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I left the KSP on Dec 3, or three days after I'd originally intended to leave. I'd been invited to stay until the 21st Anniversay celebrations, and appreciated the invite since Prof. Brian Dibble (whom many of you would know as Santa from my previous posts) was doing the special speech. I saw a lot of people I'd met in my two weeks there come in for the preparations -- Salamah, Chris the Treasurer, Ramona, Lynn, Collin, Eris, Elona, Flora, Jill and countless people I simply wished I had a better memory with names for. But it was nice to see them, nice to at least try to be of some help to them instead of trying to pack up my things. Just nice to talk to them.

I went around the grounds for the last time the evening before. I knew I wouldn't have time the day I left. People pretty much swarmed into the Centre from 8AM. I missed most of the morning tea, after helping prepare for it. Scones with jam and cream aren't nice things to miss, but it was warm out, and I needed to pack. I didn't miss John Beaton's unveiling of the honour boards. John taught me scriptwriting for two semesters at Curtin, and he taught me a hell of a lot, so I managed to peer out from the kitchen as he pulled back the imaginary curtains. What I hadn't realized was that John actually knew I was at the Centre, and knew I was standing in the kitchen, not until he came over to congratulate me. Which was really sweet. I found out he's leaving Curtin this semester, quite a surprise. Quite a surprise.

The house was muggy from all the heat out. The cakes, the fruit salads Ramona spent three hours chopping and the sandwiches melted by mid-noon, when the readings for the Short Fiction Award winners began. As many people as could be squeezed in crowded the airconditioned conference room, a bit like battery chickens. Have you ever noticed how folding metal chairs can be tiny islands and tiny pens all at once? I thought the quality of stories presented alright, passable, the heat was getting to my head. Santa's speech was ad hoc, like his classes, but less fun, more serious and I might've been the only person laughing when he brought up the subject of where exactly Jim Throssell might've committed suicide in the house (because I'm morbid and an awful person?). And the rodeo Jim Throssell had out in the back yard with 3,000 people back when the lands around the KSP belonged to him, and people falling down stairways. I'm starting to see why Santa is my favourite lecturer in the known universe out here, and the universe is a bad, bad place.

I think everyone was relieved after the readings. I couldn't possibly imagine the readings going on for longer than the hour or so it did. The heat was that horrible, and the story choices weren't much help. Talked to Collin and Salamah. Wanted to talk to Santa, because I wanted to see him before he left the Uni this semester too. Managed to book a meeting with Santa for the following Tuesday. Managed to talk to more people at random, including Stephen Dedman, whom [ profile] scanner_darkly mentioned I should look up way back when I first got to Perth. Spoke to Glen Phillips about Asian subjects in fiction, and as it turned out, Glen specializes in writing about Asia, which was neat. Helped clean up after the party. Ended up with Salamah wiping cups to store away.

Mom came to pick me after we'd finished the chores. Salamah offered my mother some tea, so we ended up sitting on the front patio for a bit while Chris and Lynn locked the place down. It was a peaceful few minutes watching the gum trees facing the road do their customary whispering, and watch their shadows pattern the rose garden. I got a bag of cornflake crispies from Lynn before I left, which was really sweet of her. These were nice cornflake crispies, on a chocolate base, with raisins, peanuts and chopped maraschinos. They were like the old-fashioned Picnic bars you can't get anymore, filled with textures and raisiny goodness. I admit I didn't meet my writing quota at the Centre, but I came home with more than enough ideas to work with, which I'm still working on as we speak. Perhaps the largest of these is the one about compiling Finches as part of a collection of longer short stories. The other is the realization that I could make these writing grants work -- that if I were a bit braver, I could do something with myself that way, and have done things for, since I left. And I guess that was the nicest thing about being at the KSP, just having the chance to realize, well, I can make writing work. I learnt a lot.
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Sat down to write an email this morning and who should come by but Salamah for her Non-Fiction Group meeting. Of course, they'd already arranged all the chairs for Sunday, and it was a general mess everywhere else. The NFG was said to have been cancelled. So Salamah suggested we look at the manuscripts for Finches I and II I'd given her instead, which she had questions about. No sooner had I made her coffee than one of the ladies from NFG turned up. Followed by two more, one after another. Eventually, they did have the NFG meeting on the verandah. I had to humbly decline and feel horrible about it because it is Salamah's group and I feel like I'm snubbing it, but I did have quite a lot of things planned for today, and I wouldn't have minded a natter with Salamah, but writing groups do leave me tired afterwards.

I found out last night it was a rare honour for Santa to be at the KSP. Apparently, he never attends anyone's dinners, not even the ones for the numerous past students of his who've been Residents here. Which makes me warm and happy inside. Then I found out it's his last semester at Curtin, and he plans to retire soon. I will need to see him when I get back. I should probably ask him about it tomorrow, if I can catch him in a free moment.

