Sunday, November 21, 2010

Power cuts, rugby losses and a good book

Now that the Tanzanian elections are over, there is no need to keep the population happy by supplying regular power.  The last ten days have been awful with daily power cuts, the longest one lasting 30 hours.  Of course, this does put a dampener on your writing, when you are desparately trying to write 50 000 words in the month of November.  My laptop, although less than a year old, has a battery life of 7 minutes.  Caused, they say, from our frequent power surges.  I now have a special adapter to control it, but it's too late, the damage has already been done to my battery.  Despite the power problems, I have managed to get in a couple of hundred words here and there, and am now sitting on 30 000 words for Defective, my new book.  This of course leaves me with having to do 2000 words a day to reach the magical 50 000 words on the 30th November.  I know what you are thinking.  Stop writing this blog and get back to writing while the power is on.
Siobhan and I have been playing a lot of Scrabble by candlelight.  (If I invested in a generator I wouldn't have this problem at all!)  The best thing to come out of a power cut, is that I missed the rugby game when Scotland beat my beloved Springboks.  I was only angry about missing it up until the time I found out we'd lost.  Now I am ecstatically happy that I didn't watch our boys stumble and falter and probably knock the ball on.
A friend at school gave me a book to read a while ago, and with our power cuts this week, and being unable to write, I finally picked the book up to read.  I didn't really care about the content, it was the writing that moved me.  Beautifully written prose, great streams of consciousness.  I decided that when I grow up, I want to write like that.  But then, as I sit in front of my fully-charged laptop, I realise that I can never write beautiful prose like that because it is not me, and I don't want to lose me to try and be like someone else.  Pretty profound for a Sunday morning, eh?
Made custard slices yesterday, so am dying to try them today and see what they taste like, but will have to dress myself and drive down to the supermarket down the road as I need icing sugar to complete my masterpiece.  At the moment, I need to write at least two thousand words before I go anywhere, make good use of the power while it lasts.

The Sisters AntipodesThe Sisters Antipodes by Jane Alison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This has got to be one of the most beautifully-written books I've read in a long time. I'm not usually one for memoirs, but the story about two couples starting out as friends and then swapping partners could be the story of my childhood as that's what happened in my family. The resultant jealousy, feelings, rivalry still occur in our family 37 years later so it is definitely something I could identify with. For me this book was more the creation of an artist than a writer, as the descriptions felt like I was in a painting, and I was pulled in. All I can say is, wow magical writing. The actual story was sad, tragic even, and I feel for the author who obviously has deep issues and hasn't managed to move on. Reading the book, I was aware of so many good things, happy parts of life, that she missed out on as she was so caught up in her own misery; she was only able to see the negative in every situation and that is the true tragedy in my book. Even though her stepsister was portrayed as the 'dark and troubled' twin, I truly believe that she experienced happiness. She lived, she loved, she had fun. The author on the other hand existed, always wanting what wasn't there or what she couldn't have, she never allowed herself to appreciate or enjoy what she did have. There is a big difference between existing and living. Jenny lived, Jane existed.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NaNoWriMo is killing me

One has to wonder why we intentionally place stress upon ourselves. Why we have the urge to challenge and push ourselves when we could just be spending free moments sunning ourselves in the garden with a good book. NaNoWriMo happens every year in the month of November, when crazy people decide to write a novel of a minimum of 50 000 words. Yep, this is not a joke, thousands of people all over the world take up this challenge. Being a little bit crazy myself, I decided to take up the challenge again this year, as I had managed it successfully last year. this year I worked out a more detailed plot scheme so it would be easier to write. However, with my current work load it's not always possible to write the required amount of words each day. This is causing me stress. One of the things to suffer in the month of November, is my blog. Today I thought to hell with it, let me at least update my blog before I get back to writing to try and make today's target.
The latest news, is that The Great Mountain to Mountain Safari is now available on Amazon.  Now I put pressure on myself planning the next adventure to write about.  June/July we're going to backpack through Egypt and the Middle East.  This has been a dream of mine ever since I was a teenager.  When I was about fifteen, all I wanted was to go and work and live on a kibbutz in Israel!

Our flights for Cape Town in December are booked.  We'll be leaving on the 13th December at some ungodly hour.  With Kerri flying in from China it's going to be a great holiday!  Part of the holiday we'll be staying at the family house on the Garden Route near Knysna.  I'm counting the sleeps already, but I have to conquer NaNoWriMo first!  Hopefully, can get a lot of writing done tonight and tomorrow morning as it's a public holiday.

