Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Moving on from the old

It occurred to me that I needed to get a photograph editing programme off my desktop computer. You remember? The one that's dead?

Since I'm clever (my degree says so, right under the beer stains), I thought I'd replace the power box with another cannibalised from another computer. Yes, I'm sure you can see the problem: once I scrapped a few knuckles, broke a fingernail or two and tossed a number of expletives (Mum was in the Navy) into the atmosphere to turn it blue... I saw that the salvaged power unit wasn't as powerful as the one I meant to replace.

On a sigh, I turned the desktop on - just to make sure it was dead - and lo, it turned on! Wahoo... or not, since there wasn't any video output.

Not to be discouraged, I fooled around with the connections. Finally, there appeared... not a damn thing. Timing is everything. I had a glimpse of the background wallpaper when we had a brown-out with the electricity and the whole thing turned off.

No amount of button pressing could revive the computer. I've decided to let sleeping silicon chips lie. It will cost too much to repair and I have the handy-dandy laptop to download stuff onto.

Now, I'm off to fool around with Freeware. It looks good and I have some covers to create.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lesson learned

Plenty of pre-editing editing going on here.

I've rediscovered that getting bent out of shape over things isn't good for my stress levels, which have been through the roof given my two deadlines that fall in the same week.

Solution? Work on work when necessary, ie, on work days; work on fiction when I want to, which is any time.

The first deadline could be unreasonable since this project came to me six months after it was initiated. If it's late, it's late and isn't my responsibility. Having said that, I'll still do my best to get it done on time.

The second deadline is one of my own making. And I've been having fun. Up late, reading the work done for last year's Nano. I finished the sequel to Huntress and had to start on the third book. I think it bodes well that I enjoyed both books.

Now, I get to print them out and start the real editing. I'm probably putting the mokkas on myself, but it looks like I'll see the deadline and raise another one soon after.

Oh. Wait. Escape, escape, delete, delete. I have the May story-a-day marathon coming up. Guess I'll just have to see how Hunted does on the readership scale before I post the third book.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pristine History

I really hate political correctness. I dislike being required to treat people with 'cultural' sensitivity when they refuse to treat me with the same respect.

I believe political correctness has gone beyond the realms of common sense and into the dungeon of divisiveness where ethnicity is singled out for special treatment because of modern day interpretation of historic events.

To name names in the current environment, tempts people who don't agree with me, to call me a 'racist' rather than engage in meaningful dialogue.

Let's take an example. (Any example will be a hot button topic, so be warned.)

When writing historical fiction, is it acceptable to use the word 'nigger' or 'wog' or 'mick'? How about a 'Yank' or a 'Kraut' or 'Frog', a 'Lobster', a 'Ruskie' or a 'Skip'?

When you look at the list, why is the latter list more acceptable than the former? Is it because yanks, etc. represent Caucasian skin colour and the others don't? (Hell, pressed one of my own buttons there.)

To write a book set during the American Civil War - from the South's perspective - will necessitate the use of the word 'nigger'; it was the accepted term for the slaves. To write a book set during the Second World War - from a front-line soldier's perspective - necessitates using the words 'kraut', 'Nazi' or 'Ruskie'. New York in the 1880s-1900s, Irish immigrants were 'micks'.

Just because we have a veneer of sophistication and civilisation now, doesn't mean we can white-wash history of all its glory and dirt by creating taboos. History, the good and the bad, happened. It can't be changed. The words were used - even as the attempts to have them expunged from history continues.

The Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly, was long ago turned into a folk hero for standing up to authority. Yet, this is a man who, with his gang, gunned down three police officers and had a history of assault and theft. He was eventually hanged for the shootout at Glenrowan. It is a matter of history that, in some aspects of his life, he was treated poorly by the police. Yet as little as thirty years after his death, his actions were justified by the social discord surrounding squatter-land selection rights. He is still regarded as a folk hero.