I asked Chris about two holes in the wall next to my window. I worried they might be termite damage. Chris said they were mice. He'd wondered for a while how mice got in. I have never seen any mice in KSP, but that could be due to the plate of rat poison he leaves on top of the fridge, behind the Doritos.

Made my rounds that evening for the last time. Stood under the jacaranda trees to look up at the bits of blooms, and sat down on the porch to look over the front garden. The back garden still feels more private, and it is a comfort to be there. In the end, I have not done quite very much writing here, which is somewhat dismaying. I made up for it by sitting in on seven writing group sessions and a book launch -- but still, in terms of having to report to the committee later, I will have to report I didn't get much done. It's a grim thought.
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Watched Pharoah the Sand Cat amble across the lawn. I haven't seen him in a while, though I suspect he still sits on the ledge next to the white lanterna bush beyond the writing room. I went out to see if I could find him, but I think he's in hiding. I did sit on the sun-warmed ledge off the front porch, which I hadn't done since I got here. Watched some fat honeybees fight over flowers and one of the prolific cream butterflies rest on a leaf as the very slightest air currents pushed at its petal-thin wings. I realize I've not actually done quite a lot of things since I got here. I haven't nearly sat in the garden enough, and I only have two days to do it. I find it horrible I'll be leaving this place, but staying too long in one place makes it sick of you, even though everything here has been lovely thus far.

This morning's tea is Sabah Tea. Tea is actually grown in at least three states in Malaysia, although the one location Malaysians would immediately recognize is Cameron Highlands (the Boh and Bharat Plantations) in Peninsular Malaysia. The other locations I've heard of are in Sarawak and Sabah, in West Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. I still remember being surprised at the bonsai tea plants on the verandahs of grandmothers in the Sarawakian village I visited as a teenager. Sabah Tea is one of those souvenirs people are bound to pick up at the Kota Kinabalu Airport -- like frozen abalone and king prawns. It's a completely organic tea (orange pekoe) grown on Mt. Kinabalu (tallest peak in Southeast Asia and a beautiful national park), with a full, down-to-earth flavour. It's not an elegant tea like Premier's range or Boh's Garden blends. I want to say it's hearty, but it's not nearly robust enough. It is a good, flavourful daily tea. Made right, it also lacks the astringent "stuck to teeth" aftertaste that some of Boh's daily blends have. It also smells quite mild in spite of itself. Unlike a large number Boh's teas, Sabah Tea is a single plantation tea that is not blended with other teas.

Finally met Pharoah when I heard his bell outside while heating up my lunch. The Sand Cat has gotten even sandier, prone as he is to rubbing himself against the dusty, twiggy pavement. Unfortunately, after getting a small comfort in kitty belly skritches and ear cuddlings, I realized both my hands were still covered in Savlon and recovering from my allergic reaction to laundry detergent, and went right back inside to wash up. Pharoah seemed insulted he wasn't joining me for lunch, but I'm sure he has a home to go back to with a food bowl and a water dish, and the reason people have judiciously wandering pets is so that other people can enjoy them without having to do all the caring work.

They are putting up things for the 21st Anniversary on Sunday. I watched Chris put up the shade cloth on the front verandah, and carry over the apricot tree to the plaque-marked spot in front of Katherine's writing cottage. A couple of ladies were in to iron tablecloths and set up chairs for the day. I feel horrible for not going out and offering to help, but I'm trying to squeeze the remnant last out of my days' worth in writing and reading, and am therefore being selfish-er than usual. I'm still recovering from the guests -- I'd forgotten just how much other people can wreck my equilibrium. As a matter of point, after returning home, I should probably take advantage of not seeing anyone for three months.

Magpies are resting outside in the sun. I've never seen a magpie sleep before. I'd always assumed they roosted like other birds, but here is a magpie not 30 ft away curling up with his feet under him like cat. He even withdraws a foot at times to scratch his nose.

Went out for dinner with Chris and wife Margaret. Lovely time we had, and very good Cantonese food too. There was very nice po lei at the end. Po lei is a smoky-flavoured tea, with a smell that Margaret appropriately described as damp burnt wood. It is a strong-flavoured tea without being itself a strong tea. Perhaps a horrible example of the same spectrum is lapsang souchong, which tastes like the bottom of a wok, apart from smelling like one. But po lei is nothing like that, and I haven't had a good cup of it in such a long time. Ah, tea.
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I had intended Wednesday to be the day I sat down to read the things people had given me to read. Very early on, the journal I wanted to read locked me out. Later that morning, I'd just sat down to a nice cup of tea when I was told someone from the Karibu group was over to pick me up for their session. Karibu's been awful about arrangements long before I arrived at the KSP. I'd basically never been able to communicate with the moderator, and last week's session, which I was supposed to attend, had been cancelled quite suddenly. I was absolutely not told that I'd be attending their session that day until Barbara showed up at my doorstep.

