Monday, 1 February 2016

Planned Neglect


Round hay bales in paddocks at Morton Mains - looking towards Hokonui hills in the distance. 

This is the district where my great-grandmother Alison Butler (nee Riddell / Riddle) was born

Hoping to make some sort of connection, with the area, my aunty and I made a visit to where her grandmother (my great-grandmother) spent the first seven years of her life, before moving to the southern coastal town of Orepuki, where she lived out the rest of her life.

It is a rather nondescript place (plain, comes to mind - maybe because of its flatness). It is a place of quietness. Yet, I sensed a depth in the silence of the land where the straight roads; crossroads, fence-lines and railway line moving through, mark a starting point; a potential spring-board for many futures. 
Morton Mains is a place of plains, of straight lines. Even its name hints at a stand being made for measurement. 
Even thought the definite is marked out here in the form of road-signs, hedge-rows, gates, straight-as-a-dye flax-plantings and sunken roadside verges; I sensed an eerie indefinite; of possibilities; of a constrained freedom; of something more, just off to the right, or to the left, or straight ahead.
My aunty was particularly impressed with the fact that it was possible to see across the plains right over to the Hokonui Hills, where at the foothills, her hometown of Gore is situated. 

X marks the spot ... was this a sign that here is where my great-grandmother once stood looking out to a future horizon?
(It is in fact a marker for European and American tourists to keep to the correct side of the road. In New Zealand, we drive on the left).

My aunty and I travelled on to where our grandmother & great-grandmother also moved on - to a road that leads to the Longwoods - a range of hills forested in native trees; now protected, but not before the bush below its foothills, was turned into rolling pastures

Looking over towards Te Waewae Bay and Foveaux Strait at the back of Orepuki



Another day, different weather, different location and with different people ... a wander around a cemetery ...

A row of toadstools - poisonous. 
We have very few edible fungi in New Zealand, but the ones that are edible, the field mushrooms, are very tasty and often free for the picking

From where we were staying, for the first two days, we looked out over a rather rainy camping ground and bay at Moeraki 

A visit to nearby Oamaru. This vintage truck is parked in the historical, harbourside precinct of the town of Oamaru, where most of the buildings are made from a type of limestone that has come to be known as Oamaru stone. This area of the town has been slowly transformed into an artisan area, with many of the large store-houses and warehouses converted into art galleries and studios.

At dusk we went to a spot where it was possible to see seals and yellow-eyed penguins settling down for the night. (Failing light meant that the penguin shots didn't turn out).

An even closer encounter the next day at a place farther along the coast ... Needless to say, we swiftly moved ourselves away ...

The rocks were festooned with fauna of the flipper-kind ...

... and the feathered kind ... (in this case, spotted shags)

Yarrow & yellow lichen

Petite perfection


An ocean of grass 

On our way home, we called into a forested area with caves and rock formations. Looking up from our spot in the sun, where we were watching out for birds, we spotted this grotesque rock.


Dear Reader,

I have started the year firmly focused on finishing the novel I am in the middle of.
Unlike other years, when from February on, the year skewered off into all sorts of other directions never to right itself again, this year I am committed to keeping it fixed on course.
I shall treat it like a yacht, with myself as the solo yachtie. I will do my best (failing the occasional unexpected squall) to follow the course as charted and in this way, reach my destination - in this case, a finished first draft ready for shaping into readiness for publication.
Rather than set myself the impossible task of working on my book every day, I have worked out a time-table of planned neglect. That is, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, I shall neglect everything else that is not to do with writing my book.
I've called it the T.W.T. Offensive.
On my neglectful days (Tues.Wed.Thurs.) I shall take myself off where no-one can find me - to un-disclosed locations - where I shall immerse myself in the quiet world of my novel and its characters.
By giving myself permission to be neglectful, I can relax into my writing days, knowing anything else that needs to be done; the urgent and the important; the needful and the necessary; can be done on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays; four whole days to pay attention - which, by the way, I think is extremely generous of me.



J.T. Webster said...

I love your idea of 'planned neglect'. I hope the T.W.T is just what you need to finish the novel. I'm looking forward to reading it :)
Your photos are awesome too.