There was a time when having convict ancestors was vaguely uncomfortable for a family; now it is a source of pride. And yes, we do have a convict in the tree - probably more if I can connect them. A sheep-stealer, in fact. Acquitted the first time 'on compassionate grounds' (his father died while awaiting trial for the same offence), but convicted when he did it again! I'm not sympathetic to his plight because he was a recidivist, he'd been in trouble for most of his life. But he did manage to create a new life for himself here, in Australia, following the commutation of the execution order to life in the penal colony.

When bad men do bad things, it's not acceptable to ascribe moral motives to their actions centuries later and call those actions justified. Just as it is not acceptable to re-write words already spoken and recorded because we find them distasteful now. Nor do I believe in teaching sanitised history to reflect the modern political correctness of apologising for the actions of the population generations ago.

Captain James Cook should be accorded the respect of his name, his title and his achievements in navigation, astronomy and exploration, not reduced to a sneering descriptor as 'Jimmy Cook'.

I've had this argument before and the end result was an agreement to disagree. But should I write historical pieces as fiction, I'll use the words spoken at the time. If I'm vilified for it, so be it; at least I won't be a history denier.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ergo, Ergot

Between the years 1000-1400AD, Europe experienced an era of warmth and higher than average rainfall. This was the ‘Medieval Warm Period’.

During this time, populations and crops flourished. But by the end of this period, the Black Death decimated those same populations. Europe, after the epidemic passed, found itself with 30-60 percent less people. With less people to work in the fields, the fewer fields cultivated and the less food produced. Famine resulted in killing off more of the population. But famine was not uncommon in Medieval Europe, just more obvious after the Black Death.

Some estimates put the death toll at between 75-200 million people. As with all urbanisation, the close proximity of people led to the rapid spread of disease. Paris lost 100,000 – half its population, Florence more than half at 70,000 dead.

Before the Black Death arrived, another danger lurked in the warm, humid environment: fungus.

Bread wasn’t just a staple of the diet, it provided the plate, or trencher, as well. Following the meal, the bread trencher could be eaten, given to the poor or to farm animals. Unfortunately for the peasants of Europe, the warm, rainy weather gave rise to the Ergot fungi which grew on the rye and wheat crops.

Ergot poisoning manifested itself in humans as hallucinations, convulsions, nausea, a burning sensation in the limbs. Such symptoms lead to many accusations of witchcraft. One hundred thousand were slaughtered on the charge of poisoning the local population. Jews, Muslims, lepers were included in the accusations and of bringing the Black Death to Europe.

A little known cultural response, however, was the real culprit for the increase in deaths from plague. Hysteria ran high after the poisonings and cats – the oft accused familiar of witches – were killed off in job lots...

With no cats to hunt the flea-ridden rodents carrying the Plague, the incidents of Black Death sky-rocketed and so did the persecutions. Even after the disease ran its course and faded from Europe, the Church and local communities continued to go after alleged witches; most of whom were ordinary people subjected to the jealousies of others.

The persecution of non-Christians has a history spanning millennia. But paternalism as a measure to control society is a story for another day.

Today, witchcraft is more acceptable (excluding areas of Africa where people are still murdered for being an accused witch) under the banner of ‘neopaganism’; a friendlier, more peaceful and private practice without the church-fed superstitions of old.

Education and flexibility of governments, the separation of church and state, the sophistication of our societies and the establishments of religious freedoms, all allow people to worship a religion in their own way.

For Christians, Easter is a solemn occasion; for the neopagans, it is a time for celebration. Fortunately, in the modern world, there’s room enough for both.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Moon over April

The practice of deciding when Easter falls is a tradition millennia old yet involves a pagan practice: that of the moon’s cycle through the heavens.

Constantin the Great, a Roman Emperor, decreed in 325, that Easter be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. (The vernal equinox occurs twice a year when night and day are the same length.) By using the Julian calendar, each year was 11 minutes and 14 secs longer than the solar year. Over the years, this caused distinct discrepancies in Western Church celebrations of Easter.

Given the conflict between the solar and lunar years, and between the calendic and true astronomical years, the church adopted a system of calculations proposed by astronomer, Victorinius in 465.