I did want to see the Old Courthouse in Midlands though, since I'd never been in Mundaring and the surrounds before coming to the KSP. So I grabbed my satchel and wandered off to a group I never met. Upon arrival, we met a representative of the local council who told us the Courthouse was closed due to the discovery of abestos on the ceiling. As a fair trade, we were given a room to use in the Library next door. The path to the library was a mosaic of decorative Australian animal tracks -- very pretty, a little like a Turkish courtyard. The room in question turned out to be an old council meeting room. I'd only just seen photos of this room last night, from shots of older KSP events. There was a high vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows that glowed without really glaring. The walls were covered in sets of yellowing photographs of previous councilmen. And there was an amazing U-shaped table that went around the room, at which we sat.

Day 13 )

Day 14 )
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I went with Salamah this morning to visit the Weir. It was a lovely place, set amongst actual green trees (Australian trees are entirely the wrong shade of green in WA -- a bit like trees with quite a lot of dust on them). There were lots of ducks playing at the water's edge, and swifts living under the railing of the dam. It was still drought season, so Salamah pointed out back in 1996, the water actually overflowed over the dam, rather than sat at the bottom of it amongst dismal waves of washing detergent foam. The adjoining No1 Pump Station museum was closed. For $5 per entry, we both believed it wasn't worth it anyway.

We did walk in the park around the dam, which was a treat. There was this massive pine by the dam that looked a lot like the ones in Japanese calligraphic paintings. It was an elegant giant of a tree. I rather enjoyed standing under it. I heard aspens for the first time in my life. It was such a lively rustling sound. The leaves are so soft. I also saw an English oak and a silver birch for the first time today. It was fascinating.

We had lunch at an Irish cafe. Mundaring is such an unusually different place from the homogenous suburbs around Curtin. The first and most noticeable thing are these huge amounts of organic grocerers and cafes. And the slightly less organic places had lots of vegetarian foods and gourmet foodstuffs. So she had a tuna and asparagus tart with potato salad, and I had a chicken and mushroom tart with the same. And a whole pot of mint tea. (Salamah doesn't drink tea.) The potato salad was delightful. Really marvellous rockets, meat slices, potato and good sour cream dressing. The Irish cafe appeared to have lots of things non-Irish, including pad thai, which they cleverly explained as satay chicken noodles. (Can you not hear my suffering?)

Much conversation was also had. Salamah wished she'd been there at the workshop, and I rather wished she been there too. Would've been nice for a lark. Salamah was rather surprised no one in my workshop had ever read Dune or Stranger in a Strange Land. I'd always thought these two novels were a bit out of the way, myself, in spite of their apparent popularity -- you would have to be the very slightest bit interested in the subject matter of the works to want to read it, and neither of them are very leisurely reads.

Got home and Chris was in to do some scanning, so I stayed outside to talk to him for a bit. I might end up running a writing group out here -- something definitely about speculative fiction for emerging writers, with a shark tank atmosphere and access to market information. Why a shark tank? Because I identified that the entire problem with all the writing groups I'd been to at KSP was that they mollycoddled people. Attendees read out their work, and people could only ever give vague ideas about what they heard. If it was run like a proper critiquing group, with reading copies that people could stab to death with pencils, people might actually get more out of it than morning tea and elderly socialization. And, well, they didn't have nearly enough younger writers. And, incidentally, all the young writers I did meet along the way wrote specfic.

Including the person talking.

Sat outside for a bit, since the weather was a lovely gray and close to raining. It's such a dear place. I've really come to love it, and the sheer calm that comes from being able to think. I finished Coonardoo, by the original occupant. I figured, since I'm staying here, I should familiarize myself with the occupant. It was one of those books where, I'd sincerely liked to have believed that the quality of the writing alone would lead me to the end and make me realize I'd found something I wouldn't normally have read but liked -- but it just wasn't one of those books. The descriptions are incredible, but deliberately repetitive. It got to me after a while, this land of vast desert and prowling dust. The characters were cattle ranchers and aborigines, and set as far back in time as it was, quite a lot of the book addressed the issue of racism and breaking the racist ideology. I dare say at the least the latter appeared to be the entire point of the book. It was an interesting social study, and good to read for that. But as a piece of fiction capable of really holding my attention otherwise, it failed.

I will probably be miserably upset when I have to leave. It's been lovely, and the people have been lovely. I don't know how long it's been since I've last been talked to like a normal human being, or had the time to think like one. It is the entire comfort of being able to sit down with my writing and a cup of tea.
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Breakfast this morning was dinner from last night. Cheesy rice. With wholegrain mustard scrounged from the fridge. I adore mustard. Mustard + cheese in anything has a way of enhancing the other's flavour.

I usually leave the old section of the house well alone after dark. If anything lives there, I respectfully leave them to themselves. The door into the original front hall has a way of closing in after itself. I went to the archival room this morning to return a box of antiseptic cream and I had the immediate urge to switch on the lights. I kept running back to that odd door to try and keep it open. It turns out there's a cute horse-shaped door stop next to the door, which I didn't have the foresight to use.

There also appears to be two pentagrams drawn into the concrete of the second step leading up to the office. I wonder how they got there. Maybe they're just stars.