Avus said...

Liked the idea of getting away to a quiet and secret bolt hole to concentrate on the novel, Kay - but that still leaves you with the other days to give time to us, your blog-friends.
I enjoyed your meditative ramble around these, to me, lesser known parts of "UnZud". My two tours(remembered with great affection)to your beautiful country did not have time to appreciate such places.

Roderick Robinson said...

The question is: what do you have to say and how urgent is it? The most urgent novel I ever wrote was the first, it was also the worst-written. I was just back from compulsory national service in the RAF and - like everyone else who'd had two years sliced out of their life expectancy - I felt there was a novel in that weird detour. I had also returned to work on a weekly newspaper where bulk was everything. This was an unhealthy juxtaposition, since there was little difference between my novel-writing and my daily grind, typically a whole broadsheet column on a lecture (with discussion) on herbaceous borders at the Eldwick Horticultural Society. My evening meal swallowed, I went upstairs and rapped out two thousand words between then and 9.30 pm. The first draft probably took a month and a half. Nothing to it! I didn't have the gall to submit it anywhere.

I moved to London and tried again. My impulse was flimsy and at two hundred pages I gave up.

I went to the USA for six years. This time I had a story to tell and (although she, the local librarian, didn't know it) a persuasive central character. Back in the UK another journalist urged me to find an agent. This I did and on the strength of the MS written in the US that agent took me out to lumch, the high spot so far of my life as a novelist. Various publishers read the MS, said it was elegantly written but it wasn't original.

I wrote a spy novel but then so did many others.

I ended up as editor of an industrial magazine and an original theme for a novel developed out of that. Snatching time here and there I managed about ten-thousand words, decided it was promising (By now I was reading my stuff with a very beady eye) and I finished it after I retired in 1995. Submitted it to agents, it was rejected. I self-published knowing that from now on any further novels would always have women as the central character. Wrote another novel with the strongest plot so far, had it rejected, self-published. Wrote two more novels, one rejected, one yet to do the rounds. Am now 12,000 words into a fifth novel since retirement.

What have I learnt? Getting published is unlikely so any rewards must be in the writing. I must love what I do and I must hate all the common faults of writing, including and especially defective structures (hard to recognise and rectify). I must accept that revision will take longer than the original draft. I must cut my stuff fearlessly because - almost always - what's left is better. I must also accept that invention - as opposed to merely putting one word after another - will come and go but that hard work will nourish it. By all means devise regimes (as you have) but if they're hard to follow, junk them and find another; they're not hard to devise. But please, love what you do. Tell yourself that not to write would be the most appalling deprivation.

Over the last three or four years I've fitted in verse (I cannot call it poetry). Someone wanted to publish one of my longer pieces and I fund that ironic.

Kay Cooke said...

Roderick - Thanks so much for taking the time to post such a detailed comment and for all your encouragement and words of wisdom. I especially liked the warning re 'defective structures' which made me think a bit more about what I am writing. But after consideration, I believe the structure holds. (However I can only wait until the final draft is read by someone I trust, to confirm this point).
Any urgency I feel stems from the fact that for thirty years now I have known that there is at least one novel in me. I have had three books of poetry published and trust there will be more poetry books. But I knew that I had to at least give the prose a go. I have found that I have really got caught up in it (I left paid work in order to write it, so that is also part of the urgency - my husband is supporting my habit, so I owe it to him for one thing!) It's far more time-consuming than poetry - and demands more of my undivided attention; which I've found difficult to manage as i don't want my whole life to stop while I write a novel. However, the strategies I have put in place in order to 'get on with it' ,seem to be working. Which is gratifying.
As for your plea: "But please, love what you do. Tell yourself that not to write would be the most appalling deprivation'. I can only agree and luckily can answer to the affirmative on both counts. (It has always been this way with me).
Thanks again for taking time out from writing your fifth novel to share your experiences. Best of luck with your latest book - I've enjoyed reading your writing that you've posted on your blog.

Roderick Robinson said...

"My husband is supporting my habit." I like that. At least the dedication is pre-written. Good luck.

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...