British and Celtic Christian churches refused to comply, leading to disagreements with Rome. At this time, the Julian calendar was in use, but in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar into the Gregorian calendar which dissolved most of the controversy by dropping ten days off the calendar. Western Christian churches were then be able to celebrate Easter at the same time; Eastern Christian Churches however, chose not to adopt the new system and so celebrate Easter either a week before or after the dates of the West.

Because of the difference between the Lunar and Solar cycles, Easter has become ‘a moveable feast’.

The word ‘Easter’ is thought to be pre-Christian in origin, from the Anglo-Saxon for the Teutonic goddess of spring and fertility, Eastre. According to St Bede – an 8th Century British scholar – the month of April was sacred to her. The vernal equinox is her day of celebration. Easter Eggs, too, are a part of the festival, representing fertility.

Historically speaking, Rome, in an effort to suppress Pagan rituals, changed iconic Christian celebratory days to those of Pagan worship; it made the conversion from paganism to Christendom easier for the Church. And yet, the church also integrated paganism into the Christian doctrine and calls it their own.

The remains of ancient Roman temples and sites of Celtic significance have been found under a number of Christian churches across Europe, including the Notre Dame in Paris.

It is a curious hypocrisy of the church that Christmas – the day the Church says Jesus Christ was born – is on a set date, immovable (though some astronomers believe the date is...erroneous due to the astronomical event at the time described in literature and the Bible which did not take place in December, but in April – other astronomical events were also recorded over a period of ten years, thus the true date is up for debate), but the day of his death changes due to the vagaries of the lunar cycle.

Friday, March 19, 2010

UK Church signs

Since Easter is coming up soon, I thought I'd get my irreverence out of the way early:

I could say so much about the last one... but, in the interests of not causing a bun fight, I shall refrain.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick

Four hundred years after Claudius invaded Britannia to subdue the Celtic barbarians, Irish raiders attacked a small village – probably in the Severn Valley – burning and slaying. When they retreated back to Ireland, they had in their possession the son of a Christian Deacon, a Roman citizen. His name was Patrick.

Sold into slavery, Patrick found solace in religion as he tended farm animals. For six years he toiled in loneliness before insistent visions led him to escape to Brittany. He wandered far and wide until he came upon Bishop Germanus of Auxerre.

Expressing a desire to return to Ireland and spread the religious message he had learned on his travels, Patrick spent the next fourteen years under the Bishop’s careful tutelage and prepared himself for what seemed an impossible task.

In 432 he sailed for Ireland. There, he organised the Christians already there and converted kings and kingdoms to the Christian way. Today, he is celebrated for his deeds, including the ridding of snakes and reptiles from the land. Green is colour worn and shamrocks displayed to represent the Holy Trinity.

The commonly told story of St Patrick, however, hides a deeper, more brutal truth – the thorough oppression of an older religion and people, that of so-called paganism and the Celts.

Prior to subjugation by the Romans, the Irish Celts were one of the most liberal and equitable societies in history. The religion was maternal as opposed to the paternal Romans.

Women could and did divorce husbands, taking with them all they’d brought to the marriage. Divorce could be for infertility, inability to perform conjugal rights, for a husband preferring other men, brutality, for many reasons we have today.

The Celt Queen Boudicca of the Iceni came within an hour of defeating the Roman legions, but for the treachery of the male leaders of other tribes who wanted the wealth and prestige siding with Rome would bring.

Patrick, in his desire to convert people, desecrated sacred Druid sites by setting the Solstice fires alight before the due day, by turning kings to Christianity through threats of retribution, trade sanctions and oppression. It came to pass that anyone who practiced non-Christian ways were put to death, beheaded as a warning to others. Druids were rounded up and slaughtered, sacred oak groves were put to the flame and history... rewritten.

And the snakes evicted from Ireland? One of the sacred items to Druids was the image of the snake. It is a common feature on a number of jewellery pieces discovered during archaeological excavations. During the time of Patrick, the snake represented the Druids. Patrick’s ridding the Isle of snakes is merely a metaphor for the slaughter of pagan Holy men and women, but portrayed in Christian Garden of Eden terms.