Chris the Treasurer said offhand that I was welcome to stay till Sunday, that is to the 21st anniversary of the KSP Centre. I hope no one minds, but I am going to be here until Sunday the 3rd now. Rather good timing too.
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This is a quirky little house. I don't think I've really ever mentioned that. When the wind blows and whatever twigs and leaves see fit to dance on the roof, the noise it makes is like people stepping up there. When the wind starts to do that, the door to the living room opens by itself, no matter how tightly I've shut it, and it creaks in the middle of the night. Every night, there are the tiny squeaks and taps of an old little house.

There's that Communist party pin that belonged to the original occupant everyone says is an artifact of the place. I first saw it when Jim, local hanger-on, brought it out at my literary dinner. Seems the thing poked him in the thumb when he was gardening one day. It's a lovely little pin. I rather liked it. They tried cleaning it up with Coke. The poor little thing's rotting with rust. I keep planning to grab some vinegar and rub it down one of these days.

Today was possibly one of the most boring days I've had in recent Residency history. The Writefree women's writing group was having its 10th anthology launch, and it was something of their 10th anniversary to boot. Writefree is by far one of the most organized writing groups I've met. I was there when they were prepping for this event last week. I tried to help a little bit when they came in to arrange tables and such, but there were so many people it got to me really quick. I am usually lousy help for everything too, so it probably was to everyone's benefit I stayed out of their way. Writefree also appears to organize the best morning teas ever -- the little finger snacks they brought with them were divine. I plonked myself next to the savouries, leaning against the piano. Jim came over to make a lousy joke about how stuffing myself now meant I could save on tea.

I had three finger sandwiches (salmon & capers and egg & cress), one strip of Turkish bread and garlic cream dip, a handful of carrot sticks to mop up leftover dip, a bread stick to clear up the last bit of dip on my plate and a not-macaroon. Something to say about a writer's centre -- they don't run out of snackies.

I autographed a nice lady's copy of the anthology in question, Johanna was her name, even though I said I wasn't in it. Twas sweet of her to ask. Turns out she was a friend of Elona, hope I spelled this right, who was the lovely little hunchbacked lady who prepared morning tea for Writefree last week, and she's just a lovely old soul. I spoke to her this morning, because she was the first to arrive, and she was telling me these stories about coming to Australia, spending 10 years building a house by hand while hauling around 5 kids.

The boring part about the whole launch, in case you wondered, was having nothing to do in a mass of people, and having to escape the mass of people before they really made me twitchy. I do not like, and frankly do not get along with, crowds of people. Stick me in a crowd of leaves or something, I'm usually happier.
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The view from my room is still pretty. Green parrots alight on the last tree I can see beside the path that runs beside my room. This morning, there was the tiniest little brown robin on the eucalyptus outside my window. It was such a wee thing -- smaller than the leaves. I haven't sat outside in four days. Too many deadlines sort themselves in. I should go outside later today.

There was my unpatented workshop of doom this afternoon. Fictitious Facts: Religion in Genre Fiction, it was called. Which means approximately one person knew what genres we were dealing with at all, out of 8 (y'know, being distributed on the flyers and everything). And that was Chris the Treasurer, which was really nice, because Chris is a nice vocal fellow, and he loves the Dune. Except it'd have been nice, see, if the others were into genres at the workshop about genres.

We had an eclectic mix of people. Is that still the polite word for mismatched? Interesting mix. I had an icebreaking exercise where the attendees had to write down the concept of their piece in 2 lines, and find out the name, genre, title and concept of their neighbour. Two women came in late -- Church folk, who were sulky from the start.

The icebreaking excercise told me lots of things, starting with the fact that religious fiction, rather than religious genre (SF/F/H) fiction was the order of the day. We can work with that. Most 'genre' fiction has to slip in between mainstream-ish genres anyway.

The attendees were mostly old. Santa warned me about this. He warned that I would get this demographic of elderly people with their nice piece about angels in their lives. I wasn't surprised. There was all of one young person in the entire room, who wasn't me. Thing is, I kind of like this demographic if only because their views of religion are always generally more interesting than youngish, over-literate, smartypants-types. Thing I don't like about this demographic: I have to work that much harder to work within our genre fiction theme to make it relevant to them.

I explained the first exercise as a summarizing exercise -- helpful for cover letters and making a pitch. I'd wanted to connect this with a closing exercise at the end of the workshop about the difficulties in selling religious genre fiction. (Never made it that far. Ran out of time.)

The second exercise was naming the first 5 traits of angels and demons that came to mind. Half the class took Angels, and the other half took Demons. I was hoping for more consistent hits on traits between the attendees. Interestingly, the Angel folk consistently agreed on the same traits, and the Demon folk came up with a varied and bombastic list of stuff. However, the discussion that ensued, mostly self-propagated at that, about how the traits were relevant to the individuals present, was worth it. The summary I gave everyone was that people on both sides of the table seemed to be agreeing on the same traits for the same creatures, and that this was because they all came from the same cultural base. People from the same cultural base find it easy to understand the same religious concepts. This allowed for religion to be a very accessible tool in writing, with a vast array of easily obtained resources. One would not have to really explain what an angel looked like -- the people on the other side of the table would know the basic traits at some level. You didn't have to explain demons as being evil, because that's what other people immediately assume from sharing that cultural basis.

