2010

On Blogging

Join me for a coffee? Or in this case, a hot chocolate that is truly a work of art, courtesy of the Tui Coffee Lounge in Paeroa, the generally accepted halfway point on a journey from Auckland to Tauranga...

New house. Been here a couple months now.

New week. Yup, that's what they call Monday.

New approach. Time for one of those on this blog. It's been neglected far too much, considering all the people that want to read it - so my stats say - and so I'm trying for a new beginning.

Once a week the post will likely be my travel article which also appears in the Colorado City News. This could be on pretty much any place I've been to and have a notion to write about, accompanied by hack photography and sometimes a video.

Other than that, there are a bunch of great ideas I've seen other bloggers (and authors) put to good use - such as the Reading List and Scribbler's Scoreboard (thanks Fred for those) in which I shall summarise writing activity, submissions of short stories, progress on my novels, etc. I guess I will do something similar for the publishing side of what I do, which will be a cross-post at the Splashdown Books blog.

And then there's that other stuff, the stuff to write "just because", the random poems (with many thanks to Chila for the prodding!), the "thinky things" (here's looking at you, Cat), and whatever else may occur to me.

Anyway, thanks for being here and coming along for the ride. I wonder where it'll take us?

Friday, 11 June 2010

Basics 4: Grace as Activist and Star

...the activist
Grace is the newsgatherer for the Lost Genre Guild, a gathering place for all things to do with Christian speculative fiction. The blog is usually posted three times a week and includes member news, ezine updates, new releases, contests, free stuff, tips for writers and more. She is of the firm belief that independent publishing is the way of the future and the immediate answer to the problem of Christian speculative fiction getting its foot in the door. The Lost Genre Guild is a loose group of writers, readers, reviewers, artists and publishers who discuss all manner of relevant topics in a mailing list. If you want to join (and you really should--if you've read this far you must be just the type!) then just get in touch with Grace.

She also makes a point of reviewing all the Christian spec-fic books she can get her hands on at http://splashdownreviews.blogspot.com.

...the star
Interviews and appearances of Grace abound all over the Web. From blog visits to newspaper articles, radio and TV, it's all there. Let's take a look.

(Audio) Interview on New Zealand's Radio Rhema, November 2007 (scroll down)

(Audio) Interview with Darryl Sloan in Ireland, June 2008
(Video) Appearance on North Dakota TV, November 2008
Interview with the Writing Examiner, November 2009
Interview with the Writing Career Coach, November 2009
Interview with Jeff Gerke at WhereTheMapEnds, February 2010
Interview with T.W. Ambrose at Digital Dragon Magazine, February 2010 (PDF, see page 17)

Thursday, 10 June 2010

More on that tall ship

It was Captain James Cook who named many places in New Zealand on his tour of discovery, even if some names are rather obvious, as in the case of the Bay of Islands. But no one can deny it fits. A beloved travel destination for Kiwis and tourists alike, the area is located in the Far North--which means it is usually several degrees warmer than the whole country to the south.

The town of Russell was the nation's first capital, and Paihia across the bay is a similarly old settlement. Nearby Waitangi is held as the cradle of our country, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, establishing nationhood in 1840.

The thing to do in the Bay is to get on the water and get visiting those islands. One way to do so is on the tall ship R. Tucker Thompson, a replica of a schooner from the 1700's. It's not the cheapest of the boat trips on offer, but is definitely one of the most evocative, and worth it when one considers that the money paid by day-trippers helps finance life learning journeys for young people at other times.

There's nothing quite like zipping along on the waves under sail, no sound but the water lapping against the hull and the occasional flap of the canvas. No motor breaks the calm except when making close approaches to land. And land we do: depending on the direction of the wind, the crew select a sheltered cove in one of the islands to set us down for a romp before lunch.

The islands scattered across the Bay vary greatly in size and shape. The one we landed on offers a long grassy slope leading up to a summit with grand views of the mainland, the open sea, and of course, more islands. Returning to the beach, I entered the water and snorkelled for a time, searching for a glimpse of a fish or two--but found only a school of two-inchers in silver. I swam through them and let them tickle my fingers, keeping an eye on the strong currents around the rocks.

Back on the ship, lunch was served, an elegant affair of grilled chicken with salad and fresh bread. After that, I dived off the deck into the water a number of times before we had to hoist anchor.

On this ship, participation is desired: you can raise sails, climb the mast, and steer the ship. It's great to get your hands on the ropes and feel something like a sailor of three hundred years ago. The friendly crew and delectable scenery make this outing a memory for a lifetime.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Basics 3: Grace the Publisher

...the publisher
Splashdown Books is an independent publisher founded by Grace Bridges to provide a channel for the many inspirational science fiction and fantasy manuscripts she comes across as she travels the interwebs. In order to submit a manuscript, authors are asked to request a critique swap. Those having agents need not apply, because they have a large advantage already. We're out to help the little guys. Our titles so far:

The Muse by Fred Warren - Available here (ISBN 978-0986451713)
Stan Marino needs a muse. He's written himself into a corner...again. A shot of inspiration is all he needs to finish his story ...where is he going to find it? What Stan doesn't know: Inspiration has found him. And it's about to take over his life. Ripped from reality, he must lead a band of lost souls in a life-or-death battle with a merciless enemy. Stan has found his muse, but will he survive it?

The Duke's Handmaid by Caprice Hokstad
Slavery...loyalty. Torture...honor. Betrayal...selflessness. All the young orphan wanted was security in a world that destroyed her family and left her despised and rejected. Can the simple farmgirl find a new family through voluntary enslavement to the duke's household? Crafted in a highly precise writing style so smooth it slips right from the page into your imagination, this fantastical storyworld examines timeless social issues that inform global justice today.

Tales of the Dim Knight by Adam and Andrea Graham
Mild-mannered janitor and superhero fanboy Dave Johnson gets all his wishes at once when an alien symbiot gives him supernatural powers. But what's he to do with them? Follow his laugh-a-minute progress as he fights crime and corruption while trying to keep his family together and avoid being sued for copyright infringement.

Alpha Redemption by P.A. Baines
When Brett loses everything in a tragic accident, he gladly accepts an invitation to take part in a prototype speed-of-light trip to Alpha Centauri, knowing that he may not survive. His only companion is the ship's on-board computer, Jay. At first he finds Jay an annoyance but, as time passes, the two become friends. With the voyage drawing to a close, Jay develops a sense of self-awareness and a belief in God. When it becomes clear that they cannot both survive the return trip, one of them must make the ultimate sacrifice. 

Nor Iron Bars a Cage by Caprice Hokstad (Sequel to The Duke's Handmaid)
In a last-ditch effort to find his missing son, Duke Vahn sends his most trusted servant to pose as a runaway slave in the hostile country of Ganluc. Meanwhile, the challenge he faces at home is no less daunting. This beautiful story is full of images: leadership by serving, ungrudging chivalry, and faithful romance.