Siobhan has been very active of late, taking part in a netball tournament, a horse show and this past weekend - she climbed Little Meru which is 3801m high!  One of the highlights for her, was one of our teachers who accompanied the students on the trip, who just so happened to be Australian (of course), who wore shorts, leggings and flip flops when everybody was wearing serious below-zero clothing!

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was looking forward to this, not having read John Grisham for a while. Normally, I am caught up from page 1, but for some reason the story seemed to drag and it took me until three quarters of the way through to be gripped to read for greater lengths of time. The plot was a bit same-old, same-old, not fresh at all. The ending was very different though, in that there wasn't one. There was no closure, no sense of satisfaction, in fact I double-checked to see that the last few pages hadn't come loose and fallen out. The story just stopped ending so up in the air, it seemed unfinished. It wasn't a twist ending, it just stopped. It was almost as if his editor had given him an impossible deadline to meet. The first three-quarters was bordering on the tedious, the next bit was the usual gripping Grisham content you're come to expect, and then it stopped. I know I've said that a couple of times, but I'm just astounded it stopped when it did. Die-hard fans might still enjoy it, but there are so many other crime novelists with courtroom dramas around these days that have surpassed this quality of book. Yeah, I am a bit disappointed with this read.

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Guest post about Alzheimers

  I'd like to welcome guest blogger, Joseph Sivak, to my blog.  He's written a memoir about his mom's struggle with Alzheimers.  Having worked in a dementia care unit, I can identify with the impact this terrible disease has on the family and friends of the person inflicted.  Have a read of his blog entry and take a look at his book which is available on Amazon.  If you know of someone who has a familky member with Alzheimers, then this might be the Christmas present to buy for them!

Without any further ado, here's Joseph Sivak...
I first started writing When Can I Go Home? back in 1989 when I was in my last year of medical school. That was about a year after my mother died from Alzheimer's disease.

The book is a memoir about my mother's futile struggle with the disease. After she passed away I had a tremendous need and sometimes furious drive to record the journey in a timeless and permanent way. As a teenager, I had been my mother's primary caregiver for a few years , as the disease progressively robbed her of her cognitive abilities, personality and her very essence. At the time writing about it was very cathartic.

The disease process is profoundly isolating for families and I wanted to scream out and tell the world. That element is there in so many Alzheimer's memoirs. Unfortunately the issue of isolation has not improved in our society and much as we like to pretend it has in the last thirty years since my mother was diagnosed. At that time most people had not heard of Alzheimer's disease and of course now it is a household term, but as a society we are still ignorant and terrified about it till it affects our own family. The isolation is still there.

The book is a bit unusual or even paradoxical from an Alzheimer's memoir point of view in that It presents a dual perspective. First is a family caregiver specifically a teenager son, which is a bit unusual and at times even bizarre, since that is not the prototypical demographic of a caregiver. The other perspective is a clinical one from a physician. I have treated thousands of patients and their families affected by many psychiatric and neurological problems including many Alzheimer's victims. The clinical information is broken down and translated for the reader.

So you essentially have these two very different points of view sort of flip-flopping but sort of coming into what I hope is a harmonious symmetry. The third aspect of the book is an underlying and ongoing commentary on all the relevant sociological and psychological issues this book interfaces with. Such issues as the state of health care delivery, being a doctor, and the aging population are addressed and sometimes not in a very convenient way for those that need to hold onto pretense and prejudice for security. For example as a society we really don't treat the aging population with the honor and dignity they deserve. We are pretty much obsessed with youth and appearance. We also have a lot of bias toward the medical profession if not at times completely vilifying the field. So in that sense speaking candidly about things albeit my opinion yet based on experience may open the readers eyes, on some issue conversely it may propel some to try to look the other way even more. It's not always politically correct, but it is a memoir and it is honest. It is sort of visceral, some people will cry some will laugh some will get more angry, it makes you feel first, then think.

The manuscript was hard to finish, it lay dormant for some fifteen years, I never had an ending. Even after the death of an Alzheimer's victim, there is never an ending for the five million families affected by the disease. something hit me, after all these years. We are all universally humanly connected by this disease process, and I had the clarity to finish this book.

I love writing, but most of my energy and creativity is spent in my day job. I am currently working on a novel about psychiatric residency. Fiction is obviously a much different prospect than a memoir but it taps a different part of your brain and soul to create something like this compared to a memoir.

Joseph J. Sivak MD

twitter @whencanigohome

Monday, November 1, 2010

Please choose one

My mate Cris Advincula all the way over in the Philippines has done an awesome job designing three potential covers for my novel-in-progress, Defective. Unfortunately or fortunately, they are all so good I can't choose one. Can you look at them and let me know which one is the most eye-catching and will have you reaching for the book on the shelf.
Thanks for your help on this very difficult task!