Also, when your workshop consists of two pessimistic ex-Catholics, one hippie, one moderate Christian, one possible agnostic, one clear freethinker who couldn't care less and two very happy Churchgoers, one of whom makes a lot of noise, you have to step on the Churchgoers hard. Don't worry about hurting their small feelings, because they'll dominate the bloody conversation anyway, and it's not fair to other people.

Additionally, when the moderator of the workshop is atheist, you have to do everything in your power to not tell people you're atheist till after the workshop. People do ask.

We then had a roundtable discussion on where members of the group last saw a religious image or concept being used in the media. Two things immediately became clear from the reports filtering in, that the focus appeared to be liberalization of the Church, and finding means to make the Church more accessible to people by generalizing concepts of religion. This was nice because it tied in with another of my points: the role of the religious genre author is to take religious concepts and make them accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

I then went into how faith was a similar mechanism to the approach of a reader coming into genre fiction. Religion requires a believer to have faith in its precepts, to believe in the things that the religion claims have happened. A genre reader walks into genre fiction willing to believe that the things he's reading in the work can be imagined.

The third exercise was passing around three pictures of completely non-Western depictions of angels and demons (or close approximations thereof). Participants were divided into three groups, and got one picture per group. They were then required to first decide if the picture was of a demon or of an angel, describe what they saw and use three words from the board that was used to describe an angel or demon in that description.

The three provided pictures in question were Hanuman, Ravana and Lady He (of the 8 Heavenly Immortals). I was cheating with Lady He, but that was only because it became horribly difficult for me to find a clear black and white sketch of a heavenly maiden.

The group that got Ravana couldn't figure out if he was Evil or Good, and therefore didn't know if he was demonic or angelic. The fact that he was the colour blue apparently didn't help. Explained who he was, also noted with interest how the first group was immediately flabbergasted as to how to connect the rakshasa with imagery in their own culture.

The second group put down Hanuman as the monkey god. (Interesting from a cultural angle if only because the East Asian monkey god very likely was borrowed from concepts of Hanuman.) They knew he was a mischief maker and a joker, and immediately put him down as a neutral character. This led into a discussion on how deities and heavenly beings of the East tended to be more neutral than the ones seen in Judaic-Christian-Islamic pantheon. There's less clear definitions of good and evil, with the gods having personalities more akin to the people they represented. They can switch sides, and the physical features may not always help.

The last group identified Lady He as Chinese by costume, though they weren't really able to decide on her gender. They thought she might be a force of good, because she was carrying a food offering, the scenery around her also looked 'heavenly' and given that the Chinese were into ancestor-based worship. I was suitably impressed.

My point in that direction, again, was that religious genre fiction was based in and depended on cultural concepts. How do you get a religious idea across to someone who is completely unaware of the idea in question? Appealing to as wide an audience as possible is a good habit to keep in mind. Know the audience. Know what works for them. Make them sympathize with the conflict and characters.

Churchgoing lady then asked if people in Asia really believed in the Monkey God. I mean, it's a monkey right? Do they really believe in monkey-shaped gods? Do they just leave the offerings and be done with it? My response to that was that in much the same way there were people who really believed in Christianity and applied it in their lives, and there were also people who went to church for the sake of it, there were people out there who really did believe the Monkey God exists, and those who likewise worshipped as a matter of conditioning. But did they really believe in the Monkey God?

Discussion breaks out about concepts of gods with human traits. Someone brings up Nordic gods and how Loki is an equivalent trickster god. The same person quoted A Passage to India and the difference between stuffy British ladies and earthy Indian women. I later mention that Asian gods are based in practicalities -- the Chinese diaspora have a range of gods, for example, to do with making money. Religion isn't always heavy on philosophy, and has more to do with relaying practical wisdom. Someone points out this is similar to Aesop's fables -- under which case, a monkey wouldn't look strange at all. And a lady relays a thought that this might be like cartoons -- using animals because it's politically correct and much easier to relay a moral message this way.

This was my cue to ask why substituting a human being with a magical/mystical image was better to convey a moral or social message. Churchgoing lady kept repeating that it was entertainment. Various types agreed. When I asked why it was entertaining, the reasons ranged around it being a harmless subject to approach difficult questions. I pointed out that substituting this way was also fascinating. The reason mystical images work is because they fascinate people. They grabbed their attention. The job of the religious genre author was to fascinate his audience. Again, the audience has to sympathize with the characters at hand, or at least intrigue them. Take for example, Tom & Jerry. They spent decades just chasing each other around. What's the appeal? They were capable of fascinating generations of a wide range of people.