Patrick went on to establish monasteries and religious retreats. He inspired St Columba who took Christianity to the Picts in Scotland and on into England. In conjunction with the Pope, the majority of Pagan sacred days were converted to Christian Holy ones. Churches were built on ley lines.

It did not mean the complete destruction of paganism; for example the Christian church still uses the pagan way of moon cycles when deciding when Easter is to be held. The raising of a tree at Christmas is a part of the Druid tree-worshipping practice is another example.

St Patrick is a man who changed history. Think, for a moment, what Ireland could have become if those raiders had killed the boy rather than enslave him.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Churchill, Homer and me...

So family turned up from all over the place to celebrate my eldest sister's mumble, mumble birthday. It's not really her birthday, she'll be in Paris on the actual day.

These parties are... exuberant. We don't get together all that often because of distance, but when we do, damn, but we go all out.

I'm lying on the couch, trying to pay attention to the rugby, with an overstuffed belly from too much food and soaked with some rather tasty wine - no thoughts of getting back to fiction tomorrow - I'm feeling nicely pickled.

Winston Churchill made some his most famous speeches following the consumption of significant amounts of brandy - I think it also contributed to his slow, measured tones when delivering the words that boosted a nation.

I'm no Churchill, hell, I have ambitions to be as erudite as Homer. Simpson, that is, not the ancient Greek.

It does, however, make me wonder how many authors out there settle down with a nice glass of red or white and set fingers to keyboard to compose - and whether the result is worth reading.

Churchill proved brilliant; for me - if tasting the fruit of the vine - the hits usually outweigh the misses. That is, the hits of 'wow, that's awful' are more prevalent than the 'wow, that's exciting'.

I need a nap now.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Goodbye Maggie

Sleep well, Maggie-moo-too, BFF of Saxon, much loved member of our families and the best little brown dog ever.

We miss you.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Resistance is futile

I think this hiatus is working. The temptation to get back to the keyboard and write is growing, with an idea for a sequel to a book I'm taking to the World Science Fiction Convention held in Melbourne this September.

But I'm not going to give in, not yet. Next Monday is soon enough. This week, I'm still reading, still watching movies (Eagle Eye was great!) and I'm working on a web page for the local museum.

I'm coming to the opinion that sitting down, every single day, and writing creatively or editing is not such a good idea (Nano aside). Doing stuff away from writing recharges the batteries - which have been on a low, near-desperate buzz for a while now - has done me a lot of good.

Next week, I'll be doing an edit and probably dumping, oh, about forty or fifty pages of Hunted (those pages really suck) and post the book by the end of April to Scribd... hmm, that's when the web page is due. And I really want to get to writing.

Maybe I can sneak it in, just a few quick notes, or dot points...

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Down Time

Ah, yes. The sky is blue, the air is cool and Autumn has arrived. Yay!
In the post storm landscape, busted branches hover in trees, sticks and twigs litter the ground and rattle under cars; clumps of seaweed bob like bodies in the calm waters off the beach. (And that’s a disturbing sight, I can tell you.)

I’ve deliberately stayed away from any editing/writing over the past week or so because I’m temporarily over it. I wanted to read something I haven’t written, watch a movie or two, or three or four, guilt free.

I’ve watched Sweeney Todd (a curious movie), The Matrix (gotta love Keanu and the delicious Mr Smith), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (still indifferent to it), From Dusk until Dawn (George Clooney... sigh) and Dogma (which is in my top five of must sees. It’s brilliant, eloquent and oh, so wicked).

For the moment, I’ve set aside Vicki Pettersson’s City of Souls for some Maggie Shayne re-runs, probably some old Nora, too; a back to the beginning kind of thing. I need to reconnect with why I love writing and reading, be inspired again. And to relax, which, I confess, I’m not very good at. Posting stuff ‘out there’ is stressful because you’re presenting work for judgement – the good and the bad – and four books in six months has plum done wored me out.

I feel better for not rushing into the next book, for focussing on other things. I’m aware of another deadline at the end of April – which is right before the Story-a-day marathon. (But no pressure...)

Until then, I’m happy to rest up for a week or so and not worry about putting words down on paper.

May is soon enough for that and editing can wait.