Break time was spent with me nearly running from the room. I was terrified of the workshop. I was nervous coming in, and I was mostly hopping on nerves for the entire first one and half hours. Tea helped. It turns out only three people brought writing to the workshop, which was a relief, because we were running for time. All the pieces brought in were of a good short length.

We returned from break to do the two set reading pieces I planned: Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land. All of one person appeared to know this novel. Many people said the four pages I brought were difficult to read. The concepts were rich and nearly unfathomable. Questions we asked:

Who is Paul?
I noticed a considerable amount of people guessed he was a religious and political leader, but everyone seemed to be sidestepping the fact he was a Prophet character having revelations (in that excerpt).

What are the main themes?
Everyone got the idea the people in this story were at war. Everyone also got the idea that the passage talked about a reluctant leader and the dangers of mixing religion and politics.

At least two people got that the culture being represented in the Freemen was nomadic, primitive and heavily stoned. Chris the Treasurer turned out to be a Dune fan, and inadvertently did the honours of explaining Dune to the workshop. I got in my two cents about Dune being a great example of a successful SF author handling religion in fiction (people did ask how something like Dune could be considered a classic), and also the idea that Dune was ultimately a great space chase for the Great Opiate -- that all the religions in Dune, for which Christians, Muslims and Jews are represented, sought to conquer space exploration by conquering access to the Great Opiate. And partly because this is my workshop and I needed to say at least something like this once: Religion is the Great Opiate.

After which, we did Stranger in a Strange Land. I chose the scene of Mike's demise for our workshop, only because it was such a clever, hippie, TV commercial event of a thing (and most of the other parts of SiaSL are either hard to take on their own or somewhat boring-er). I assured everyone it would be lots easier to read than Dune.

Who is Mike?
He's head of a cult, an anti-Christ and a man being killed for deviating from the norm (of religions).

What are the main themes?
That society dislikes it when you go against the norm. They also picked up that religion in SiaSL was commercialized fanfare.

My take was that Mike is a hippie. Stranger in a Strange Land had a hippie preaching peace and love (and getting shot in the head), and in fact was a social commetary on hippies and the fallacies of their idealism. I pointed out this theme had relevance to our times -- the hippie generation of the late 60s were today's politicians. (Hippie attendee protested that hippie-ism isn't dead!)

The remaining portion of the workshop was dedicated to the attendee's own work. Only 2 of the 3 pieces was religious. The third happened to be a historical romance. I handed out guidelines for three religious genre fiction publisher's who were currently open to submissions. It was originally meant to be part of the earlier icebreaking exercise, where I'd get the attendees to try and fit their neighbour's work into one of the three publications shown based on the guidelines.

I left the messages of the afternoon: that the religious genre fiction author had to work to appeal to the widest audience possible, that religion is a widely available tool but also susceptible to cliches because of it, and that one had to make the fiction sympathetic for the audience. Knowing the audience and what makes them tick was the key. I also reminded everyone that the characters had to first and foremost fascinate the audience, because without grabbing the audience's attention to begin with, everything else was moot. (And yes, that's actually general advice for general fiction, but you work with what you have.)

After-workshop conversations were had. People left. It was a weird rush. It took me hours just to process what had occured. I think underneath the entire horror of running the workshop, I actually enjoyed it. I retired for the day. Kind of. I still have five articles and a translator's test to finish. I have also recently found out that our garden has wisteria. It's not very large or very healthy wisteria, but it's very nice indeed.

The Thursday Night Group apparently knows me now as that girl with the story that was all nicely about people having dinner and suddenly there were dead bodies.
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All I ever wanted to do was sleep. )
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There appears to be a well outside my bedroom window. I'd noticed it for a few days now, but I keep forgetting to check it out. It's a sealed well, partially shaded by that bougainvillea in drag. Had I not sat on the chair beside my window, I wouldn't have noticed the rim of the well poking out from under the leaf fall.

Things I need to do:

1. Verify that it is a well by asking the Treasurer when he does his daily visit.
2. Verify that the lid has been cemented on quite firmly, without cracks, and that under that huge pile of leaves, twigs and branches, there are sacred seals, preferably still legible.

Because damn if I want creepy girls with broken fingernails crawling outside my window in the dead of night. I haven't turned on a single TV or radio since I got here.

After pulling a very long night to finish a couple of jobs I owed, I woke up this morning to the sound of the Writefree group filing in for their meeting. I was meant to go out and join them, and I eventually did, bleary-eyed and a bit sleepy. This has got to be the most organized writing group in the entire KSP. It's so precise, and clockworky. I was horribly impressed. They're having a book launch on Sunday, so most of the meeting went over details for that event. Such a lovely, dear bunch of elderly ladies. I'm up to my ears in lovely old ladies at this place. They invited me to share their morning tea. Morning tea! It was prepared by a really sweet, slightly hunched and awfully nice lady. So I got crackers and onion dip, which I adore (I adore dip), but ended up kind of having all of two crackers because I was polite and mingling. But, lovely group who wrote lovely fiction that was both honest and charming for the personality they showed. It was just sweet watching the dynamics at work, even the "having an elderly moment" jokes.

And of course, when I asked about the house's ghosts, they all turned to each other and started discussing the rumours and not rumours of the house's ghosts for five minutes. It was so quaint! So cute! I'm running out of adjectives to describe little old ladies with!

Got another attendee for my workshop this Saturday. That gives me a head count of about three people. I'd be saved it if was three people -- because I'm a lazy, good-for-nothing rodent who'd much prefer to spend time staring at birds or crickets than at other people.

Just went to the kitchen to grab some tea and ended up talking to the Bahai workman about balance and Nature's wrath. What an amazingly odd place this is. And that wasn't a well, it turned out. Was the entrace to the sewerage tank. Should explain the unusual health of that bougainvillea...
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Santa came to my literary dinner! It filled my heart with great and profound gladness. Poor Santa, he must've wondered why I went into manic happiness upon seeing him. I feared I inflicted boredom upon him though, and I spent the day letting the Centre's answering machine answer his phonecalls -- knowing he was going to try for a last minute appearance at my dinner -- and I feel like the world's most terrible student. Santa ended up calling my house, confounding my mother, which was highly amusing, but, he came to my dinner.

I forgot to thank Santa for inspiring Finches. I AM the world's most terrible student!

And I was a nervous wreck for all three of my readings. I read it anyway. And then they made me blabber on about myself, which I did, incoherently, even more so than I usually am. It's funny that I seem to remember myself being better at topical speeches on the spot.

Met Lee and Lynn Battersby. It filled me with great glee that someone out there in the world speaks a *facepalm*. Lee wore an Invader Zim shirt. More glee ensues.

And the lovely little old lady I met yesterday was also at my table -- her name is Salaamah -- and she was as lovely as always. Salaamah represents the exact kind of person I'd like to grow into. That is, a bit eccentric, rather much a tea-drinking little old lady. With lots of philosophy on the side. Except I'd be a bit creepier, and a bit more morbid than I am now. Y'know, maybe I'll just grow into [ profile] mokie instead...

At least, no one fell asleep from my reading. That's a plus, right?

Can't believe I forgot to thank Santa for Finches. It was a speech he gave, a year ago, in his class on characterization, where he described characterization in terms of the id, ego and superego and wrapped it up in evolutionary philosophy, that inspired me to think of writing a story on evolutionary theory, and more than that, to have an unborn child at its heart. I really am the worst possible student.

Interesting night. Nerve-wracking as well. I doubt I'd be able to eat a tuna casserole ever again.
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Today, I met the nicest, sweetest little old lady ever. She had a bun. With a pin. And she was an anthropologist. She spoke fluent Indonesian. It was fascinating to talk to her. Really, she just called up the centre out of the blue and said she wanted to come over to talk to me. Usually, when people do that, I start wondering what butterfly I accidentally killed and what grand scheming loop of doom I set off as a result. But she was really, really nice, and now I have an invitation to lunch (and tea!) on Thursday. She said her house was full of books. (Probably old books!)

I likes me the little old ladies and their tea.

I've been trying to poke through my writing, since I have my literary dinner tomorrow, and I need to read some three or four pieces between courses. Most of my time here has been spent spacing out and absorbing the garden. My writing of late, perhaps more than ever, could be defined as some whinging, dying insect trapped in the vapours of an incense burner as it hits a shroud of fine muslin.

Many things need to be written. Many things need to sound like they have actual substance behind them.
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I finally saw a bee like the ones that live near my house. It stopped to drink at a small stream that formed when someone ran the tap next to my bedroom window. The two trees in the garden with the rotting fruit I thought might be a kind of fig, even though I'd never seen figs that grew in clumps before, or figs with straight olive-coloured leaves, turned out to be loquats. I'm slightly disappointed I missed the fruiting season, but I'm glad I've finally seen a loquat tree in person. They're quite large trees, with a lovely pale bark and lots of shade. Loquats feature strongly in Chinese herbal cough syrups. They're used to help soothe sore throats, and should have a soothing flavour.

Chris the Treasurer told me that one of the trees harbours a kind of hallucinogenic shrub that attracts wandering Ethiopians who come to pick at the leaves. Since the shrub has been there since the Centre began, the staff wonder if the original occupant used it. Chris has tried poisoning the shrub, but apparently it just never dies off.

I walked around the perimeter fence today, all the way to the back of the property where it is almost bare red earth with three squares in red threat to demarcate plots for new writers' chalets. I met the local cat, who was sunning himself with the last bit of evening warmth on a ledge next to a huge shrub that seems to be some kind of mint. I know it's a mint, but I've forgotten what kind. I tried a leaf, and the flavour isn't very good or even strongly mint, being slightly bitter atop a lot of blandness. The smell is only slightly minty. The cat hopped down for a bit to look at me, but when it noticed I wasn't picking it up, it hopped back onto the ledge to watch me instead.

Between the path to the chalets and Katherine Susannah Prichard's study is a small strip of land I suspect might've been a vegetable patch. This is where there's a large clump of plants I thought might be wild amaranth. I didn't try one of the leaves of that, but I have lots of time to tomorrow. I did try the leaf of something I thought might've been a feral rocket. It neither smelled nor tasted like rocket. In fact, it tasted green, something like a bok choy. The leaves were definitely a bit too large to be a large rocket. The seed pods look very familiar -- I'm sure I've seen them in my garden, and it was the pods and flowers that made me think they might be rockets.

Right at the back of the garden, I could see our neighbour's huge brown chickens. It was like watching a procession of soup. I was calculating, soup, roast, boiled, steamed, soup, soup, fried. Maybe it's cruel, but chickens weren't entirely made for being pets, apart from producing tasty eggs. I heard their goats too. At any rate, I like being around animals. A place where animals will come to means there is no danger present.

Got myself some lemons for tea and sat down outside my bedroom to watch things. It is vitally important to stay still and watch things. When you stay still long enough, the things that live around you seem to think of you more kindly. So I sat down and watched trees till the first mosquitoes started coming out. I am not scared of this house at all. It's strange. I thought I might be, since I am often here alone, but instead, I think it's a very kind place. The trees tell me that.
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The neighbour just came over to visit with her dog. What lovely people. She wanted to give me her phone number because she heard from one of my moderators that I was going to be alone here at night and told me to give them a ring if things went bump in the night. That was really so sweet to do. Affable elderly people. That's why I like them.

The dog was also very nice. Very gentle. Couldn't catch her name. Huge german shepherd. I adore german shepherds because my granduncle used to breed them. They're really elegant dogs. Such soft ears.

I know our neighbour to the left has at least one tall goose. It was wandering their side of the fence when I went to sit in the garden. Honking quite loudly too. On top of that, they seem to have a doghouse. (I didn't know geese and dogs could co-exist, really. Wished geese weren't so bloody mean -- they do otherwise look really fluffy.) So I won't have to fear anything out there either, it looks like.
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The garden is a lovely place. I sat down on the sun-warmed bench and watched birds. They have slightly different bees here. A bit smaller, a bit zippier, a sort of watery yellow rather than the usual brighter shade I see at home. I have seen exactly one of these bees back home. I suspect they are a kind of invading species, because they do look slightly more dangerous than our friendly, lovely bees. We ended up killing thousands of the friendly, lovely critters last week because they'd renovated our compost bin and were very happy to move in. I wished we didn't have to. A garden without bees is pretty miserable.

There's lots of lovely overgrowth on these two acres. The hedge walling the path from the house has sprays of blue flowers. They look like exoras. That bougainvillea in drag is starting to cling to the eucalyptus tree in front of my window. I saw a pair of gardening shears in the kitchen. I must be tempted not to trim the plant because it's not really my job.

Sat down on the sun-warmed steps in front of the admin office to play with the local cat. He has a tag and a bell and no nipples, so I assume he's a skinny tomcat. The regular admin thinks he's androgynous. Whatever he is and whoever he is, he's a very friendly cat. He was constantly trying to rub against my leg and seemed to really like sitting on my lap. I love furry animals that like me, but that's two days and two of my tops covered in cat hair. Must resist picking up the cat. Also, the cat followed me into the kitchen and ate a plate of unknown green pellets next to the fridge. I'm dreadfully frightened that could be rat poison. Had to keep dragging him away from the plate and finally put him outside.

If tomorrow works out, and I just have to sidestep a scriptwriting group that's meeting in the morning, I'd like to be able to sit in the garden again.

Last night, one of the Thursday Night Group writers taught me how to recognize a few local trees from the grain of the wood. I kind of remember how to recognize jackarandah and she-oak, er, I think biloba. At any rate, the grains were beautiful, and I really just liked to observe the textures and patterns they brought out.
vampyrichamster: (Default)

Tip and trickle
tip and trickle
tip and trickle
cats, cats, cats

Growl and bellow
growl and bellow
growl and bellow
dogs, dogs, dogs.
vampyrichamster: (Default)
Arrived at the KSP Centre without incident. Made friends with the local cat. Spent many minutes frantically scrubbing at my black knit top to get rid of the cat hair. Had a Zyrtec.

Opened and peered into every drawer and cupboard that I could open and peer at in this house. The definition of the house is dusty, filled with old books and lots of peculiar dark corners. Many drawers are filled with junk. There's a locked cupboard with ancient and dilapidated copies of Katherine Susannah Prichard's works. I grabbed a copy of Connardoo to read. There were nice, new-ish copies available in unlocked portions of the house, but I wanted the nice, battered, peeling version. (If it's not a book that belongs to me, I like ém dilapidated.) I shall ensure it stays in exactly the same fragile condition when I return it.

Read more... )
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